Category: Period Drama

Mary, Queen of Scots (Movie 2018)

3 Kernels

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.

An Inspector Calls (BBC 2015)

Inspector5 Kernels

Now streaming on Amazon is “An Inspector Calls,” which is probably the most profound and emotional story I’ve seen in my life.  Frankly, I never heard of it before.  Written by J. B. Priestley, it was apparently a play first performed in Moscow in 1945 and then in the UK in 1946 and has been on stage multiple times. I guess according to Wikipedia, it’s hailed as a classic. Apparently, it’s been in film and television also throughout the years.

The story is set in 1912 and revolves around a rich cotton mill owner Mr. Birling.  They are at home at dinner with his wife, son, daughter, and her fiance.  After dinner, a gentleman arrives at the door and introduces himself as Inspector Goole from the police.  He is led into the dining room where Mr. Birling and his son and Mr. Croft are talking, while the ladies are in the parlor.

It begins with him asking Mr. Birley if he recognizes a woman in a picture that he shows him, and he denies knowing her.  When pressured why the questions, he states that she has committed suicide and he’s investigating the circumstances that lead up to her death.  Naturally, Mr. Birley asks what does this have to do with us? Eventually, he confesses that she did work at his factory and the story begins.

Well, I cannot tell you the rest because it would ruin it for you.  I think I gasped a few times, got overly emotional, felt my own shame at the end, and sat there dumbfounded after the show ended.  So what’s it all about?  Here’s a short quote that might give you a hint:

We don’t live alone upon this earth. We are responsible for each other.  And if mankind will not learn that lesson then the time will come when he will be taught it in fire and blood and anguish.

You’ll discover, too, that Inspector Goole isn’t everything he appears to be.

I highly recommend it because he stabs the audience at the core. It’s also intertwined with the classes of society, how we deal with each other, and the outcome of our actions that can affect others.

It’s currently streaming on Amazon Prime for free.

Alias Grace (2017 Netflix Series)

alias-grace5 Kernels

WARNING:  Binge-watching a television series is hazardous to your health.  We’ve all read the warnings so I did take a break after episode three for one hour and went back for three more episodes.  What does that say?  I’m fat and unhealthy because I watch too much TV?  No, it means that Netflix hit it out of the park again as far as I’m concerned.

After being sucked into the Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood, I have a growing admiration for the mind of this writer after seeing Alias Grace.  However, I never have time to read (only write), so picking up a book adaptation on screen now and then works for me. The downside, of course, is I will never know what is better – the book or the series.

Alias Grace is a wonderful and intriguing story that pulls you along slowly.  However, I will warn you up front that if you don’t like listening to one woman with an Irish accent narrate and talk for hours on end, this series is not for you. Nevertheless, if you are looking for a period drama set in the mid-Victorian period about a woman imprisoned for committing murder, take a seat and grab the remote.

After spending 15 years in prison, Grace has become somewhat of a celebrity murderess for her participation in a ghastly murder that breeds public fascination. A group wants to see her released from prison so they invite a well-known psychiatrist to do an assessment of her mental state. Dr. Simon Jordan (played by Edward Holcroft) interviews Grace.  In the process, while he attempts to ascertain her criminal mind, he becomes entangled in his own emotions of seemingly falling for this delicate but complicated creature. As the interviews continue, you wonder how much of Grace’s story is told for his benefit or her own as she weaves the tale.

AliasSarah Gadon who plays Grace is an excellent choice for this demure young lady from a poor upbringing.  After immigrating from Ireland to Canada, she leaves home and works as a maid.  It’s here that she meets another servant girl who becomes her best friend. When she passes away, she decides to depart for a new employment situation. It brings her into a difficult scenario with a lecherous boss and his housekeeper/mistress who is unlikeable and often cruel.  Another servant, James McDermott, has had enough of his job and plots to kill their employers, dragging Grace into the mix.

The interesting and mind-boggling outcome of the search for her guilt and innocence will surprise you as it draws you into the lives of these characters.  Apparently based on a true-to-life sensationalized murder that happened in Canada in 1843, Margaret Atwood takes the story to a new level for her readers.  Netflix has added that dimension for its viewers, leaving you with the not-so-concrete answer of her participation in the dastardly murders.

For each 44-minute episode, it’s worth risking your health for the four and half hours spent in the chair in front of the television.  Highly recommended.

 

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