Desperate Romantics (2009 BBC)

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Artistic license – to watch this six-part series, you absolutely need to know the meaning behind that term because at the beginning of each episode you will read:

In the mid-19th century, a group of young men challenged the art establishment of the day. The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood were inspired by the real world about them, yet took imaginative license in their art. This story, based on their lives and loves, follows in that inventive spirit.”

Desperate Romantics is an interesting look into the young lives of Dante Gabriel Rossetti, William Holman Hunt, and John Everett Millais, who were a group of English painters (and poets).  To learn about their painting and inspiration, you might want to read the article on Wikipedia.

This particular series is a bit raunchy, to say the least, with explicit sex scenes and lots of nudity.  Definitely in the “R-Rated” category.  However, beyond the bare skin and sex, is a complex set of characters from painters, models, art critics, prostitutes, and admirers of these three talented men who go about London with their radical ideas of artwork.  If you’ve seen the movie and read my review of Effie Gray you’ll see a semi-repeat of the story of John Ruskin (played by Tom Hollander) and his wife who eventually has their marriage annulled because her husband would not consummate it.

The rakish of rakes is Rossetti, played by Aidan Turner, who is quite the character (and often copulating and nude).  He’s lazy, a womanizer, unrepentant liar, and disloyal to close friends, yet eventually becomes a brilliant artist in his own right. His love affair and subsequent marriage to his model, Lizzie Siddal, is heartbreaking.  Here is her true story on Wikipedia.  One of his art pieces is below.

Lady Lilth
“Lady Lilith” (1866) Dante Gabriel Rossetti

John Everett Millais’ story (played by Samuel Barnett), who painted Ophelia is quite interesting. Lizzie Siddal models for him while floating in a bathtub of water. Millais is so engrossed in his work that he doesn’t realize the water has gone cold and she nearly drowns and later becomes ill.  Millais is the youngest of the three, innocent, and endearing in nature.  His career is launched early but falls into ill favor with his former patron, Ruskin, because he marries Effie.  His famous painting of “Ohpelia” is below.

“Ophelia” (1852) John Everett Millais

William Holman Hunt (played by Rafe Spall) is attracted to fallen women but wrestles with his spiritual beliefs and subsequent guilt. He’s an odd character to say the least, having attempted to reform a prostitute that he wants to marry. When she breaks his heart, he’s so pathetically sad that it’s quite funny.  One of his works is below.

“His Rienzi” 1848 – William Holman Hunt

Then there is a fourth character, Fred Walters, who is excited to hang around these talented individuals. He finds Lizzie Siddal by accident and approaches the brotherhood to introduce a perfect model.  Throughout the story he struggles with his emotions and love for Lizzie, and is constantly at odds with Rossetti and for good reason.

The series is delightful, to say the least, and well acted.  Unfortunately, it didn’t fair very well in the eyes of the critics and dwindling audiences while it aired.  It’s a shame, frankly, because I think it could have gone on for a few more seasons with an entertaining story line. The last episode brought me to tears of sorrow but then led me to laugh at the final declaration from Fred Walters, who narrates the story as well.

I’m not quite sure why this series tickled my fancy.  It is rather scathingly risque in many scenes, but the characters are all so vastly interesting and intriguing with their nuances. I suppose as an author, I’m always fascinated with human behavior and this series is filled with characters and their oddities.

You may or may not like this BBC release, which is now streaming on Britbox.  It’s not for the sexually faint, but if you like complex characters with their many foibles with incredible talent, you may like it quite a bit.

The Invisible Woman (2013 Movie)

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Three years late watching this movie, I finally sat down and streamed it last night on Amazon for $3.99 – The Invisible Woman.  Frankly, I had forgotten it existed until the Period Drama Appreciation Society on Facebook brought it up as a suggestion.  By the way, it’s a great group of 8,500 (probably mostly women) who are crazy about period drama from all over the world.  It’s a good group to join to get recommendations.

Charles Dickens.  A name known by many, and an author who has gone down in history.  Married and having sired ten children of his own, his now fat wife no longer interests him in spite of the fact he’s an older gentleman.  His treatment of her in the movie is atrocious, and whether fully true, I’m not sure.  He announces in the paper that he has separated from his wife.  At home, he has a handyman board up the door that adjoins their bedroom.  His wife is well aware that his affections have turned toward an 18-year old young lady, who is an actress and a mediocre one at that.

The movie, having received a not-so-warm reception upon release, is a bit odd.  Directed and starring Ralph Fiennes, I will admit he did quite well portraying the exuberant writer who loves his audience. His joy in life is telling a good tale that makes people think and tugs at the heart of its readers.  Nevertheless, on a personal note, his pursuit of the young Ellen “Nelly” Ternan is born from her admiration of his skill and love of his work.  Apparently, his fat wife does not possess the ability to adore him for his pen and brilliant mind, unlike Nelly who gushes with girlish adoration.

Of course, this is the Victorian era and men had mistresses.  Nevertheless, the obvious truth behind closed doors was not flaunted because society and religion knew it to be a scandal and sin.  Thus enters the “silent woman,” who cannot tell the world of her affair with Dickens.  She is kept hidden and well-cared for by the author, splitting his time between her and his adoring fans.

The movie portrays his mistress, Nelly, as a pining and broken hearted woman who looks upon her past with sadness.  Now married and with a child of her own, her lover has died and life has gone on physically.  The movie attempts drags us through her depression by multiple long walks on the beach as it flips back and forth between the present and the past.  The flips don’t always work, and perhaps it’s the way the tale focuses on her “blues” that makes it irritating.  Dickens’ coldness toward his wife and treatment is an abomination to watch, which takes your likeness of him as a man and turns it stone cold.  There are extremely slow and painful scenes of intimacies between the two, which itch your finger toward pushing the fast-forward button.

Nevertheless, the scandalous tale of Dicken’s true-life romance with an eighteen-year-old girl when he was forty-five, is an interesting peek into a man that many admire.  What is the truth behind it all?  If you read some of the reviews on Amazon, you’ll discover quite a few historical corrections regarding the affair and how it all played out in real life.  As for this version, I felt no empathy for Nelly or Dickens.

If you’re a period drama movie junkie, you might enjoy and then again you might not. I gave it 3 Kernels for your lovers of the Victorian era.

Julian Fellowes Presents Doctor Thorne


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Originally aired in the U.K. on ITV, Julian Fellowes Presents Doctor Thorne is now available for streaming on Amazon and is free for Prime members.  CLICK HERE

Doctor Thorne, a novel written in 1858 by Anthony Trollope, has been adapted for the screen by the twenty-first century Julian Fellowes. Should you watch it on Amazon, you will also enjoy Julian’s armchair introductions and commentary about Trollope and his story at the beginning and end of each episode.

Starring Tom Hollander, Stefanie Martini, Harry Richardson, and a host of other familiar faces consisting of British actors, I found it to be a delightful tale with a happy ending that waltzed me into a tear or two.  The story centers around Mary Thorne, who is raised by her uncle Dr. Thorne.  However, Mary is not privy to secrets that Dr. Thorne has kept from her and many others regarding her true identity.  Born out of wedlock and sired by Dr. Thorne’s brother, who is later accidentally killed, her mother gives up the baby.  Thorne raises her, and she turns out to be a delightful and kind young woman.

The story, of course, as you can see from the trailer is all about money.  The Greshams are broke and they need their son, Frank Gresham, to marry wealth in order to survive.  However, Frank is in love with penniless Mary with a questionable background.  His family continually pressures him to wed because they have mortgaged Greshambury to the hilt and much of it is owned by Sir Roger Scatcherd.

The premises of marrying for money is the central theme in the first two episodes, but as it continues the secrecy of Mary’s identity is slowly revealed to those involved. Her Uncle carefully protects her in many ways, and Tom Hollander does a stellar job in this period piece. I enjoy him and his character immensely.

Period dramas wouldn’t be dramas if there weren’t corrupt characters, alcoholics, bullies, and lustful intentions. I won’t give away the story any further except to say there are a few twists and turns that eventually lead to a happy ending.

Having read some of the reviews from the audience in general, it appears that there are mixed feelings.  Boring and miscast are a few words I’ver read, as well as slow and in no way compares with Julian’s Downton Abbey.  Of course, this isn’t meant to be Downtown Abbey, and it’s not a story that Julian Fellows wrote. He merely adapted the tale from a book written in 1858 by an author that most in the audience never knew existed in the realm of 19th-century novels.

The costumes, manor houses, and quaint village (Wiltshire) are all scenes we’ve seen in other films or in tourism pictures. Here is a link to the houses they used in filming Dr. Thorne on RadioTimes.

For those of you who love period drama, you may absolutely adore it while others might be let down because of your high expectations.  Frankly, I found it endearing at the end.  As long as ITV or BBC or whoever keeps making period dramas, I’m a happy camper.  Several more releases are on the horizon this year, and I can’t wait to be taken back to a time of conversational intercourse between the sexes.