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.
“The Black Prince” is the first feature film adaptation of the story of Maharajah Duleep Singh, the last ruler of India’s Sikh kingdom, and his tormented life in the court of Queen Victoria.
I’m going to be busy at the movies! Another on my watch list.
4 Kernels for Content
5 Stars for Bravery
Yeah, yeah, I know most of you don’t like documentaries. This one is a little bit different because it’s a well-acted re-enactment of three significant events for the British Army during World War I. The episodes are based on written accounts by the soldiers who lived and survived to tell their stories and the men with which they served.
What can say about it? It’s emotional. It’s heartwrenching. It’s shocking. Well done, except for the oddity of the rock music in some of the scenes. The series actually puts you — the viewer — into the battles as if you were with the men and hearing the bullets whiz by your head. The tension prior to and in engagement with the enemy is palpable. Perhaps that is why this program will undoubtedly leave an impression on you. And if you lost distant cousins in the war like I did — six of them the ages of 18 to 42 — you will appreciate their sacrifice and you will draw closer to their memory as the young lads who served their country.
The first episode focuses on the first day that the British army encounters the German army in August 1914. Unprepared for the onslaught of Germans and their brutal advance, it’s difficult to watch the slaughter. The second episode is about the Manchester Pals, as they called them, who served at Somme. A few of my cousins were from Manchester. The third episode is about the invention of the tank, and how the British turned the tide of the war toward victory by these new machines.
As a caution before you watch, you might find the lads extremely difficult to understand with the myriad of different British accidents, along with Irish and Scottish. Hang in there and don’t surrender. Keep calm and carry on through the end.
If you possess a soul, you might end up a bit tearful watching this series. As the trailer says, “Modern warfare is brutal. 100 years ago it was unimaginable.”
“Rachel, my torment. “
Do not expect to have a definitive answer at the end of the movie if Rachel is good or evil. You will leave pondering that question for some time and for good reason. She is an intriguing character, tormenting you as you sift through the lies and innuendos to find the truth.
I came into this movie unfamiliar with the outcome never having read the original novel by Daphne du Maurier. Clueless as to the ending, I was quite satisfied as I left the theater asking the other four patrons around me, “did she or didn’t she?” Their responses I shall keep silent.
If you’re a period movie junkie, no doubt you’ll be running to watch this suspenseful tale of a very different kind of woman. She, too, is a wonder woman of sorts, as you’re dragged along wondering about her motives through the entire film. It borders on the Gothic melodrama with enough suspense to keep you guessing.
It begins with the narration of Ambrose Ashley’s cousin and how he takes in Philip to raise him after his parents die. Ambrose is like a father to him, but he becomes ill and goes to Italy to “take in the sun.” (This is England, you know, dark, gloomy, rains a lot, has gray clouds, etc.). Ambrose writes often and eventually announces he has met a woman named Rachel, who he marries. When Philip receives a disturbing letter from his cousin, asking him to come to him, he leaves. By the time he arrives, his cousin is dead and Rachel has left. Thinking that she had inherited his estate and land, he is surprised to discover that his cousin left everything to him in an unchanged will, which he will inherit upon his twenty-fifth birthday.
Rachel finally arrives in England. Philip, determined to confront her on the allegations she may have poisoned his cousin, discovers a very different female than he anticipated. With a charismatic personality and beauty, he falls desperately in love to the point of obsession. He rewrites his will and leaves everything to Rachel — his inheritance, the estate, and all the family jewels.
The relationship between the two individuals unfolds in a strange way. The insinuation constantly lurks that she plans to kill Philip because she’s always brewing strange cups of tea that taste disgusting. Philip’s godfather warns him about her rather questionable character, but he refuses to believe anything until they begin to have contentious periods after she allows him to make love to her.
The film slowly unfolds but it is needed to build up the questionable suspense as the characters’ personalities are revealed and begin to interact. Beautiful daytime landscapes and candlelight in the evening add to the authenticity of the times. It feels period perfect in the sense of costumes and scenery, but it’s difficult to come to a clear conclusion of who Rachel is underneath the black veil.
It is fresh on the Tomato Meter with a fine performance from Rachel Weisz (as Rachel) and Sam Claflin (as Philip). Though some reviewers term it as a romance, I disagree with that analogy. There is no romance. He loves her but there’s no reciprocation on her part. It’s a questionable relationship between two very different people whose personalities don’t blend together in love. Instead, there is obsession and suspicion that makes for a surprise ending that you do not see coming.
“Some historical events and characters have been altered in the film for dramatic purposes.”
You’ll quickly miss this statement as the ending credits roll by the screen. Keep that in mind, as you watch Episode 2 of The White Princess.
So far, the production is holding its own. King Henry is facing his challengers to the throne from a ten-year old boy, a mother-in-law who practices witchcraft, a wife who plots with her mother, and a kingdom in the midst of the sweating sickness plague, blaming him for God’s wrath upon the nation. If that isn’t enough trouble, he has the diehard York faction attempting to assassinate him as he puts forth an effort to visit his newly conquered corner of England.
Princess Elizabeth of York provides decent counsel to Henry, defying his mother’s often ploy to run the country on his behalf. As he begins to have a mind of his own in matters, Margaret Beaufort tightens her authority over the York ladies in the household. Poor ten-year-old Edward Plantagenet, 17th Earl of Warwick, is sent to the Tower of London, which sent me off to Google to discover that eventually he loses his head at the age of twenty-four.
The production remains lavish in costume and sets, including the locations. However, much if it was not filmed where the historical events occurred. Here is a good reference article on the filming locations on Atlas of Wonders, with screenshots.
The series continues on a 4-star kernel rating, but I hate waiting each week for new episodes. If you’re a binge watcher, best to take it in all in one sitting. Hey, what’s a mere ten hours in front of the television?
In honor of Henry’s visit to the city of York, which you really do not see in the series, I thought I would post my video taken last year. I, as a lowly commoner, sat outside the cathedral and recorded the bells. Enjoy!
UPDATE: June 11, 2017 – Well, the series has ended after eight episodes, and though I may have been a bit gushy when writing the review above, I cannot in all honestly say it was as good as The White Queen. Perhaps the problem lies in the deviation from history, the rapidly moving timeline, and the characters themselves. Though semi-historically accurate about Henry VII’s personally (so I’m told by others), he came across as such a weak and insecure individual, that it was difficult to be loyal to the series. Does that sound odd? Well, I suppose it’s “off with my head.”
Ah, BritBox! My second series to binge upon was The Moonstone, which is a five episode drama based on a detective novel by Wilkie Collins written in 1868. This tale is a classic who-done-it that will keep you guessing until you find out who-did-it.
The moonstone is actually a yellow diamond that has been stolen by a corrupt British officer while in India. The stone is revered, precious, and outrageously big. When he dies, he bequeaths the stone to Rachel, his niece. Unfortunately, with that gift comes problems, greed, and danger.
Upon her eighteenth birthday party, Franklin Blake, Rachel’s cousin, has been entrusted to give her the stone now that she is of age. Once again we are faced with cousins romantically entangled with one another in the series as two vie for Rachel’s affections. She has a large birthday party celebration where everyone in attendance gets to see the fabulous diamond and handle it. Insistent that she merely keep it in a drawer in a cabinet in her room overnight, she discovers in the morning that it has been stolen.
The story is an interesting premises where the audience is brought along to remember the occurrences of that evening as reflected upon a year later. Franklin returns to England, hoping to win back Rachel’s heart, but he knows he must find the stone in order to do so. An interesting group of characters are all suspects, including Rachel, and the whereabouts of the stone and its current location remains a mystery. Even traveling Indian Hindu priests wanting to return the stone to India are suspects in the missing stone.
Of course, we are back in the Victorian era of cousins falling in love with cousins, and this time Rachel has two quite dashingly handsome men wanting her hand in marriage. If anything, the story kept me intrigued trying to figure out who stole the diamond, and the end has a few surprising twists and turns as the mystery is solved.
Apparently this is the second time this series has hit television, with Greg Wise being Edward Blake in an earlier BBC version in 1997. There is even another movie version in 1934, which is an American mystery film. Who knew? Apparently, not me because I’ve never heard of this gem (no pun intended) until I subscribed to BritBox.
Okay, I’m off my soap box. It’s worth the watch.
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 gold 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.
A new series, acquired by Netflix and popular in Italy, is now streaming – Medici: Masters of Florence. If you’re a history buff, you might enjoy this new binge-watching opportunity regarding the Medici family who were bankers in the 15th century in the Republic of Florence. For more historical information, run over to Wikipedia and READ HERE.
The story stars Richard Madden, Stuart Martin, and Dustin Hoffman, among others. It begins with the death of Giovanni, who is the founder of the Medici family empire. His son, Cosimo de’ Medici takes over the family business and learns that his father had been murdered. The intrigue begins.
Be prepared to flop back and forth between a twenty-year period when Giovanni is alive and teaching his sons, as well as manipulating their lives to do his will. Sometimes it’s difficult to discover if you’re twenty years in the past or twenty years in the future, except for the difference in the hairstyles of the two sons.
Controlling, conniving, and underhandedly through bribery, the elder Giovanni influences the choice of the next pope. Its reward is to be the Vatican’s banker, which leads to prestige and additional wealth. In addition, he arranges a marriage for Cosimo (after sending away the woman he loves), and forbids his son to follow his true interest in life of art and architecture. The family business comes first.
I didn’t exactly find it the best of series for a few reasons:
- Miscasting – Dustin Hoffman is a poor choice to play the matriarch of the family – Giovanni. His acting is not up to par, and he just doesn’t fit the historical character’s role.
- Sound quality is absolutely terrible. Constantly, I had to crank up the volume to hear what they were saying, which I found annoying. This is an Italian production acquired exclusively by Netflix (though not by Netflix), so I’m not sure if that is the reason.
- The semi-interesting historical story line.
- The ancient city of Florence and its architecture.
- The costumes.
- History lessons on screen, such as the Black Death pandemic that was estimated to have killed 30-60% of Europe’s population.
- The surprising plot twist at the end of Season 1.
Nevertheless, check it out for a new period drama feast but beware it may not be your best meal.