Category: British TV

Penelope Keith’s Hidden Villages (2014-2016)

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I’ve been to England four times and often wished I could rent a car and drive everywhere visiting the little-known villages I haven’t seen.  How many of us have loved the photographs of quaint English country life and wished we could live in such an idyllic place?  I know that I have.

In all honesty, I’m not much for watching traveling shows, but this three-series wonder is an absolute gem.  Currently streaming on Acorn, I highly recommend it to everyone who wants to see the inner workings of these smaller communities.  At the present time, I’m only beginning Season 2 but have much more to see.

What is unique with this particular travel series is that while you’re riding in the car with Penelope to the next location, you know what is down the road is going to be as fascinating as the last.  So far I’ve traveled to Wales, Lancashire, Norfolk, Suffolk, Essex, Devon, and Cornwall, among other places.  Penelope immerses the audience not only in the village’s history but its people, architecture, challenges, and sometimes quirky celebrations communities hold together.  It’s a wonderful series that only deepens your longing for England.

The running time for each episode is 47 minutes. So brew a cup of tea, gather some biscuits and sit down for a wonderful tour of beautiful England’s landscape and its villages.

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Another series that is almost as entertaining if you’re interested in things regarding the monarchy, is Penelope Keith at Her Majesty’s Service also streaming on Acorn.  Here she visits the iconic locations and explains the unknown rituals that have continued on for centuries.

Episode 1 is at Windsor Castle, including a ride on the Queen’s barge.  Episode 2 visits Inveraray and Holyroodhouse, locations the royal family frequent. Episode 3 is on location in Northern Ireland at Hillsborough Castle and Episode 4 at Caernarfon Castle in Wales.  It’s another wonderful show for those who love all things English.

 

The Edwardian Country Home (2002 British TV Channel 4)

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Now streaming on Acorn TV is “The Edwardian Country Home,” (also known as The Manor House) a television series from 2002 that takes a group of individuals from 2001 and places them into another world.  As the synopsis says, “An Edwardian country house in Scotland is brought back to life in this real-life Upstairs, Downstairs. For three months, one family will live in the manor while another 12 individuals serve them, an immersive experience in the world of social inequality and class distinctions that defined the period between 1905 and 1914.”

This television program is a highly entertaining look into life much like the famously portrayed version in Downton Abbey years later. However, the difference is the heartwrenching reality of taking modern-day individuals and setting them into a world they find quite different.  The six episodes delve into the three-month period and how it challenges and changes those who play their roles upstairs and downstairs. Nothing is as peachy as it seems upstairs when life becomes boring, stifling, and rigid in its many mannerisms. Neither is anything peachy downstairs as servants give their lives to serve their masters.

What is unique about the program is that it spans the years as it would have been from 1905-1914, when at the onset of World War I that dramatically changes how the rich lived and the uprising of the classes striving for a better life. Some of the younger participants, such as the scullery maid, come and go when the harsh work overwhelms them and they are unable to deal with the authority of the butler.

They serve their masters in all of their needs to dressing them, dinner parties, hunting parties, shooting parties, and grand balls.  The housework and cooking is a never-ending circle of life and long hours. At times, they feel unappreciated, ignored, and live the stark reality of being lower class. Those upstairs cannot believe how they cannot do the simple task of even dressing without help but eventually get accustomed to the pampering.

The ending is quite emotional as they all prepare to leave the life they have grown to live over three months. Some of them are glad to put away their servant outfits, while those upstairs warily return to work, leaving behind their pampered lives.  The lady of the house believes she would be much more suited to living in the era she is now forced to leave. However, even if that were true, the era is disintegrating and passing away.  The wealth and opulence can no longer be maintained.

If you are a lover of period drama and historical romance, I highly recommend watching this entertaining series.  I enjoyed it far better than the recent one in the Victorian era on PBS.

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Tutankhamun (2016 ITV)

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I’m really frustrated! Thirty-five years ago I visited the Valley of the Kings in Egypt and walked into Tutankhamun’s burial vault. I’ve been trying to find the slides from that trip that I’ve been hauling around for thirty-five years to no avail!  Of course, I’ve moved probably twenty times since then. I know they are somewhere stuffed in a closet, and I’m going to find them one way or another!  Nevertheless…

My first Britbox watch – Tutankhamun from ITV – a four-part series about the discovery of the tomb in that vast dusty desert of the Valley of the Kings. It’s based on the archaeologist Howard Carter, played by Max Irons, who is convinced the valley still holds wonderful discoveries, while his peers are packing up and leaving out of frustration.

On the other hand, we have Lord Carnarvon, played by Sam Neill, who has the funds and enthusiasm to find a tomb filled with riches. If you have no idea who this English Lord happens to be, think of Downton Abbey and the manor house you’ve been enjoying for years. It’s the family home of the Carnarvon’s at Highclere Castle, who was the 5th Earl of Carnarvon. Some believe he was the first to succumb to the so-called curse, having died from an infected mosquito bite he accidently cut with his razor. It turned into blood poisoning, and he passed away in Cairo after the discovery of the tomb.

The story begins pre-World War I when Carnarvon arrives excited to dig and discover wonders from the past. He hires Howard Carter, who recently finds himself without support to further his own digs. As a result, they head off to the dusty sands but their endeavors are cut short by the beginning of World War I. Finally after it’s ended, the story resumes and so does their search.

Carnarvon insists that Carter dig in a particular area, but Carter believes it’s in the wrong spot. After going through the majority of the Earl’s money, he’s about to throw in the towel.  With one last plea to let him look where he thinks Tutankhamun is buried, they find the infamous treasures of the young King to everyone’s surprise and enter on November 26, 1922.

The story weaves a few love interests back and forth for Mr. Carter, the most important one being with Lady Evelyn Carnarvon, which is the Earl’s daughter. Whether that really happened is perhaps a possibility (read here). It does take up a large portion of the storyline in between the dirt, shovels, and rocks. The tale is also set among the rising distrust of the Egyptians against the British who promised to leave after the war but remain. The government, surprisingly at this point, changes the law six weeks before the discovery of Tut’s tomb that the ownership of discovered wealth reverts back to Egypt and is no longer split with the finder.

Max Irons, I thought, isn’t the best of actors except perhaps at that one point when he peeks inside the tomb and declares that he sees wonderful things. Only another spark of a broken heart is revealed upon his love interest’s departure. He’s a bit stiff and unemotional throughout most of the show, not to mention the dirt and sweat of the desert.  In spite of it, he does clean up nicely in a dinner jacket.  On the other side of the coin, there is the seasoned Sam Neill who is fantastic in all of his performances, filled with fire and emotion that makes up for the lackluster Irons.

When I visited in 1982, King Tut was not in his tomb. We saw the place where the goldTut2 coffins stood, which was just a huge empty space. There was no fancy lighting like you see in the picture. His remains had been placed in the Cario museum for some time but were subsequently returned to his resting place in a climate-controlled glass box (in 2007) to prevent further decomposition. Visitors can see him in his splendor. The treasures in the museum are unbelievably vast and gorgeous, and I can still remember standing before them in awe.

For my first BritBox, it was a good period drama, fueling memories of my past.  I’m on my second right now, Moonstone, which is turning out to be a pretty good mystery.

Ah, British television.  My favorite.

Agatha Raisin (TV Series 2016)

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At last another British crime show about who-done-it in the small country village!  Move over Miss Marple for a  younger version of a murder-solving babe in her mid-forties.  She’s smart.  She’s Scottish.  She’s humorous.  And she isn’t bad looking either.  Enter Agatha Raisin, a rather new addition to the murderous English country folk. They just don’t have anything better to do.

Agatha (played by Ashley Jensen) is a successful PR woman, who sells her company to live her dream.  The same dream that I have but probably won’t ever experience — buy an English cottage in the Cotswolds and retire.  She’s a perky, posh, and out of place in the small village, wandering around in her high heels, trying to fit in.  Her humorous attempts at entering the quiche contest and best garden only get her in trouble as a few of her acquaintances she’s made in town get murdered.

Because Agatha can’t leave well enough alone, for each mystery, she starts one of those boards in her cottage with pictures and sticky notes to solve the crime.  Of course, in a small town like this they are dropping like flies, which makes you wonder how they keep up the population.

Agatha Raisin is based on a series of books (sigh, I wish I could write English crime novels) by M.C. Beaton.  The stories aren’t terrible gory (like our U.S. murders) but interesting enough to keep you watching until the criminal is revealed.  There are a few tense episodes where Agatha goes a bit too far and endangers her life when she attempts to corner the killer into confessing.

As sidekicks to her sleuthing are two bumbling local detectives who can’t figure out much ofagatha-raisin-image anything. Agatha also engages her business partner, housecleaner, and love interest, dragging them along to solve the crimes with her.

Season 1 aired earlier this year, and I’ve watched it streaming on Hulu.  It’s a delightful, funny, and entertaining, and I hope they decide to pick up Season 2.  You won’t be sorry if you love to see the English murder each other over petty things.  The only thing missing are the peacocks screeching in the night.

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