New Worlds (Acorn TV Mini Series 2014)


2 Kernels

Stars: Pip Carter, Phil Cheadle,Jamie Dornan

It’s not often that I give such a low score on a British-made television show.  Unfortunately, this mini series incited me to push that fast-forward button to get to the end.  I picked this one up on my Acorn TV subscription on Amazon, looking for a good historical series.  For me is just didn’t float my boat between England and the Americas. Somewhere in the middle of the story it sank.

It’s an historical look into the times after the death of Cromwell and the return of Charles II to the throne of England.  Enter the struggle between the monarchists who want to wipe out the leftover republicans wishing England’s was free from those kings and queens – tyrants as they are.

In the middle of that battle, board the ship to America, and if you make it, take a peek into the English colonists trying to build a new world among the native Americans – savages as they are to the newcomers.  If that doesn’t make you dizzy, throw in there the lingering Christian love between Protestants and Catholics, who still say their way is the only way – especially the controlling and merciless pilgrims warning to obey or hell awaits.

The story mainly revolves around four main individuals, but it flips back and forth between England and America at a dizzy pace.  Even though their lives and struggles are intertwined, I cannot help but think this series would have been better served if it had focused on each aspect separately.  What the title implies is “new worlds,” but in England they are returning to the old world of monarchy as a form of government and focusing on those who won’t give up the dream of their yearn for freedom. 

The other side of the pond lies the pilgrims, seeking to build a new world. They struggle with killing Indians, taking their land, while still dealing with Charles II who rules the colonies where they live in Massachusetts.

There is graphic violence, multiple hangings, heads rolling, and the usual gore. The characterization of love between the characters is rather flat, frankly. The acting a bit dull.  Some scenes drag. And in general, my interest waned in the third installment to the extent I just fast forwarded to get through it.

Perhaps other will find it interesting and just the opposite.  If it floats your boat, you’ll make it from England to the Americas. But for me, it just didn’t do the trick.  Even Jamie Dornan, our Christian Grey, was too filthy-looking to turn me on.  And one of my favorite actors, Jeremy Northam, who played the King didn’t move me either, even though he did portray that snooty King on the throne look rather well.

Best to rent and not buy.

The Golden Bowl (Movie 2000)

4 Kernels

Stars: Uma Thurman, Jeremy Northam, Kate Beckinsale, Nick Nolte, and Angelica Huston

Currently streaming on NetFlix is a movie that I have watched multiple times and always with enjoyment.  When it was released in 2000, it received mixed reviews. It has a 58% Rotten Tomato rating and a 6.0 one on IMDb. It’s a drama based on a 1904 novel by Henry James.  You can’t go wrong with the cast either, all of which give good performances in this convoluted story of love, desire, adultery, and secrets from the past. (Sounds like my book The Price of Deception.)

Jeremy Northam plays Prince Amerigo, an aristocrat without money from Italy. He is engaged to Maggie Verver, played by Kate Beckinsale. Her father, with whom she is very close, is played by Nick Nolte, a billionaire. Amerigo appears to be devoted and in love with Maggie, which doesn’t given the quick impression that his marriage is one of convenience for the sake of money.

The movie begins with the search for a wedding gift. Uma Thurman, plays Maggie’s close friend, and goes shopping with the prince as he looks for the perfect trinket to give his lovely fiancee.  He decides to purchase a golden bowl, the significance of which does not come into play until much later in the movie. It’s one of those symbolic objects placed in the story by the author.

While all of this plays out, there is a secret that neither Maggie nor her father knows.  The prince and her close friend, Charlotte, were once lovers. Charlotte has arrived for the wedding and stays with her friend.  Her love for the prince has not waned, and in fact, she’s obsessed with him in every way.  So much so, that she whirls her charms in the direction of the rich Mr. Verver.  He falls for the younger woman and they marry, which puts her in the perfect place of being close to the prince and Maggie. Conveniently, she is in their lives forever.

As the story progresses, so does the deception. Charlotte relentlessly pursues Amerigo behind her new husband’s back, who eventually comes to realize she loves the prince. He never says a word, but orchestrates his own maneuvers to keep her close and eventually removing her altogether from their lives. On the other hand, Maggie is no longer blind to the her husband’s excessive meetings with Charlotte, which has now become the gossip of society. She begins to wonder if they are having an affair.

Amerigo tries his best to spurn Charlotte from the beginning of the story.  His patient reasoning, however, leads him down a path of temptation and ultimate betrayal of his wife.

I enjoyed this movie because it’s right up my alley for drama and a good storyline.  Jeremy Northam has been a favorite of mine for some time.  He plays the conflicted husband and ex-lover convincingly. Kate Beckinsale gives a splendid portrayal as the innocent, trusting wife – very demure and close to her father. Uma Thurman is the perfect tormented lover, while Nick Nolte had quite the role as the billionaire. A far cry from his mug shot of years past, he looks handsome and debonaire in the part of Mr. Verver, who has a love of art and artifacts.

Now, as far as that golden bowl goes, you’ll just have to watch the movie to find out its part and ultimate end.  If you’re the type that likes a slow moving drama with an underlying substance of a good story, you may like The Golden Bowl.


Gosford Park (2001 Movie)

4 Kernels

An Appetizer for Downton Abbey
 by Julian Fellowes

Stars:  Maggie Smith, Jeremy Northam, Michael Gambon,
Kristin Scott Thomas, Helen Mirren, Clive Owen, and Plenty of Others

All right, listen up all you Downton Abbey fans.  If you’re going through withdrawals, you need to head over to Netflix or Amazon and stream Gosford Park.  This is another goodie written by the author of Downton, none other than Julian Fellowes, who won an Oscar for Best Writing, Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen for this tale of upstairs, downstairs, with a who-done-it murder.

I haven’t watched this movie probably in 10 years.  Recently, I clicked play and was amazed at the similarities to Downton Abbey.  Julian has really recycled quite of bit of wit and charm from his former work.  If you watched it ten years ago, you may wish to dust it off once more.  Otherwise, if you haven’t seen it, you’ll enjoy the story.

The drama is set in 1932 and centers around a party in a country house in England. In scene one all the aristocratic guests arrive, accompanied by their various valets and ladies maids.  The rich head upstairs; the servants head downstairs.  In the lower level you’ll be surprised at the similarities of running a grand house with the head housekeeper and butler keeping everyone in line hiding their own dirty secrets. The usual bantering, jealousies, complaining, and sneaks are just as interesting as Downton, only shoved into a two-hour movie.

The upstairs are the usual aristocrats, and wonderful Maggie Smith is among them playing almost the same characteristics as she does in Downton Abbey.  I’m not surprise that Julian Fellowes continued her character almost identically.  One of her lines, which sounds just like the Dowager on Downton, is, “Me?  I haven’t a snobbish bone in my body.” Her character of Countess Trentham is quite enjoyable and filled with the same witty banter.

Of course, the house is filled with multiple guests, servants, and a murder of the stuffy and grumpy old Sir William McCordle, who is married to the much younger and annoying Lady Syliva McCordle. Their children and their guests make up an eclectic group of snobby aristocrats, an actor, and a film maker from California. The servants gossip about their employers, and Countess Trentham asks her ladies maid to tell her what the scoop is downstairs.  Sir William has been enjoying sexual encounters with his multiple maids in the dark corners of downstairs, bearing all sorts of illegitimate children. After dinner one evening, someone stabs Sir William, and the movie turns into the usual who-done-it search for the killer with a less than capable investigator.

I have a few favorite scenes, one of which is Jeremy Northam, who plays Ivor Novello, the movie star.  He sits at the piano and sings a variety of songs to swoon by with his dreamy velvet voice, while the guests play a game of bridge, drink, and relax after dinner uninterested. The servants enjoy the entertainment more than the stuffy guests and linger closely by to hear him sing as if they are starved to hear beautiful music.

The film itself won quite a few awards and was nominated for best picture at the Oscars, but did not win, but won plenty of accolades worldwide.  I think it really is a noteworthy two hours to watch now that we’re so caught up in Downton Abbey as written by Julian Fellowes. You’ll no doubt enjoy the world downstairs and upstairs, including the estranged aristocratic family and eclectic mixture of servants.  Many of them had reason to do Sir William in with a knife in his chest, but you’ll probably not realize who did it until the end with the surprising little twist.