Small Island (Series BBC One 2009)

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Streaming on Britbox and available elsewhere is Small Island, adapted from a novel by Andrea Levy.  It apparently streamed on PBS Masterpiece in 2010, which I obviously missed.  If it hadn’t been for the Period Drama Facebook Group, I probably would have missed this one altogether. I watched the two-part series (90-minute episodes) in its entirety last night, staying up past my bedtime.  It was well worth the lack of sleep.

The story, in the beginning, flashes back and forth between the lives of two young Jamaicans – Hortense (Naomie Harris) and Michael (Ashley Walters) – pre-World War 2. On the other side of the world, it’s Bernard (Benedict Cumberbatch) and Queenie (Ruth Wilson). Each has their own dreams – Hortense of marrying Michael; Michael rebellious in his upbringing; Queenie escaping her childhood and the pig farm; and Bernard a shy man, living with his father.

Eventually, life splits Hortense and Michael.  Queenie marries Bernard to escape returning home to her parents, and then the war breaks out.  War, as you know, throws everyone’s lives in various directions with new challenges.

The main focus of the story is the character of Queenie, who doesn’t have a prejudice bone in her body when it comes to black people.  When Benedict leaves for war and she’s left alone in the house, she offers three airmen housing. One of the young men is the charismatic Michael, a handsome and alluring man in uniform.  Queenie willingly succumbs to his seduction and the next day he’s off on another mission.

As the story continues, she meets Gilbert, also from Jamaica and they form a friendship.  He marries Hortense, and the two of them eventually live in Queenie’s home because Benedict never returned after the war. I could continue the remainder of the series but will spare you spoilers.

The story, of course, shows the bias against the black Jamaicans among the English. Jamaican children under English rule were taught to love the “motherland” and obviously Gilbert did as a child and adult. Unfortunately, when he’s in the country who he believes supports and accepts him as an Englishman too, he finds the stark reality that prejudice against his skin color is no different than it is in the United States.

I enjoyed this two-part series and recommend it to those looking for another pre-WW2 or WW2 storyline that delves into a different aspect of human behavior during those years. It’s well acted and packaged to please.




The Imitation Game (Review – Movie 2014)

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Stars: Benedict Cumberbatch, Keira Knightley, Matthew Goode, and Allen Leech

The Imitation Game is one of those must-see movies of 2014 that is gripping on multiple levels. The Nazis have developed an unbreakable code machine that transmits vital information, which can be used against the allies to pinpoint their locations. Around the world the greatest minds alive have tried to crack the code without success, until Alan Turing’s eccentric idea of building a machine that can think.

Benedict Cumberbatch, the outrageously popular British actor, portrays Alan Turing, the genius mathematician and logician who cracks Germany’s Enigma Code. Along with him are other brilliant minds of the day working around the clock to find an answer.

Alan is not the most congenial of individuals. Bullied as a child in private school, he’s an odd sort of young man who has difficulty fitting in because of his brilliance. As he grows up, his people skills have not improved, and he has the unique knack of alienating those around him. While others on his team push pencils all day long attempting to break the code in 24-hour spans, before the German’s change it again, he’s fiddling with building a machine to do all the work. Undeterred by setbacks and critics, he continues onward until he succeeds.

The movie works on many levels for a variety of reasons. While we watch Alan attempt to do the impossible, we are reminded of the horrors of war from actual clips from World War II that reiterate the importance and urgency of breaking the code.  In addition, once the code is broken, the secrecy must be kept so the German’s do not realize their accomplishments. Instead, the brilliant men and one woman spend the remainder of the war crunching statistics on the number of casualties and the effects of actually using bits and pieces of information obtained from the Germans to direct those missions that would be most successful.

Beyond Alan’s intelligence, there is passion for succeeding and the struggle to be true to himself among a world that does not understand him. Benedict’s performance is absolutely astounding in portraying the emotions of Alan Turing. To add to the complexity of his character is the fact that he is a homosexual, living in an age when such lifestyles were criminal offenses. Benedict’s ability to take hold of each of these characteristics and display them with such heart-wrenching accuracy, is worth any award he may garnish for his performance.

Also in the movie are other familiar faces, including Allen Leech (Downton Abbey’s former chauffeur), and Matthew Goode (who nearly got hanged in Death Comes to Pemberly). Keira does a fine job as the only brilliant woman in the group, who impresses Alan by solving a challenging puzzle in less than six minutes.

The movie also delves into his post-war life and the struggles he faced afterward. He was arrested and convicted as a homosexual, and rather than do time in prison chose to take chemical castration drugs to curb his homosexuality. A few years later, he committed suicide but received a royal pardon 60 years later from the Queen.

With all of the movie’s intrigue and emotional highs and lows, I highly recommend The Imitation Game.


Parade’s End (BBC/HBO 2012)

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HBO/BBC Television Series (2012)

Benedict Timothy Carlton Cumberbatch (yes, that’s his full name) has been busy. Between filming episodes of Sherlock Holmes, he worked elsewhere starring in this interesting and entertaining series entitled Parade’s End. The story is based on a series of novels by Ford Maddox Ford.

Benedict plays the character of Christopher Tietjens in five episodes. After one indiscretion, his life takes an unexpected turn when he meets a woman on a train. She seduces him, and they end up copulating quite wildly in their private quarters.  He deposits his seed into Sylvia on a one-train stand and ends up marrying her after she declares the child in her pregnant womb belongs to him. The entire affair is questionable because of her many lovers, but Christoper does what he does best–the right and proper thing.

He is not a man that is necessarily well liked and is socially awkward.  The relationship with his family members is poor, he’s the object of gossip, and appears to have trouble communicating his feelings.  However, he is intelligent, and works at the Imperial Department of Statistics crunching numbers.  In his spare time, he reads the encyclopedia and jots down corrections to the content in the sidelines of the book.

Sylvia, on the other hand, is quite the opposite. She’s not exactly the stellar wife. To her shame she parties, flirts with men, and ends up having an extramarital affair.  She blames her motives for living on the wild side on Christopher, who is the picture of perfection. She loathes him and his values, and is determined to destroy him one way or the other. In fact, she seems to treat all her men with disdain. When she leaves Christoper for another man because she’s bored, abandoning even her son, Christopher keeps the proverbial stiff upper lip and parades before society, friends, and family that all is well.  He refuses to divorce, because he’s a good Catholic. You just don’t do those things.  You bear it.  Live with it.  And parade onward.

However, during his wife’s escapades with another man, Christopher meets Valentine Wannop, played by Adelaide Clemens. She is young, intelligent, and a suffragette. It’s one of those love at first sight moments for the two of them. Unfortunately, he’s too proper to do anything about it even though they keep running into each other exchanging heartfelt glances and having pleasant conversation. When they are not in each other presence, they daydream of being lovers, but Christopher cannot cross that line.

Eventually, Sylvia returns to Christopher, after having a spot of remorse. She turns to religion, though you don’t believe there’s an ounce of purity in her conniving mind.

World War I breaks out, and the series takes a diversion toward wartime and life in the trenches. However, during this period of time, Christopher begins to change for the better. He becomes a stronger man who leads, and finally realizes that times are changing. It’s no longer necessary to parade around as if life is peachy and all can be handled. The parade has ended, and he needs to do what is right for him as an individual–even if that means making immoral choices in order to find love and happiness.

It’s a fairly good series, and you’ll find that Benedict is not the Sherlock Holmes you know. The portrayal of this character is vastly different, but also extremely convincing and well done. He looks rather dashing in his military uniform with blond hair.  You’ll also enjoy the Edwardian fashions worn by Sylvia, the manipulating wife.

Parade’s End is streaming on Amazon Prime for free.  You might want to check it out. Only negative point is that I don’t seem to be the only one complaining that you cannot understand what is being said about 10% of the time.  Sometimes Benedict talks very fast, and it’s difficult to catch the words with that thick British accent.  On the other hand, it just might be poor sound quality on behalf of the producers of this film.

To The Ends of the Earth (BBC Television Series 2005)

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BBC Television Series
Stars: Benedict Cumberbatch, Sam Neill, Jared Harris, Victoria Hamilton, Others

Let me preface this review by saying I had a keen interest in watching this film. One of my English ancestors (2nd great uncle) left northern England and sailed to Australia in the early 1800’s to make a new life for his family. Through ancestry research, I’ve found new relatives in Australia and New Zealand who are decedents and pictures of the graves of the brave family travelers. So, of course, I had a great interest in what it would be like on a ship sailing to the ends of the earth from top to bottom.

After seeing such stars as Benedict Cumberbatch, Sam Neill, Jared Harris, Victoria Hamilton, in the series, I had hoped to be in for a treat about life on a ship, the English separation of class, and the various interactions of the voyagers seeking out a new life elsewhere. Frankly, as the story unfolded with each of its main themes for the three episodes, I wasn’t as impressed as I had hoped to be in the substance of the series. Nevertheless, life on the ship was an eye-opening experience from Edmund Talbot’s first response upon entering the lower deck, “What is that smell?”

I can only imagine what it was like for passengers throwing up from the tossing and turning, riveted with fear of the possibility of meeting a French war ship during the voyage, or stormy weather that takes water onto the ship and threatens the old converted battleship from sinking to the depths of the ocean. My ancestors were not aristocrats, so as tiny as the little private cabins some were given, I have no doubt they were in the dark holes of the ship shoved in like rats for most of the voyage. Frankly, we think some have it hard on cruise ships that have problems today. Let’s face it, we have no idea of the life of the poor and what they endured while those with titles received the small benefits of status.

Benedict was quite good, I thought, as he acted his voyage of travel and character realization. The long trip and Talbot’s actions to various situations serve to open his eyes to some questionable traits that cause him shame. The film is tag lined, after all, as “An epic journey of self discovery.”

Jared Harris, who I recently saw hang himself in Mad Men, was alive and well as the captain of the ship. He played a great seasoned sailor, as well as those who portrayed the crew. The other characters from a vicar to various individuals have their own side stories, personalities, and quirks.

Unfortunately, for me, I did not think it was a five-star wonder, but more of an eye opening voyage to what individuals endured traveling the stormy seas from the ends of the earth to get to a new world. For me a meaningful story leaves a lasting impression, and the only thing I felt impressed with was life on the ship and not the interactions and occurrences in the lives of the characters themselves.

There are instances of immorality that may shock some, but it’s no different than portrayed in movies of the 21st century. It’s probably surprising because audiences may not wish to believe people were as indecent in that time period. Human nature is human nature regardless of the era.

On top of the rest, I wondered how they filmed the scenes from watching the travelers tilt from one side to the other, while being jarred around on several occasions, or what ship they used for the movie. If it had been me, I would have been barfing with the rest of them. Perhaps the camera men were heaving over the side as well if they were on the open sea.

Now you know the scoop, so if the experience of traveling abroad in such a fashion interests you, it’s worth the watch. It’s currently on Netflix.