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Archive for the ‘Costume drama’ Category


The author’s real name is Carolyn Heilbrun, the detective Kate Fansler


Jane Tennison (Helen Mirren) of Prime Suspect fame

Friends and readers,

An interim blog: this is me thinking out a few semi-conclusions I’ve come to after a couple of months of reading books about women detectives (history, literary criticism, culture, feminist) and reading and rereading a few such books by men and women. As I’ve written on my Sylvia I blog, I seem to be going through something of a transition after living in this world without Jim for some 9 plus years. Part of this is I am liking books I used to not be able to read, and able to accept optimism and at least sympathize with (understand in a new way from an outward transactional POV) some conventional transactional pro-social-ambition perspectives.

To get to the point here, I find that I can’t resist reading and watching new kinds of material in the detective, mystery-thriller, spy genre kind, which I’ve come back to seeing as closely allied to the gothic. Not that I altogether rejected books with women detectives at the center: my first Internet pseudonym was Sylvia Drake, a minor character in Dorothy Sayer’s Gaudy night, and my gravatar for my political blog is a small picture of Harriet Walter as Harriet Vane looking thoughtful.


From Strong Poison: she is supposed the murderer and this is in prison, she is talking to Lord Peter Wimsey (Edward Petherbridge)

The reading came out of my preparing for my coming The Heroine’s Journey course this winter. As you can see, if you go over the look, there is no example among my four slender book choices of a female detective novel. That’s because I couldn’t think of one slender enough for such a short course until I came upon Amanda Cross’s (aka Carolyn Heilbrun’s) Death in a Tenured Position. Most recent and older female detective novels are average size, say 350 pages (Gaudy Night is about this size) because often many combine a “novel of manners” (or domestic romance) with the detective formula. But I found it to be a central category because since surfacing in novels in the 1860s, the type has multiplied in appearances until say today there may be several TV shows featuring a female detective available all at once.

Although I’ve found dictionary-type books with lists and essays on women writers and their detective novels (Great Women Mystery Writers, ed Kathleen Gregory Klein, truly excellent; By a Woman’s Hand by Jean Swanson and Dean James, 200 short entries which have the merit of naming the author as well as the detective and offering enough information to give the reader a gist of what type of mystery fiction this is), it has been very hard to find any essay-like books treating just the category of female detective fiction by women writers. The nature of the material (influences, who’s writing what, movies as a group-creation) has led to many male writers putting female detectives at the center of their series, and many female writers putting male detectives, and these mixed gender creations (so to speak) are often superb in all sorts of ways.

One of my felicitous reading and watching experiences this past year was Anthony Horowitz’s Magpie Murders (both book and film), which features a private detective, Atticus Pund (spelt without accents) in a 1950s novel as part of an investigation into a parallel murder today by the old trope amateur sleuth, Sue Ryland in (presumably) 2021 — for its witticism, self-reflexive uses of the core fantasies, styles and yes multi-gender empathies.


Sue Rylands (Leslie Manville) is also intended to appeal to older unmarried career women (the spinster trope transformed & modernized at last)

But as there is a real, findable, and demonstable fault-line and difference between male and female writing, and films made by mostly men or mostly women, and visual art, and music too, and one of my aims as a teacher and writer is to keep women’s literature alive and make it more respected; I’ve been after just the books by women albeit in a multi-gender context. I’ve also tried to stick to films where the central author originally (or continuously) is a woman, and evidence shows women directing, producing, doing set design. The qualification here is all of these are shaped by the kind of detection mystery genre the book/film is written in. I’ve followed Andrew Marr centrally here; Julian Symons’s Bloody Murders is also indispensable.

I’ve come to a few tentative conclusions.

I agree in part with Kathleen Klein’s brilliant analysis (The Woman Detective: Gender and Genre) of the depiction of female detectives mostly in books, but equally by men and women that often these may easily be read and are in fact intended (when conscious) as anti-feminist (meaning the movement for independence and equality) portrayals from a male (in some eras on TV lascivious) POV.

This POV is on display in right now in the incessant arguments and brutal put-downs of Miss Eliza Scarlet (the ever patient Kate Phillips has played many an wholly abject woman, from Jane Seymour in the recent Wolf Hall, to Tolstoy’s hero Andrei’s long-suffering wife, the 2016 serial by Andrew Davies) by “The Duke” Inspector Wellington (the pugnacious, overtly insulting professional police detective played by Stuart Martin, doubtless chosen for his resemblance to the matinee idol type, Richard Armitage) who reiterates constantly a woman cannot be both a real or natural or happy woman and a detective; who needs strong men around her to protect her. Injury was added to insult in the most recent episode (Season 3, Episode 2) where a story was concocted whereby a mean and bullying ex-friend, Amanda Acaster, who repeatedly humiliated and nowadays derides her, is also used to criticize adversely Eliza’s character: Eliza is supposed now to have felt for Amanda trying to have a career using the same manipulative amoral tactics she did when the two were young. She is not charged though her measures were what encouraged a gang of thieves to use her restaurant as a front.  But look she surpasses Eliza in the Victoria sponge cake line. The costuming of the program shows some knowledge of the illustrations for such stories in the 1870s/90s, the music is very good, and lines are witty (though usually at Eliza’s expense) and I’d call the presentation stylish. I have spent this much time on it as it’s contemporary and its perniciousness extends to endorsing bullying and mocking non-macho males (Andrew Gower as a homosexual man controlled by his mother).

In many of these detective stories especially the hard-boiled type, and since the 1990s, the woman simply takes on male characteristics, and when she doesn’t and displays genuine female psychology, set of values, life experiences, and is as competent as the males and not just by intuition, by the end of a given book or series, we are to see she has not lived a fulfilled life, which must include marriage and motherhood. This is how Prime Suspect finally ends. In medias res, the female detective of whatever type is often allowed genuine common women’s lives characteristics and we see themes and archetypes familiar in women’s literature, e.g., recent film instance of the mother-daughter rivalry paradigm in Annika where the older heroine is divorced and lives with her teenage older daughter. There is now a line of disguised lesbian socially-conscious fiction, e.g., Val McDermid, seen in film recently featuring Karen Pirie played by Lauren Lyle, of Outlander provenance, dressed in unemphatically non-binary ways

But I don’t agree wholly with Klein (or others who write from her vantage). At the same time, the way out is not to trivialize and pretend to treat as playful amusement “the lady investigator” and her now many daughters, grand-daughters and great-grand-daughters, all the while lightly coming to the same conclusion as Klein, with some face-saving and genuinely rescuing qualifications. This is the vein taken by Patricia Craig and Mary Cadogan in their The Lady Investigates: Women Detectives and Spies in Fiction: a very informative as well as insightful book; it covers amateur and private detectives as well as the spy genre, which Klein does not. Nor is it to ignore this aspect of the genre altogether: Lucy Worsley in her Art of Murder manages this, at the same time as she (curiously) denies that the mass audience for this kind of thing understands it as fantasy (that most murders are not solved, and when solved not by brilliant ratiocinative nor super-scientific techniques, but rather information from people involved) but out of a thirst for violence and fascination with death (this does ally it to the gothic).

What we need to remember is the history of the genre: it first emerges in the later 19th century when women could get jobs and income on their own, go to college as woman (usually women’s colleges). The whole larger genre of detective fiction develops its characteristics when you first have men hired in visible numbers and a real police force. So there were male models for male detectives but no female models for female detectives. This changes (Miss Scarlet and the Duke is quite a startling throw-back) post-World War II when women held on to their array of male jobs and began to be hired, however slowly, and to be promoted to managerial positions in institutions, including the police (Lynda LaPlante modelled Jane Tennison on an actual woman detective).

I suggest that the woman detective was an popular substitute for the “new woman” so distinguished by feminist literary scholars of the 1890s (which never achieved much popularity or was not lasting); she becomes liberated and a real woman as women in our western societies begin at any rate to achieve the right and education for financial and some real sexual independence. We see this in Horowitz’s Sue Rylands and I hope to show other women detectives from the post World War II era.

So as a follow-on from this framework, I hope from time to time to write blogs here when the writer is a male and the portrait less than really feminocentric; on detective fiction found in both books and films; and on Reveries under the Sign of Austen (when the writer is female and the work genuinely l’ecriture-femme, which includes for me a genuinely anti-violence, anti-war and pro-woman political POV, which by the way I do think Prime Suspect was and is: Gray Cavender and Nancy C Jurik’s Justice Provocateur: Jane Tennison and Policing in Prime Suspect. The victims in these shows are often women tortured by male violence, young children, including boys destroyed and warped by male pedasty, immigrants, mostly women working menial jobs desperately, and yes prostitutes too, and women who murder (including one semi-accidental infanticide) too.

First up for Austen Reveries will be Amanda Cross’s Death in a Tenured Position and, for this blog, the older masterpiece, Josephine Tey’s The Daughter of Time (Inspector Alan Grant investigates the character of Richard III)


Of course Josephine Tey was a pseudonym; the author’s real name was Elizabeth Mackintosh, and the photo is of Jennifer Morag Henderson who wrote an excellent biography

Ellen

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From Number 13 (Greg Wise as Professor Ander hard at work and Tom Burke as Tom Jenkins, a cheerful sinister presence)

Gentle readers and patient friends,

A few years ago, pre-pandemic, I wrote a series of blogs asking what is a Christmasy Story, and basically came up with a moral model, often, tellingly, involved with the death of someone (or near destruction), most of the time with a redemption, or renewal of hope in the future at story’s end. As I did this year over Trollope’s two American Civil War Christmas stories, I brought up how central to these winter tale traditions was the ghost story, mentioning in passing how Dickens’s A Christmas Carol differed so in its happy ending, poetic justice. Most ghost stories are Kafkaesque, nightmarish, uncanny, unnerving.

What I’ve been leaving out is then a mystery of why these have been so much a part of Christmas, becoming explicitly so in the Victorian era. M. R. James in particular is utterly out of whack with most professed goals of festivity, joy, forgiveness and whatnot. This year seeking once again to watch and talk about Christmas stories on my now ancient Trollope & his Contemporaries listserv (@ groups.io), I proposed reading his Stalls of Barchester Cathedral and watching (it’s on YouTube), the 1971 film adaptation. I did both, but then dissatisfied with the weak film, too familiar with the story, I cast about to see what other films, if any, were available as ghost stories, and lo and behold discovered that in 2005 and again in 2017 the BBC attempted to revive the old traditions of the 1980s and make 30-40 minute films of short ghost stories, but this time in all cases, from M. J. James. The first one I watched was A View from the Hill (which held and made me very nervous), and then found short reviews of these, rightly recommending them.


Wandering in a tomb: “Imagine, if you will … ”

I found (as in the earlier ones), superb but not super-famous actors involved, intelligent subtle scripts, e.g., Number 13 (which begins in bright cheerful light). They do not seem to me as masterly as those done way back in the ’60s (Whistle and I’ll come to You, and the brought back Andrew Davies’s Signalman), but they are in color (not a small thing still), so beautifully photographed, or like illustrations, and as a group, compel me to wonder not why people want the thrill of magic, but why, as C.S. Lewis insisted, pain remorseless terror tropes of inexplicability as part of the season’s diet of renewal, remembering, human communal activities.

I’ve no good answer to that, for it’s not enough to say it’s a metaphoric experience which makes us take into account our own powerlessness against the forces of the natural and social worlds. These stories are much more effective when the ghost is genuine, not a psychological projection. I did several years ago write about Oliphant’s ghost stories and the relationship of the gothic ghost story to Christmas. What is terrifying about Whistle and I’ll Come to You is you feel you have yourself brought the ghost out without quite meaning to, and you are not sure you won’t be tempted to do or somehow do that again. This resembles how Hyde begins to be able to come out of Jekyll and take over at will.  The horror is also in this demon’s mocking breaking pf fundamental taboos against dwelling on death’s remains (e.g., playing with a corpse). Sometimes there was a crime perpetrated by the now victim (as in The Stalls) and sometimes (in Number 13), our researcher is digging up from the past real cruelties perpetrated by real people connected to present people’s interests and is warned away.

I now invite you to watch A View from the Hill (the notable actors are Pip Torrens, David Burke, Mark Letheren)

I provide four others in the comments.

So there is a typical structure and mood to all M. R. James whether in verbal story form or film. He builds mood slowly; a character goes to a remote place meaning to do research into the past. When he does, he evokes either a lingering malignant presence whom others living there are half-aware of and too unnerved to speak. Small things are felt; say a claw put out, a cat’s meow; this then grows nervily, louder, and from just an intrusion becomes overwhelming in its brutality. The demonic presence attacks him swiftly.  The ghost or revenant is not always a male in other authors, for example in Susan Hill’s The Woman in Black, where the ghost is a woman in black with unforgettable ferociously hating eyes, a mother whose child was taken from her and let die.

When this eruption from some other realm is effective, the attack is fatal; the person vanishes forever; but it can also be the ending is inconclusive, and you are left waiting with that victim-person who is trying to flee, like say in A View from the Hill, where our previous researcher is waiting for a train that is not coming. What’s chilling is the obtuse person (Pip Torrens) he is visiting appears not to know about this murderous presence and yet is ever leading our victim-character into danger — and then walking off. A blow by blow account — if you need it.

But this is what he sees:


From far


Then he is suddenly inside

In A View from the Hill it’s this pair of binoculars that allows the central victim-hero to see and be inside a cathedral that is no longer there literally. He is then (apparently) hanged for doing this.

The closest contemporary novels that come near this are by Kazuo Ishiguro: his Never Let Me Go has the same realistic surface as a ghost story, while the science fiction that is going on is cruel, and its apparent rational mirrors the senselessness of some modern medical technology uses — and connects us back to Shelley’s Frankenstein. But no one thinks of these as Christmas stories.


M. R. James

And now this delightful documentary by Mark Gatiss, about M.R. James as a man, his career, how these ghost stories emerged, and a brilliant analysis of them. It is 55 minutes, worth every second of it — many clips from BBC years. (I apologize if the link only takes you to a blockED video. You can type in M R James + Mark Gatis into the YouTube search engine and that may take you to this documentary. Poke around.) Gatiss suggests an important literary source of James’s visual imagination are the pictures in the medieval illuminated manuscripts James catalogued. And that James was repressed probably non-practicing homosexual. One amusing moment: Jonathan Miller (who did a brilliant adaptation) quietly insisting on how we are to see what happens in that story as nightmares (no ghost there literally), as if reassuring himself …

Any thoughts, anyone? at any rate, back again (we hope) next Winter Solstice.

Ellen

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The baker (Jake Lowenthal) and his wife (Erin Weaver)

This musical needs no recommendation, but perhaps this particular production as a seasonal favorite does

Gentle readers and kind friends,

The world may be about to burst into flames or drowned seven fathoms deep, people killed senselessly and maliciously or for profit everywhere we look (recently especially the world’s cup with millions watching anyway), a mad-dog version of an older political party about to take over the US House of Representatives, with the aim of doing nothing but destroy, but this year Washington DC can boast of several emotionally fulfilling productions — which (I think) do this by returning to faery tale and fantasy. The usual Folger production is at the Roundhouse in Maryland (and it has been too far for me or I would have seen it more than once), a wonderful Tempest, Wicked at the Kennedy Center, still sparkling, I’d say utterly iconic (the witch looks like Margaret Hamilton), and this past week, I enjoyed the National Theater fantasy caricature of MAAN.

What I liked about this Into the Woods — I’ve seen a number, including a year after Jim died, the Disney adaptation (see the blog for discussion of Sondheim’s motives and ideas about the faery tales) –,  is its clarity. What a wonder.  It is not over- nor under-produced. You were allowed to pay attention to the outlines of the interwoven stories, the characters’ lines, and their simple or archetypal emotions. I don’t know how they managed such a fresh feel, but they did it


At turning points in the plot-design, the whole cast gets together around the storyteller to hear where we are and project togetherness

Perhaps, as may be gathered from Peter Marks’s review (Washington Post), it was just that you were able to grasp the common human emotion driving this fantasy character in his or her ordinary predicament (she cannot get pregnant, the young boy will not be able to make a living, the little girl as a woman is impeded by a predatory male wolf), several of them desperate.


Cinderella in her Russian peasant outfit — the outfits seemed to me redolent of Russian peasants in archetypal movies (especially that of the Baker)

The Cinderella core paradigm of envy among women feels the least humanly convincing, the most exaggerated: the stepmother and three sisters resonated least for me, were most artificial because they were all made so ugly. Curious, the incidents that today hit home: the prince, when his princess has disappeared, aggressively seducing and lying to the baker’s wife, and the witch as the mother who in her need for her daughter’s love rationalizes she’s protecting her, when she’s preventing her from living. I this time admit the witch’s lines to Rapunzel “Stay with me:” “Don’t you know what’s out there in the world? … Stay at home … Who out there could love you more than I? …

Stay with me
The world is dark and wild
Stay a child while you can be a child …

did not resonate as much. I feel the original witch-look (Nova Y. Payton) was too much a caricature, and her black-sequined glamor gown made her not sufficiently a mother, more too much of a “black mamma” sexual object. There is such a thing as over-modernization because our favored cultural images and gestures are so very artificial, relentlessly competitive, and heartless. So there the simplifying didn’t work; the witch role was over-the-top, done somewhat crudely


Alex de Bard as Little Red Riding Hood shrugging off two mothers

I call the ambiance clarity, for this is the first time I realized how many of the characters actually die. Hitherto I thought of this as a story where we are shocked by the unexpected sudden unprepared death of the baker’s wife, but in fact (taking faery as fact), Little Red Riding Hood’s mother and grandmother die, Jack’s mother dies, the storyteller at one point is no longer with us, and I never felt assured the blinding of several characters was reversed. I had taken it the first half ends happily, so we are left to wonder what can keep us to a second half?


The spiky paratextual theme song (“Into the Woods” we go) is essential for keeping the impetus thrust forward going

I wondered what more was there to say? It is really common for Sondheim’s musicals to fall off in the second half (especially clear in Sunday in the Park with George). That was the feel as we re-began . But soon we began to see a lot could happen — that’s why we need all this wishing: the statements “I wish”  begins the production and one more ends it.

Disaster strikes in the form of a never-seen female monster-giantess. Feel free to allegorize? We watch our left-standing characters re-group again and again — after some squabbling. I remembered the death of the Baker’s wife since it was emphasized in the Disney film (and the other deaths skipped or slid over somehow), but that this was the incident in the film which provoked the lyrics that I began to keen over once again: here it was Red Riding Hood who suddenly missed her grandmother

Sometimes people leave you
Halfway through the wood
Others may deceive you.
You decide what’s good.
You decide alone.
But no one is alone …

Jim has left us (me and Izzy) halfway through the wood. I just moved stiffly further back in my chair as I tried to dissociate myself from the audience, theater, all about me, lobby outside. Once again I was not quite recovered when four of the characters and baby were left bonded into a new family, and then, one by one, the disappeared characters returned  onto the stage, and became part of a singing your soul out ensemble.

Don’t miss it. Magical fairytale, It’s a Wonderful Life without the miracle. Dogged as does it.


Cast towards the end singing their hearts out

I need to tell you how I managed to go. I had a win last week when I went to the Phillips with the same friend who accompanied me to this musical and then in Shirlington to dinner out in a quiet restaurant with delicious Thai food. So I am no longer immured at night even if public transportation has once again been cut — as long as there is not yet another cab or bus to take once I arrive near my destination. Very nervously I obtained the address of the restaurant from a waiter, clicked away on Lyft, went outside when it said 1 minute to go and found the car (by license plate) and man (by name, Khalid).  It is against the backdrop of what’s happening across the world, a reactionary deprivation of the majority, more and more isolation from many causes (though we have had a pushback this election cycle) that these musicals (that do not refer to the Christian myth) can best be understood.

Ellen

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Beatrice (Kate Jennings Grant) and Benedick (Rick Holmes) as TV news anchors

Readers and friends,

As many local people (DC, Maryland and Virginia) know, the Shakespeare Theater Company’s production of Much Ado About Nothing (now running until Dec 11th) has been getting rave reviews. Some acknowledge you have to suspend your common sense when it comes to matching words to the action, or consistency in what happens right before us; the reviewer’s reply:  “So to Shakespeare purists I say: Reason not the need.” Supported by a strong case (I agree a number of the center actors are very good), we are to turn ourselves over to those who want to give a party


Intermittently the stage revolves and we find ourselves at a ball (this is the last scene of the play)

I don’t like being called a Shakespeare purist:  to me that means I want to see Shakespeare’s play for real at some level, a production that does justice to his text and genius. I think rather that we need not dismiss Shakespeare at all, that the production does present a coherent enough reading of the play, its transformations witty  & some appropriate. I admit as the play opened, my first reaction was to feel appalled: for a start, the characters were not following the original play’s script. I could barely hear Shakespeare’s language, there were flashing lights everywhere, lots of noise and neon. How did the production win me over until by the end I was enjoying it and had participated in genuine grief and happiness from the play?

We were in SNN (Shakespeare News Network) and hearing of episodes in Shakespeare’s other plays retold in reductive or caricatured funny ways; these punctuated the action, and they became more hilarious and more daring as the play went on. Some of the funniest had Shakespeare’s other characters’ lines as tweets. The two central stories gradually unfold, and as far as I could tell, most of Shakespeare’s best lines were kept: perhaps Kate Jennings Grant as Beatrice was too loud, too aggressive; she was (I felt) overdoing the assertion, but she was matched by Rick Holmes as Benedick undermining her. What they were doing (and I’ve seen this in other productions of MAAN) was trying to cover over, blend together two disparate stories: Hero and Claudius come near tragedy, and far from iconoclastic, and subversive of anything, they are over-the-top conventional. So the actors (Nicole King and Paul Deo, Jr) were made to speak what they had similarly loudly and with accompanying comic and romantic business also dressed absurdly:


Hero (King), Beatrice and Leonato (Edward Gero)

The theme of Shakespeare’s play is the danger of gossip, of rumor, of misinformation, and it’s from that angle the news-show as entertainment fit its themes. I found myself amused by the ingenuity of the appropriation’s details. We were worked through the farce of Benedict being fooled into thinking that Beatrice loves him and Beatrice vice-versa, with them listening from behind going into all kinds of conniption fits. Then the actors were working so hard, meant so well and at moments winked past their costumes and the action to signal to the audience. Beatrice ends in a garbage bin; when she emerges hurls a piece of pizza across the stage, she looked pointedly at us to applaud her. That sort of thing. Then we see the videotaping of two characters dressed up to resemble Hero and another man. A kind of falsification of evidence we are familiar with. As in all productions, one is then pushed into the pathos of Hero and made to feel the cruelty of the way the men humiliate Hero and her father, never giving either a chance to explain or justify themselves, and become emotionally involved:


Margaret (Dina Thomas) to the side; Benedick as in all productions ends on the side of the women

Then back to farce with the intervention of Dogberry (Dave Quay), Verges (David Bishins) and two unnamed cops as an incompetent surveillance team and secret service; at moments it all felt inspired as we moved back to hear more of what was going on in other of Shakespeare’s plays (everyone dead on the stage in Hamlet, the war in Egypt not going so well &c&c). In the better productions I’ve seen this interlude of Shakespeare’s play is not downplayed but used centrally as it was here:

I’m not going to make it better than it was. Like this summer’s DC production of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer’s Night Dream, this was a frolicking, rollicking version of one of our national ritual plays meant to rouse us out of ourselves — and here, however lightly, skimmingly, to comment on our own world that has such ridiculous TV shows:  it won’t bear philosophical or political scrutiny. I wished too that Gero had been given more space and time to convey Shakespeare’s old man’s grief (I remember when he was doing the heroes of Shakespeare’s plays), but it is a kind of compliment to this play if it were not such a trek for me to get there, I’d see it twice so as to take in what was happening. I wished I were closer to the stage to hear what was said or we had surtitles.

I’d like to end on the idea that were it filmed as Kate Hamil’s dancing Sense and Sensibility has been, I’d go to see it in a theater or (better yet) stream it up close to me on my computer in my home. At the same time, as with Hamil’s staged production, a lot was done that was fun that only works in a live theater. Each time I go to a play since the pandemic entered this later stage, I am reminded that wonderful as it is to watch them from London on my computer, much is lost without the lived real presences and its accompanying sense of risk taken.

Ellen

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Lord John Grey (David Berry, Episode 5, “Give Me Liberty)

Dear friends and readers,

I complete my account of the sixth season of Outlander (see Episodes 1-4: Processing Grief … ). I’ve been so enjoying the sixth season, I’m telling myself by mid-December I’ll try again to read or listen to The Fiery Cross and then go on to A Breath of Snow and Ashes, both of which I have as books by Galbaldon and as CD sets read aloud by Davina Porter.

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Episode 6: Give Me Liberty

Yet another basically reflective and retrospective episode. I was delighted to find that David Berry has returned. To my taste, he is the handsomest of all the male leads, and I’m “charmed” (really am) by the character. At one point he is wearing a lovely cream-colored outfit, but I could not find a still online of this scene.

This is another episode hard to disentangle and hard to replicate with the interweave so again I’ll just cover each thread. My framing will be the feature that comes with it: all about trauma and how trauma is affecting several of the central characters.

I had not picked up on how much Claire (Caitriona Balfe) is using ether – as one would a calming drug today. So at several points in the episode we her disappear after she takes a drug too. She sees and hears Lionel Brown (Ned Dennehy) as a haunting revenant.

Fergus (Cesar Dombey) is now traumatized because of his loss of his hand and the way other males and females too have treated him. During the episode he seems to disappear we are told after trading he began to work as a printer in one of the larger North Caroline towns, not far off from where Aunt Jocasta (Maria Doyle Kennedy) has her estate. We also hear she is funding him, and what’s more he is again printing subversive pamphlets. He is for the colonialists in the struggle in which Murtagh (Duncan Lacroix) was involved. Just one line from her but strong (because Maria Doyle Kennedy is a very effective presence) that she misses Murtagh: she is helping the “side” Murtagh died defending.


Jamie, John and black servant girl

This then involves Jamie (Sam Heughan). He has given up being an agent for the crown with the Indians because he does not want to be a mole. Claire and Brianna (Sophia Skelton) have told him the British lose – this seems to figure in his thinking. Lord John Grey first seen in the episode talking to the British representative and vouching for Jamie, and at first Jamie lies to him, but then tells him the truth, and Grey then alerts a meeting of the Regulators (?) on time so all escape.

A subplot involves Roger still helping a widow and her child finish a house and settle in. Everyone is talking, Brianna is jealous or worried Roger is being dragged in. We see in part he is — he is also a man who hasn’t got a role in the world that fits him anymore. But by end of episode Brianna pregnant again and Roger has supplied another young man as a substitute for himself.

An as yet nameless young man (later we find out his name is Henderson) appears to be having an affair with Malva – very dangerous because of her fanatic and tyrannical father. She seems to court punishment by prostituting herself. A scene I did not understand at all – we see Malva is visiting what looks like a half-alive and half-dead rotting corpse. She slices off one of his fingers. This is creepy gothic. I know she is not to be trusted.


Lizzie serving, Brianna and Roger at the table

Lauren Lyle as Marsali in this season comes into her own, in the various roles we watch her play – soon she will be joining Fergus we are told.
Ian not much there if at all in this episode. Lizzie (Caitlin O’Ryan) grows ill with malaria (malarial attacks repeat themselves) and we see the two twin male servants care a lot for her.

At end of episode suddenly Claire hears a tune that comes from a later period. I could not place it, but then we see (it seems) perhaps in prison but at any rate from the back, someone with a jewel he stole from Jocasta’s necklace in his hand. Long black hair from the back? Who could he be? I have not guessed it.

So a lot going on, much of it inward.

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Episode 6: The World Turned Upside Down


Claire seeking out Tom Christie (Mark Lewis Jones)

Well at long last we are not quietly reflective and retrospective: this is a powerful deeply distressing and disquieting episode. Everything is turned upside down when Malva becomes pregnant and accuses Jamie of having sex with her repeatedly, liking it, and being the father of this coming baby! Before very long everyone in the settlement or on Fraser’s Ridge has been told about this. This happens about half-way through the episode.
It gets worse.

The first half of the episode is about a disease running through the settlement. Is it cholera? Bacteria carried in the water. Different people appear to have different diseases. Claire becomes very ill, and while Brianna is out, Malva and Lizzie meaning for the best (I’m not sure about Malva) chop off Claire’s hair until it’s very short. She recovers, but many die. Of course the 21st century watcher worries about the gossip about Claire as a witch.

Caitriona Balfe is more interestingly dressed than she has been in a few seasons. She has after all been in story about American pioneers. We see her in long skirts most of the time but now she dons a Napoleonic like long coat and a fine hat to cover her head. She visits Tom Christie to discover if he has the same disease she does, but the conversation goes badly. He walks her back though.

And now the shocking accusation. Christie with his daughter and son, Allan. It should be noted they are hardly ever apart and when I first saw them I thought they were courting. Claire had had a bad dream in which she thought she saw Jamie responding to one of Malva’s advances. She flees to a barn and Jamie follows after denying everything and throwing the Christies out. A confrontation ensues: Claire cannot disbelieve him but she is shaken: she does not belong here, neither do Brianna or Roger, all for love of Jamie. This does bring home to us how much they are giving up. But we see other moments where she and Jamie are missing Marsali and Fergus now. How Brianna is attached to her. Even Brianna is shaken because of her parents’ own unconventional relationship. He confesses the one night of love-making with Mary MacNab before he gave himself up to Ardsmuir prison.

Always generous, Claire visits (!) Malva and tries to talk with her but it is soon obvious it’s useless – Malva lies, calls Claire a witch, the brother backs her up. Claire gets angry and threatens Malva. Malva impervious


Malva morte

At the very end Malva is found with her throat cut, just dying or dead, and much to my horror, as Claire is the one to find her, Claire seeing how advanced the baby is (how big the bulge) performs a C-Section on her! (with a knife), of course now she cannot live; Claire pulls a tiny baby, but complete and it is just breathing and she works to resuscitate it, but it dies in her arms. I was terrified by this as I know she cam be blamed for a double murder! I gather it will take a long time in the book ( A Breathe of Snow and Ashes) before it is finally discovered who fathered this baby, and who did the murder.

This is violence enough. Very real. Very relevant to our world today (I’m thinking of women’s reproductive rights, what pregnancy is, the attempt to stop all abortions maybe even contraception &c&c in places in the US).

This is worrying for Jamie is gone off to the Philadelphia Continental Congress where he Is not chosen for a representative because his reputation now ruined. Back, we the whole settlement ostracize the Frasers and Mackenzies – Roger had been a central minister at the opening of this episode. Iain gets into fights on Jamie’s behalf; he goes to Claire and says he is the father for he did once have sex with Malva. Claire suddenly says that Roger came upon her having sex with Henderson (I wonder that was not brought out before or made public). Malva seems to be promiscuous – who knows who the father is?

Then Claire still suffering traumatic memories (Lionel Brown’s ghost and voice haunts her), takes some ether rather than answer the door. It’s Malva. She has a bad dream of Malva accusing Jamie and her. Wakening, she goes out to the garden and find there the dying Malva, and what I described above ensues. Claire is left crying with horror.

I finished reading the redaction of A Breath of Snow and Ashes in the second companion and find that Bonnet died in this book. What’s more there is a lot more military action going in. The film-makers have deliberately excised that stuff from both the 5th and now this season. The girl’s accusations and its results up to her death are there in the book more or less as told in the film. The title of the book refers to the season of winter, and I see at the end of the book the explanation for the brief obituary Brianna read, which brought her back in time is also revealed.

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Episode 7: Sticks and Stones

This one feels like a cumulation of all the episodes of this season dealing with trauma; Claire is now utterly caught up with murder of Malva.
Then paratext of song this season is “the Laird that is gone …”


Brianna and Roger wished “safe travels”

Begins with Mrs Bug suggesting Malva was never to be distrusted, but Claire insists she never thought that way about her. Mr Crombie first appearance.

They are all standing around the corpse: brother (I cannot find any stills of him) curses Claire and Jamie; how did you go out there with a knife; did they see anything at all; father does not want to give her a burial in consecrated ground; Jamie says they will bury the bodies at the Ridge. Claire insists she thinks of Malva as life and light not darkness

Claire’s bad dreams woven throughout: it’s the voice of Lionel which is the voice of guilt; the most traumatic of all her experiences beaten and gang raped. Knocking at door. She is using ether – trying to medicate herself but making herself worse; haunted Ian out searching, asking questions. It was a Sin Eater who was missing finger parts and we now realize that’s who we saw Malva cutting.


Henderson — a likely candidate for Malva’s baby’s father

Anecdote episode with Henderson come to complain about questioning; it emerges that Roger saw him having sex with Malva and he gets indignant
Voice goes over all Claire’s history and “betrayals” and lies from first season on, with angry protesting voices at her at the time; she left when she should have stayed; stayed when she should have left (Frank’s voice, Black Jack’s)

Brianna and Roger now talking about it, he says he will do the service; as this episode develops Roger becomes more and more explicit that he wants to be a minister – finally this can be his occupation in this era


Roger as minister at funeral

All finally take note that something wrong or different about Lizzie’s behavior, she is caught in lies; Josiah and Kezzie have vanished

Perry Mason thought of by Claire (she wishes they had him there): who could have, who had the motive, who has opportunity and Claire says me: she is beginning to think she may have done it, rather that she wanted to do it.

Nightmare with Malva banging at door, shock she awakens, lost her temper and threatened Malvina: I’ll fucking kill you; Jamies there to contradict, sooth; over voice: funny we saw we are just human when we do bad things, not good ones.

Who is she now after all the roles she’s played? (Claire thinking)


There are contemplative images of them — an older couple

Story of Lizzie and Beardsley boys emerges; Lizzie feels she has done nothing wrong; eventually handfast with them both.

Talk about killing; eating animals (vegetarian explained); Jamie says big difference when Roger Mac killed a man in self-defense and this murder of Malva
Claire: because I came here I changed things: whole history of all; it was because she desperately wanted to be with Jamie – she loved him

Funeral scene: Allan (the brother of Malva) accuses them both – terrible scenes in the church. Quieter by the grave Jamie not to carry coffin; Ian can.

Claire going crazy she feels; losing it; Jamie says she must not lock him out the way she did not allow Jamie to lock the world out after Wentworth. She says she’d do it all again.

Brianna and Roger now decided on this career for him, a minister (it’s what his adopted father was); it seems to demand they go to Edenton as a family; Roger upset at how child is being taught to believe people become ghosts.

All now quiet, they are making dinner, and the posse of the Brown gang arrive and demand to take Claire away as under arrest

Episode does center a lot on Jamie and Claire — we keep returning to them

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Episode 8: I am not alone


Jamie and Claire defending themselves early in the night

I put off watching this because somehow I found it so painful and anxiety-producing the first time round, but that was late at night and I watched it directly after S6, E7, Sticks and Stones. This time I could see reassurance set up by the end

The previously takes us way back: Brianna tells Roger she cannot tell if Jemmy is his. News of deaths of Claire & Jamie in a fire. Jamie gives Cherokees guns. Roger preaching sermon, he & Briana to Edenton so he may be ordained Presbyterian: this could be his fitting occupation. Your wife covered up to elbows in blood. The accusation. Brown: we have come for our wife to arrest her for the murder of Malva Christie.

A scene of 2 in a café modern eating fries … one a woman, cannot catch the other – slipped in …


The Posse comes, led by Richard Brown

They demand Claire, are Committee of Public Safety. Beardsley & Lizzie flee. A battle ensues. Men surround the house; Claire kills with rifle man who got in. Frees Jamie from crowd; they barricade themselves. Boarded up windows. House being destroyed by all out shooting. Brown found out Marsali killed his brother (Claire to Jamie). This is revenge, an excuse. Brown with a white handkerchief; they’ll go to Salisbury for fair trial; that’s the law …. Jamie shoots at them, they look like thugs.

Switch to Roger & Brianna and Jemmy. Talking of revolution; what’s happening in Boston; once Roger would dream to go, but now he’s here. I must think all be safe. They talk of how truths kept from them as children; she now accepts what happened … Back to house, Jamie and Claire fear firing of their house; by the hearth, with water, find food, Obituary says 21 January; this is May so they must survive. No plan. Outside men bivouac.

Roger and Brianna inside tent with child; beautiful love-making scene of comfortably married couple, laughter, she pregnant. This contrasts and compares to Jamie and Claire: condemned eat hearty meal; she’d choose cheeseburger &c (it sound like the meal we saw a opening still). Where is everyone? Ian? Lizzie? They remember the times he came near death, when she did. Fortune teller read his palm and it connected death with number 9. Jamie cites Prayer of Contrition.

Outside fisherfolk, Hiram Comb – come out, thou shalt not suffer a witch to live; they accuse him of killing Malva; Claire shouts hoarsely she was trying to save the unborn child and Jamie innocent. Accusation of revenge. Malva’s brother: you debauched and killed my sister. Scots people ride up with Lizzie but no go. Tom Christie arrives and manages a negotiation Witness and mediator. No reason you should not rest in your own bed. Frasers go back in. Guard set. Love-making that night. Knitted bodies. Jamie promises her this will not be the last time they see the house and environs.


Their last night — an expressive image

Daylight. They are in wagon. Shall I tend to their wounds? Christie brings her breakfast. No court at Salisbury; off to Wilmington; Tom Christie looking remorseful. Lizzie I am back, but she cannot help; Ian back but vanishes. People roused to throw stones. Calm reasserted

Brianna: are we there yet? They read New Bern Onion, Fergus printer. Poet’s corner – Marsali. Child has lice; they cut his hair and discover hereditary nevus like the one Roger has. So they are father & son.

Back to Jamie and Claire in wagon; Christie hanging round. Ian there, but not time yet. Don’t go away, lad I am with you Uncle.

Someone comes up; a man dies; Jamie brought out for drinking water: a trap, the rest ride off with Claire, shouting. Brown tells Claire his brother a lout but she is a murderer and he was his brother Mr Fraser sent to Scotland; Christie will not leave her, insists Jamie alive, he is there to protect her. Trip of fearful discontent.

Snap shot of Brianna and Roger still off with child to Edenton

Claire now over-voice: Tom Christie troubled; will not admit Jamie dead. Town (Wilmington) in bad shape. Corpse hanging. She is put in jail. Christie there: I would not have your deaths on my conscience. She is to trust him.

Switch to Jamie tied to post; just as someone is about to crush Jamie’s head, Ian’s arrow hits; we see him and Indians. All there, reassurance, and group now riding post-haste to rescue Claire (with Tom Christie protecting her). She (I) is not alone.

Finis for season — until next year when (we are told) there may be 16 episodes and then the series will come to an end. I have not included the more frantic and debilitating and humiliating seasons (Claire led by a rope, for example) because the over-all feel is stoical

Ellen

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Brianna (Sophia Skelton) helping Claire (Caitriona Balfe) to bathe — after she is brought back to Fraser’s Ridge from gang-rape (Season 5, Episode 12: Never My Love)

How many times have I put my hopes, my fears, my secret longings into the hands of a Being that can’t see, can’t hear, can’t even feel. How many times have my prayers been answered? Time is a lot of the things that people say God is. There is pre-existing and having no end. There is the notion of a Being all powerful because nothing can stand against Time, not mountains, not armies. Give anything enough time, and everything is taken care of, all pain encompassed, all hardship erased, all loss subsumed. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust. And if Time is akin to God, I suppose that memories must be the devil …. (from script, the overvoice for Season 5, Episode 5, “Perpetual Adoration”)

Friends and readers,

I loved this 6th season, which, while it basically adapts freely A Breathe of Snow and Ashes, like Season 5, also brings together material from a later and earlier book and re-arranges everything to the point the overall feel is very different (a handy list for viewing all recaps and commentary on Season 5). It is also, crucially and astonishingly to me, strongly dependent on the viewer having become immersed before and being totally involved before you begin. I’d say almost all the episodes had long sequences that were reflective and meditative, remembering and re-processing as it were — so how does this rivet new watchers? There is but one feature and it is all about trauma. We hear from all the major actors/characters, the central scriptwriters (those here since the first season), where they talk of each major character in terms of how processing grief is difficult; everyone processes grief differently; it’s real, violent, volatile. They are searching for their identity, what is the way forward; their past holds them. Some terrible things have happened; is Claire Teflon? No. Jamie is giving her space and time to heal; she has nightmares .. the feature goes over each character but dwells on Claire, Ian (“The Hour of the Wolf”), and Fergus. I am telling myself I must go back and finish reading/listening to The Fiery Cross and then go on to A Breathe of Snow and Ashes.

I admit since I found the fifth and sixth Outlander books so muddled, so without forward thrust, that for much of the previous season and all of this one too I relied on The Outlandish Companion: Volume II by Diana Gabaldon

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Episode 1: Echoes (a straight recap with video clip)


Ardsmuir (New Craigmiller Castle)

Just a first impression, and w/o benefit of reading the source book at all. As I said a while back I got through only half of book 5 (The Fiery Cross); I’ve never opened book 6 (A Breath of Snow and Ashes). You are at a considerable disadvantage when you’ve not read the book in these sorts of film adaptations meant in part to be faithful and using the book for deepening. A brief read of some comments on Season 6 show Roger Moore back in central place (I imagine his movements away to other shows became fewer when the pandemic hit and much new programming delayed or cancelled but I could be wrong) and Gabaldon interesting herself to the point she says that much that she cared about made the transfer but not all; we are told the opening is not in the book but taken from elsewhere.

Certainly the opening was a surprise and to me a somewhat demoralizing one. We are back at Ardsmuir, way before Lord John Grey took over, not just after Culloden, but just after Jamie gives himself up (1753) – I did recognize the actor who played the first general. It is such misery and what we see is slowly Jamie asserting himself and the men gaining minimal rights. An ambivalent relationship emerges between Jamie and a man who is at the head of Protestant faction: Tom Christie (Mark Lewis Jones). I felt the loss of Murtagh and found that Duncan Lacroix is no longer in the cast at all.


Jamie (Sam Heughan) and Claire, 1773 (after flashback) dressed with attitudes which signify they’re older

Then we fast forward 20 years to 1773 and North America. I began more to enjoy it. I have to say that this episode reminded me of the opener in Episode 5: it moves slowly and is a gradual development of our favorite characters, showing us what they are at this point. I loved it but my feeling is if you are not already deeply immersed this may not grab you at all. Seasons 1-3 openers did, and Seasons 1-2 were especially exciting and melodramatic almost throughout. I grew to love 5, but I acknowledge others might not unless they were wrapped up in the characters already.

So basically Claire is slowly overcoming the trauma of the rape-beating; Jamie keeps close to her lest anyone attack her again; she is now inventing anesthetics but Brianna worries lest they be misunderstood and attacked again – part of the animus against Claire in Season 5 was her portraying herself as Dr Rawlings dispensing contraceptive information. And lo and behold there is Christie’s daughter, Malva (Jessica Reynolds), who seems at first simply a fanatic evangelical type sniffing around the “phosporus,” saying this is the stuff of the devil.

Yes Tom Christie turns up with his family; he saw the ad and wants to be part of the settlement. Jamie, a bit reluctant, nonetheless accepts them in. Tom is a tyrant to his family, and his son is going bad, partly a result of this repression and bullying. Marsali (Lauren Lyle) is pregnant again, but this time she has a bruise on her arm, and soon it emerges Fergus (Cesar Dombey) has become an alcoholic. She is deeply ashamed and he’s in denial: we are given clues some of this is the result of his having one hand and not being of service like the others. Problem here is this was not a problem before: he was always as active as ever (partly from Jamie’s influence but that’s not gone). Brianna and Roger (Richard Rankin) just there, in support (not given much to do beyond that). Young Ian (John Bell) active in hunting animals with bows and arrows; there is a conversation where he brings up the idea that perhaps Claire could help him change his destiny as he sees it with respect to his wife. This is the first we’ve heard of her explicitly.

Central scene is love-making, gentle and tender between Claire and Jamie – as befits this grandparent couple. Both of them have bad dreams or memories: Jamie’s shorter (of Ardsmuir) and Claire’s of the rape and beating. We see them as kind grandparents to Brianna/Roger’s children and one of Fergus/Marsali’s.

Plot-design of episode; governor’s aide arrives early to ask Jamie to become a chief crown agent dealing with Indians; he does not want to involve himself (as he refused in episode 5 – reminding me of Ross Poldark’s reluctance). The governor is going to tax the Frasers heavily for not agreeing to take on Indian tasks. But what happens is the threatening presence our enemy group (one must have a true villains) are what is left over the Brown gang, headed by Richard Brown (Chris Larkin), the brother of man who instigated the rape of Claire (hated her for helping his wife, his daughter) and whom Jamie murdered and returned in a body bag. The Browns demand that Jamie punish Tom Christie for stealing an object and Jamie is forced to whip him (we see a flogging of Jamie at the opening in Ardsmuir). Jamie hates this. Jamie now told Lionel (Ned Dennehy) will become the Indian agent. So at the end of the episode Jamie relents and takes the position as it would be dangerous for them, for the Indians, for everyone for such a gang to have power.

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Episode 2: Allegiances (another recap, this time with still, more evaluative)


Tom Christie (Mark Lewis Jones)

I’ve watched Episode 2 now and find that it’s making me very curious about A Breath of Snow and Ashes. I have the feeling the film team has done the same thing they did for Season 5, from (more or less) The Fiery Cross. They have picked a few of the episodes, and rewritten and rewoven them to fit a theme (or themes) across this season. Despite the re-appearance of Roger Moore’s name in key places (writing too), it has the quietude of the fifth season, with this difference, I am continually worried or feeling anxious about our six principals: Jamie and Claire; Roger and Brianna; Marsali and Fergus.

The threat is from the people Jamie has allowed to build and live in their compound (the religious ideas of Tom Christie are paranoid and aggressive, including an obviously misogynistic inspired distrust of Claire as a witch), and now the Indians that Jamie has (paradox this) become an agent to the crown (George III) to. Every doctoring deed Claire does is worrying, and now Brianna, matching Claire’s invention of ether, invented matches.


Still brings out the quietly comic feel of the operation

Story: it opens with Claire trying to mend Tom Christie’s more crippled hand, which she says she will have to operate using ether on. As in later conversations when Christie brings up the idea God doesn’t want him to have a good hand, Claire refutes this with secular and ironic understanding. Marsali’s pregnancy is quite advanced and Claire now with Malva (dangerous because Christie’s daughter-in-law) goes to take care of Marsali. The baby is near birth, but something is wrong, and Claire dare not do a C-section, for that would kill Marsali. Claire also gets out of Marsali, the bruises are from Fergus; they fight intensely over his drinking. Jamie deputies Roger to go get Fergus who is very drunk when Roger arrives, and Roger becomes disgusted and angry with Fergus, who finally agrees to come.


Fergus with Claire

A second thread moving through this is Jamie and Ian’s overnight visit to the Indians who are asking Jamie to ask the governor to give them guns, ammunition. Jamie consults Claire as to the future allegiance of the Cherokee and she says she doesn’t know as she did not read that far into American history: this Is part of a scene where they make love.

Back to visit to Indians overnight: a supposedly comic scene of two Indian women trying to have sex that night with Jamie, stopped finally by Ian speaking to them. Jamie will only promise to consider asking the governor.

Fergus comes and he is transformed (one hopes more than momentarily) to the Fergus we knew: sweet, loving, he begins to make love to Marsali, as enormous as she is, sucking her breasts. He says in the brothel they did that to help women give birth. All leave the couple alone, but and eventually hear the baby coming. We see Marsali giving birth with Claire and Malva on either side, also Brianna there, but when Fergus takes the child after a few minutes he is horrified (“nain” he cries and runs off): the child is perhaps a Downs Syndrome baby; Marsali loves it immediately.

The thread of the Christie group appears again with Christie building a church; and an old woman in the group dying. Roger is to be minister at the funeral and lo and behold she awakens momentarily. Claire explains this – a semi-comic, semi-deeply felt scene ensues with the old woman alive but dying still is what happens. Again the modern ideas that Claire brings to this endanger her in the eyes of these people. A little later Jamie comes up to their compound and queries this building of a church before houses; Tom Christie stands up for this idea, and Jamie appears to allow it as long as the new church is neither Catholic nor Protestant specifically but rather a meeting house for all – he refers Tom to the opening at Ardsmuir where he, Jamie, resolved constant fighting by joining the Freemasons and telling the others too and thus defusing religious conflicts.


Bree and Roger, playful

Brianna and Roger are seen having private time together with her hurt because over the meal they had just before Marsali went into labor, everyone thought good news was a new baby, when it was her invention of matches. Only Claire seemed to understand how important and convenient these are. It’s frustrating to Brianna that her abilities have nowhere to flourish. They talk of how they have decided to stay permanently and how they have been trying to have another child with no result as yet. We see Brianna a little later walking to stables where she meets Ian. She overhears him praying for a child he apparently had with his Mohawk wife. Ian is bothered by Jamie’s refusal to ask the Governor – a refusal that the Indians learned of and came to be angry over. Claire says if Jamie gives them arms, they could end up the Fraser’s enemy as the Frasers right now are on the British (not rebels) side. Ian says that nonetheless the Indians deserve weapons if they are to be endlessly displaced by these white colonialists.

In another scene (I’m not sure exactly where these all occur in the sequence) Brianna and Jamie sit on the porch together talking and cleaning their two guns. Brianna tells Jamie that Ian had a child who is probably still with the Mohawk.

A small later episode shows Jamie talking to Mr Bug about some supplies he is taking with Kessie to trade; up to them comes Mrs Bug and Lizzie (Caitlin O’Ryan) and we see that Kessie and Lizzie have a flirtation going on.

The episode concludes with Jamie writing a long letter to the governor (at first from some dialogue we assume it is to his Aunt Jocasta); late at night Claire comes out of the bedroom to ask about the letter. He confides to her he is going to give it to the Major (then with them) to give to the governor to ask for the Indians to have guns. She says I thought you were against this. He replies that he now realizes that Ian’s allegiance is to the Mohawk, to these Indians, and that he, Jamie’s, allegiance is to Ian so he will do as Ian asked him to.

Just about all these scenes are quiet thoughtful ones, filled with mood and complex feelings – even quieter and less overt aggressive action than Season 5. I find I have no trouble staying up and watching intensely, ever worried for everyone and caring about them. Snow on the ground showing it’s winter. The whole episode is beautifully photographed throughout.

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Episode 3: Temperance (detailed straight recap, emotional, with still)


Jamie offering Malva Christie friendship

I am now not puzzled altogether about the curious tone in which people who wrote about Season 6 when it was airing on Starz: the third episode is as oddly quiet, non-violent, non-active as the first two. Season 5 did have violence and action by the third episode – the fight with the Browns, then regulators versus the royal governor. The first sign we will have any is a newsletter that appears at the end of the episode telling of the Boston Tea Party. It’s not called that in the paper, but Claire refers to it that way. This is again a series of mostly non-violent incidents which are exemplary in different ways.

I looked at the summary of A Breath of Snow and Ashes in the 2nd Outlandish Companion and find it as unreadable as I found the last 2/3s of The Fiery Cross – there is no thrust forward but rather stories about our characters as they live an isolated life on Fraser’s Ridge. They are interwoven but again I’ll tell each incident or thread together as I cannot remember the order they are in as there is no weaving forward to some conclusion; they are self-contained. Another problem with these episodes is Jamie and Claire are too perfect, as are Roger and Brianna. The only un-exemplary character is Fergus – for Ian is also without any real flaw. I love them myself but recognize the incidents lack inner conflict. Yes, Claire carries on being haunted by images of Lionel Brown who insulted and raped her and uses ether sometimes to sleep. But that is not enough

By contrast, The Crown (Netflix series about British monarchy, 20th century) has shows Philip to be very flawed while we feel for him; and Elizabeth to be conflicted over how to behave towards him, angry and also torn in her role as queen.

So we have Tom Christie giving in and coming to have his hand healed – cut and re-formed and sewn the way Claire did Jamie’s hand – the man refuses ether (horrified by the idea) and won’t even bite on a piece of wood but reads aloud passages from the Bible with Jamie chiming in and holding him down slightly – he does scream from the pain. By the end of the hour (this time it is just an hour) he is healed, grateful, and takes away a copy of Henry Fielding’s Tom Jones, saying he thought novels were evil until he heard Jamie telling aloud tales at Ardsmuir. Now he agrees they are forms of escape and distraction. However, when he reads the book, we look over his shoulder and see him reading one of Fielding’s many ironic passages about love, and he closes the book, and returns it with a note to the effect “this is filth” and he had thought better of Claire.

Another incident occurs when Roger sees a baby in a basket floating on the river towards a water fall and its death. He jumps in, barely saving it, all the while realizing a group of boys had done this. They include Germaine, Marsali and Fergus’s son. He is incensed at their idea this child is a demon – because it’s a dwarf. The boys are scolded fiercely and then required to turn up to Jamie who gives them the choice of touching a red-hot iron or the baby. They had also thought they’d be burned if they touched the child. Of course, they choose the child and find they are not burned, and the baby behaves sweetly.


Marsali (Lauren Lyle) spinning

Roger has become the minister of the place and we see him deliver a sermon against superstitions about dwarves using the Biblical story of Moses. Brianna seems to have built a spinning wheel, and we watch Marsali learning to spin fibre into yarn or thread. Brianna needs to be doing something too.

Marsali is not having much success stopping Fergus from drinking to excess all the time; now he blames himself for having such a child. He tells Claire how he saw dwarves treated in Paris – it sounds like the dwarves here are Downs Syndrome children. Claire says none of that will happen now for they will take care of Henri-Christian. Fergus wants to know what happens to the child after they all age and die. At one point the Frasers are collecting rent (in just the way of the Highlanders) and one couple find Fergus “stinks” and say he is responsible for his freak child. He physically attacks them. Later Marsali says to Claire, Fergus has promised to stop drinking; but when he comes home, he is drunk as ever. She throws him out and says she’d rather have no man than a drunk one. And later in the episode Jamie is out in the wood and from afar sees Fergus slash his wrist badly; Jamie saves Fergus, and there is a scene of traumatic talk, with Jamie the father hugging his son and when they return it does seem as if Fergus will reform and accept himself again and his new son.

Ian and Malva are striking up a friendship. I had mistaken and the young man I thought her husband is her brother — but there is an important hint here: they are behaving as if husband and wife. We are of course to see love blooming in Malva, but Ian seems attracted. Touching dialogues about what they believe, her father’s cruelty (in one scene we see the father whipping her now that his hand is fine), but she mentions that her father would be upset if she had a “lover” and it’s implied even more were he like Ian – Indian like, not Christian. Ian says he does not know what he believes.

Somewhat improbably Brianna builds a glorious spinning wheel. She needs to do something but it is Marsali who sits turning fibres into thread or yarn.
Lizzie makes an appearance at one point and again we see she is courted by Kezzie. She appears very happy in her position as working beloved servant-companion.

Christie tells Jamie and Claire his group of people have accepted the offer of the Browns to protect them – Claire tells Christie this is a bad move.
The end of the episode has Major Macdonald returning with the guns for the Cherokee, and bringing the newsletter about the Boston Tea Party. Claire says “the storm” (or war ) has started.

For my part I love watching it because I’m fond of the central six characters and worry about them.

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Episode 4: Hour of the Wolf (recap from an amusingly anachronistic POV, with 2 clips!)


Ian (John Bell) and his central rival, Wakyo’teyehsnonhsa (Morgan Holmstrom?)

Another quiet mostly retrospective and reflective hour — it’s curious that is the atmosphere because it includes a challenge and duel where one of two people could have been murdered. But no one is.

Ian’s Mohawk name was Wolf’s brother, and so the meaning of the title is episode devoted to Ian’s history, inner life, and watching him try to come to terms with what happened.

It opens with him remembering how he was initiated by rituals into the Mohawks, fell in love with girl whose name was so hard to pronounce, he called her Emily. They were happy but after the second bloody miscarriage, Ian was told the gods were against him being part of the tribe; Emily was given to the man called his brother, and he coerced into leaving.

Also early in the episode before they get to the camp, Jamie is giving Fergus the task of going with goods from the farm to trade for things needed, make money. Fergus is not drunk and says he knows what Milord is doing. Keeping him occupied. Jamie says he needs these things done, and as Fergus had said remembering their time in Edinburgh as printers, Fergus is a good businessman trader. Some of this was too didactic, but it’s beautifully acted and the film landscape and music and feeling is good.

These memories are prompted by a trip Jamie takes with Ian to the Cherokee to give them the guns. (Again as I’ve done before I am not trying to recap the episode because I’m not following the interlace. Some of the above is in a flashback Ian has when Jamie and he arrive at the Cherokee camp and discover Mohawks there, and (what a coincidence), just this brother who took Emily from Ian.

Before we get there Major (I’m not sure of this name) MacDonald has been at Fraser’s Ridge handed over these arms, and Brianna told Jamie that 60 years from now these Indians will be forced off the land — well after the revolution. So they will need these armaments. When they get to the camp, Jamie, now reflectively ethical, tells this to the chief. He explains his knowledge by his wife’s extra powers (so too his daughter). This is of course the cruel (infamous) Trail of Tears inflicted on these people during Andrew Jackson’s administration.

Another trader, a Scot, Alexander Cameron is there, and a fight erupts between him and Wolf’s Brother, and that’s the duel. Cameron cheats and turns to shoot before Wolf’s brother but Ian on the alert, shoots the gun (or hits it with a strong arrow), knocking it out of his hand. Wolf’s brother’s turn, but he does not kill the begging man, rather shoots in the sky. Ian acknowledges to Wolf’s Brother he can bear him having Emily (there appears to have been a daughter and be a son).

Back at Fraser’s Ridge, Claire is practicing her invented ether on Lizzie and Kezzie and Jo (I suspect the same actor plays these twins). It is worrying since Malva is watching, as her apprentice and she swears she will not tell the father, and looking at Claire’s notebooks, Malva appears not to take these as spells of a witch. Or so she says, but there is something insinuating about her.

At the close of the episode when Jamie comes home, Claire rushes to where he is, and in a barn they make love. The last still shows Malva watching them through a key hole.

Ian still has Rollo; in the previous episodes we’ve seen Adso drinking milk, sitting on the bed with Marsali …

What they must have done here is taken a group of incidents and meditations about Ian and drawn them together with knowledge of the coming wars against the Indians (the previous episode referred to the Boston Tea Party and heating up rebellion). Jamie again says she cannot be a rebel and Indian agent for the crown so he must give up this agency.

Upcoming: Episodes 5-8

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From one of the many moments of consolation, grieving, holding together …

Gentle and I hope forgiving and flexible reader, I realize two years have gone by since I blogged on Season 5, and going further back, all these blogs began in 2017 (3 years after the first season aired). What’s more at first I was putting them on my Reveries under the Sign of Austen (where many remain, except those here on JimandEllen). At first I deemed them based on a woman’s quintessentially woman’s historical romance, with a woman at the center, but then realized how many of the film team were men and how often every effort was made to create a male focus, so I also blogged here. Nowadays I’m here because the series is so popular, it seems to me to have a non-gender specific audience, i.e., both men and women (even if women are the greater number of viewers).

I confess to blogging less often and using the images I find on the Internet available openly instead of snapping my own as I watch. It’s easier, less time-consuming, and these are most of them images the film-makers have made readily available to the public.

I am doing my best and my dream is now that when I stop the teaching to write about the Outlander books and films, together with the Poldark books and films.

Ellen

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Hill Station still to be seen in Penang

I feel so sad I’ve finished these blogs. I want to know what happened to the characters under the pressure of WW2 and the changes inflicted on them by their friends, associates, surroundings. How they each reacted, what they became …

Dear friends and readers,

It’s overdue time to sadly finish my account of this sometimes sublime series, Indian Summers. Rhik Samadder said rightly of the first season, it was one of the most narratively satisfying dramas of British TV and of real interest in its depiction of the Raj, besides which, gorgeous; and from ordinary watchers on IMDB provided further rave reviews for the second, I’ll content myself with quoting “it’s a feast.”

One of the intriguing elements across the series which I’ve not mentioned thus far is many of the actors act against character; Julie Waters is a cruel hard woman, lonely, desperate (usually so humane); James Fleet an amoral sexual harasser (usually the one bullied), Art Malik a sybaritic amoral creep of a maharajah (usually austerely moral or the subaltern).


Lord Hawthorne (James Fleet) looking sinister!

Leena (Amber Rose Reevah)now gone to jail (because she protected Adam from Hawthorne’s rage when Adam burnt him for sexually harassing her) I believe would have been brought back, having been in prison and got out early.

I also loved how it ended so ironically: the white British who had been born in India leave their home (the club), but find they have no home in Britain they can or want to return to. The series is Anglo-Indian, yes about the English centrally, but seen from a very different angle, as the ruthless dangerous often harmful but finally relatively vulnerable oppressors.


Cynthia posed in her fashion show outfit captures something of this

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Indian Summers 2:6 The gift for the king

In this episode, half-way through our season, the stories come to a (literally) explosive climax. In this case it’s the information that Ralph gets from Aafrin about the bomb about to be set off during the celebration of the king’s birthday – or a jubilee. The two have a terrific quarrel when Aafrin admits he was not coerced, not originally, but they act together towards the end.


Ralph (Henry Lloyd-Jones) confronts Aafrin (Nikesh Patel)

King-emperor is so absurd as a title. Ralph sends Rowntree and his men to the tea plantation and elsewhere. They can find nothing. Naresh Banerjee (Arjun Mathur) is wandering about in a mad rage – tries to kill Sooni (Aysha Kala) but Ian McCleod (Alexander Cobb) is there and promptly tries to save her, and then chase Banerjee who is taken to jail, but cyanide is slipped into his hands and he dies before they can question him. The journalist is also following Sooni about – worried for her.


Ralph and Madeleine now Wheelan (Olivia Grant)

We watch all the characters behaving characteristically – Cynthia (Julie Walters) won’t leave the club house; Mr Dalal (Roshan Seth) scolds Alice (Jemima West) when she comes to the house in effect to try to win friends. Madeline (Olivia Grant) is doing her best to support Ralph. Mrs Raworth (Fiona Glascott) we are told has had her baby in Delhi – with Raworth (Craig Parkinson) now ever so eager to return to England and be a wonderful family man – he is the most pathetic of the characters . His wife despises him.

Banerjee has sent a small Indian boy off with his wagon and the lit bomb to blow at 4 pm. This provides the suspense of the second half of the episode. As luck would have it, the boy is just outside the compound when Raworth spots him, runs over to him, attempts to see what’s what and the bomb blows up – killing Raworth and the boy (several small Indian boys are simply blown up in this series).

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Indian Summers 2:7: The Proposal

The proposal is that in return for his support for the India Bill Ralph wants to pass in Parliament, the Maharajah (Art Malik) demands that Ralph let him go to bed with Madeline, Ralph’s wife. The whole hour is taken up with Ralph’s state of mind – on and off. It opens with his memories of his mother going to bed with Cynthia’s husband, and then ironically he is on the other side of the door by the end of the episode with Madeline and Maharajah on the other side. The maharajah’s mistress tries to goad Ralph into fucking her, and while he begins, he gives it up in disgust.


Sirene, her “real” name, something of a joke, said to be Phyllis, she is from Australia (played by the hard looking Rachel Griffiths)

Sirene rages within at this man she is mistress of who has no respect for her. Ralph is driven or needs get this position, the Viceroy, where the princely states will give up their independence because he’s in debut but also his father (he says) wanted him to have it (Viceroy) but it’s not clear if Ralph is remembering his legal father or the biological one (Cynthia’s philandering husband by whom she had no children). He is also bitter about Cynthia’s pressuring him all these years, about her manipulations. Early in the episode the maharajah goads Ralph into a game whereby they loosen a goat, tied up as a temptation to tiger and then replace the goat with a boy. The maharajah wants Ralph to use his own son, Adam (Dillon Mitra), but he demurs and uses Bhupi’s son. Yes both he and the maharajah stand there to shoot the tiger to stop it devouring the boy, but, as Bhupi (Ash Nair) says, if the boy was safe, why not use Adam? And it’s the maharajah who shoots the tiger. Bhupi is infuriated, but still obedient. Had there been more seasons eventually Bhupi would have rebelled.


Art Malik (the maharajah) — this is not from Indian Summers, but a minor role in Doctor Who Series 11 where he embodies just the type character we see him inhabit here

At the opening of the episode we see Aafrin sent away to Delhi to help with the earthquake. This is to get him out of the way after the bombing death of Raworth which Aafrin is partly responsible for. He is to make up his mind to be loyal to Ralph; he says he has but he has to reach Alice on the side. During the episode we again hear the misery of Alice on the other side of the same door (it seems) now being buggered and sadistically used by her mean vicious husband Charlie (Blake Ritson). For them the episode ends with Alice and Aafrin kissing and going off to that room, and from high Cynthia watches – rightly she loathes Charlie who needles her.

Soon after this first opening with Aafrin leaving, Sarah Raworth is found with her recently born baby living in quarters provided by Cynthia – or she’d be in miserable 3rd rate hotel. It appears that Sarah has not been told how her husband died. No one is willing to tell her Matthew (Connor McCrory) is finally coming home (India is home here) but when he does she at first instinctively (this is what she is) lies, tries to hide his father is dead. But the Sumitra (Anitha Abdul Hamid) who he clearly loves more and loves him is dressed in white mourning and manages to convey his father is dead. He demands how and now Sarah says she has no idea. We see that Matthew like his father is a truth teller, decent to the Indians, and will not pretend to the hypocrisies of this Raj.


We can see the young lover paradigm here between Sooni and Naseem Ali Khan (Tanmay Dhanania) — they are a contrast to the Maharajah and Sirene and also Ralph and Madeleine

Sooni is being pressured by her mother to marry another Pashi (with big eyebrows). This is a third new semi-comic substory for this episode. He is shown to be decent but what he wants is an obedient wife whose life is spent having children and serving him. Aafrin is not there to help her fend off the mother (Lilette Dubey). She visits the tea plantation and Ian manages to ask her to be his wife. She demurs and says she needs time to think about it. She goes to the newspaper journalist, Naseem Ali Khan , who seems to be the only person to take her politics truly seriously. Aafrin does but he does not see politics the way she does and tries not to confide in her, and Khan and Sooni go off to a gathering where Ghandi is coming to speak. A huge crowd. During their time together Naseem tells her he loves her, and she clearly responds to him …. She is the closest we have to a traditional heroine, including the many suitors. And if the proposal to Ralph is probably the one the title refers to, she has 3 proposals in this episode.

The way the details are brought in make me feel there is a novel or memoir Rutman was using – it would help explain many details outside the story line. I so yearn to know what happened to these characters’ stories as the years go by. That is what was intended.

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Indian Summers 2:8: The Birthday Party


You can glimpse the rocking horse being brought in

In this episode I find matter put before us which I both background and s a preparation for what’s to come. It’s a bit clunky (the way in the first season the film-makers did not manage to tell us who was who quickly enough). Perhaps this shows they knew they were not going to be renewed … or the lack of direct thrust is part of why they lost audience ….

For example, around the time Sooni rejects Ian McCleod, he has noticed (because he’s paying so much attention to her) that Bhupi behaves strangely around the river where Jaya was drowned. We realize Bhupi is led to go there regularly because he feels Jaya’s ghost is luring him there and he then re-enacts how he drove her into the river and thus she drowned. He didn’t quite himself kill her but of course he was responsible. Ian knows that’s where Jaya died because he has not forgotten Ramu Sood. He tries to grab Bhupi who flees. Well after rejection from Sooni, in town now (like his Scots uncle) Ian is drinking heavily and sees Bhupi from far, chases him down and demands to know who he is and whose servant Bhupi at first tries to avoid telling but then he’s Bhupinder and works for Ralph Whelan.

I suggest in the next season Ian would have brought this information out, wanted an article written by Khan, and the injustice of the murder of Ramu Sood come home to hurt the WW2 destruction of the Raj further.


Charlie Havistock (Blake Ritson) — this is very much against type (Ritson is usually sensitive and kind)

Things between Alice and Charlie come to a head – she cannot stand him, he loves to humiliate her and in front of others refuses to give her the money or permission to buy their son a wooden bike of some sort. She persuades Aafrin, home from Delhi, they must run away. Cynthia gets them secret tickets Alice couldn’t manage.

But on that night Charlie (ever following her) discovers they are gone within minutes and then breaks Sumitra’s hands (he has been paying for information and she has instead lied to him) and hurt Bhupi’s son whom Ralph was willing to use as a target to please the maharajah theirs. We see the anguished pain Charlie puts her through and after Charlie has raged into the room the pair thought they were safe in and waiting for a rickshaw (bad idea of Alice’s), and dragged Alice and his son away, We see Bhupi and Sumitra (Bhupi’s wife) commiserating. Bhupi is gradually having enough.

I suggest in the third season, maybe another 2-3 years on Bhupi and his wife would be angry revolutionary hindus. Like Aafrin has been half-heartedly. Oh they did have the birthday party, Charlie did himself buy the bike for the boy, and this was part of why the scheme to run away fails. There is a delay over getting the party started.

The plan was Aafrin would flee to Australia with Alice. Not such a crazy idea had they gotten to the boat to Bombay and then gotten onto another boat This is the one kind of thing Alice has dared – once before. But for Aafrin that means leaving his family who are economically dependent on him. Not only do they loathe the idea of an English daughter-in-law (the father tried to bully her away) but they need the income. He leaves but feels terrible. Sooni is also rebelling when she says she is going to marry the journalist, Khan: he is a Muslim and her mother hates. How can you be happy if you leave us broken-hearted asks the father. Well you shouldn’t be is not a strong enough answer.


Sooni and her and Aafrin’s father, Darius Dalal (Rosh Sethan) hugging — this is earlier and shows their affection for one another

Now Matthew Raworth’s son is home, he will not allow the hypocritical Sarah to lie and she keeps having to run away from him or shout him down. She can successfully half-lie about her relationship to her late husband, but she cannot get him to say he liked the English. He hated the school and does not want to go back. He is another figure who would have been central in season 3.


Cynthia losing out

Last there’s Cynthia insisting on pulling down a Indian flag put over the Club. Ralph cannot defend Alice because Charlie bankrolls him through influence in the bank and threatens to withhold approval. Ralph badly in debt and says he will not sell Chotipool (the house). Ralph’s bill fell on its face; no prince went for it even the man Ralph gave his wife to. Madeline says this prince hated you. And now it seems Cynthia is badly in debt too — she had hoped for Ralph to get that position so she could manipulate it into money for herself.

And then a reconciling wedding party to give hope for the future and good feeling as an ending: Sooni tells Aafrin they will be the pioneers of this new amalgam; we
see her dancing with her husband, Naseem Khan, and from Aafrin’s point of view Ian and Alice talking, moving as if to dance

They intermingle Indian (Muslim, Parsi) and English and Scottish in the closing wedding festival. I enjoyed this moment too.

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For Indian Summers Episode 9, Winner Takes All; and Episode 10: Leaving Home (ironic title) click (in the comments)


Making a little England … what the English tried to do

Ellen

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The first image we are confronted with: Aafrin (Nikesh Patel), not in a suit, but bare chested, typing a seditious pamphlet, with new Indian girlfriend, also a rebel against the British — he is somewhere in Bengal


Upon returning to Simla, now in the British suit, Aafrin is confronted by Alice (Jemima West), who has been coerced into accepting her abrasive sadistic husband, Charlie Havistock (Blake Ritson)

Dear friends and readers,

It’s been far more than a week since I last wrote about Indian Summers; more than a full month has gone by since I framed the series and summarized as well as evaluated the first half of Season 1, one of the finest series ever made, and its second half, a tragic and ironic denouement. In the series itself, it’s three years later, and we are startled to see as our first image, Aafrin, ever trussed up and respectful of the British, naked to the waist, living in what looks like a worn-down bedsit, with a Indian lover, Kaira Das (Sughandha Garg); he is typing a subversive pamphlet, which is about to be printed and distributed in the streets to stir up demonstrations as the possible new viceroy is due to come to Simla at any time. Aafrin looks hard, tough; he has been away from his parents for three years. Kaira is involved with a violent revolutionary we only glimpsed in the first season, Naresh Banerjee (Arjun Mathur).

We switch many miles and with Aafrin as our POV (he is our POV most of this episode) find Alice back with Charlie, the son she had fled with, Percy (Caleb Allen), a blonde toddler who we discover later is the reason she chose to stay with Charlie (so that she would not lose custody). We are soon immersed in the lives of the familiar characters whose circumstances appear to have changed far less.

I shall take it as propitious that I’ve not had time to finish this brilliant series with my readers — for in the interim, the queen (who would have been queen-empress as her father, George VI was king-emperor, if India had not achieved its independence before George VI died) died, Elizabeth II Windsor, causing what seemed the whole world to sit up, take notice, watch the official 10-days mourning of “a nation” and then see put on a spectacular ritual aired everywhere in the world on TVs, internet, cinemas, as a kind of last gasp of the Raj in spirit. And few as they were, we read and heard the voices of protest that called all this magnificent display so much hypocrisy, a vast disguise behind which the grossly unequal arrangements of colonialism and capitalism carried on, less unchanged than you might think (see the comments to my blog The Passing of Elizabeth II).

For myself I’ve determined I will do (if the OLLIs last) The British Indian Novel Take Two, having thought up four different novels/memoirs, books of essays (J R. Farrell, The Seige of Krisnapur; Kamala Markandaya, The Nowhere Man; Salmon Rushdie (nearly assassinated): Imaginary Homelands (a book of essays, columns, life writing); and Jhumpa Lahiri, The Lowlands … . I have two 18th century epistolary novels & memoirs partly set in India and hope to get to them soon: Eliza Fay’s Original Letters from India, ed, introd E. M. Forster (!), and Phoebe Gibbes, Hartley House, Calcutta. Both by women. And found my copy of Emily Eden in virago about her time in India in the early 19th century, Up Country

So you see I’ve carried on reading and thinking, and am glad to return to watching, remembering, coming to terms with this more explosive season than the first. Let’s dive in. The second season’s episodes have acquired titles.

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Season 1, Episode 1: Three Years Have Passed. While it seems so much has changed, more thought makes one realize the same patterns, the same emotional relationships and conflicts are being repeated. Again Aafrin is torn. After three years he has taken up with a revolutionary woman in Bengal, and the man who has a plan to blow up the club or the Whelan house – we are shown that bunch of dynamite immediately. And again Aafrin finds himself over his head. He wrote the seditious page, typed it and brought it to the printer, but then he is identified and we are left wondering whether Ralph knows or not. He might. Ralph again this cagey ambiguous character with Cynthia Coffin, looking out for him, a very vicious yet older woman. We see her with two helpers humiliating an Indian man who is trying to get into the club. He has to have a coat of arms. He has to study something and know it. She tells Ralph to send the old Viceroy home, Willingdon (Patrick Malahide) – he has a heart attack when a toy grenade thrown at him. She is gearing up for seeing Ralph become the next Viceroy He’s not sure how to grab the position.


Cynthia (Julie Waters) watching Ralph intently

Madeleine, complete with ayah Bhupi’s wife, and a baby girl in tow, follows Ralph now. The horrible Sarah (Fiona Glascott) is as horrible. ow we see her stealing flowers from the gardens of the house she once lived in but no longer does. She had gone to England to leave her son there, and when she returned found the Dalal family installed. She is enormously pregnant, and has thus trapped Dougie (Craig Parkinson), who has separated himself from Leena and is nowhere to be seen. Instead Sarah sits teaching on a throne, “lessons” which consist of asking the children absurd questions, and laughing at them when they respond with “wrong” answers. She berates and condescends to them. Only a few have left as her pregnancy necessitates their return to England. Dougie is as pliable and useless, grieving over the loss of his school. And surprise, surprise Adam now a young adolescent has been taken into Ralph’s and now the Havistock home as another boy servant; soon he will be joined by Leena (Amber Rose Reevah), who avoids homelessness just, as governess to Alice’s child. It takes half the season for Madeleine to realize Adam is her husband’s son, but his behavior makes it obvious to those who know

The Muslim reporter, Naseem Ali Khan (Tanmay Dhanania) is still sniffing about. Ian (Alexander McCleod) now running his tea plantation, thoroughly his own man, who has not forgotten Ramu Sood. Sooni (Asha Kala) cannot be far away, still politically involved but cannot get Aafrin to tell her anything. Worst off is Alice: returned with a vicious spiteful sadistic husband who denigrates and spies on her, passive, giving in (we learn he buggers her regularly to hurt her) He works for a bank and we will soon learn that Ralph needs this man’s money. Rowntree (Guy Williams going about with his policeman intruding in Indian houses and bazaars, no need for a warrant and arresting supposed culprits.


Kaira has little sense of self-worth …

Season 2, Episode 2: Black Kite (code name for Kaira, who will not survive). Now we note subtle changes from the 1st season; new characters and new emphases. To the credit of the creator-writer Paul Rutman, there is an attempt to give nuance to the character of Cynthia Coffin so she seems more vulnerable and less powerful –- while at the same time as nasty, bullying and ruthless-racist as she had been. Ralph Whelan seems softened because he too is more vulnerable: a Lord Hawthorne (James Fleet) sent from the UK and parliament is either there to himself take over the viceroyship or check out if Ralph is “fit:” Hawthorne is not “radical,” does not wanting really to share power with the Indians (Muslim or Hindu), much less hand power over. We see him respond to Alice’s coaxing that he tell Adam that he is Adam’s father . When Adam is given a copy of a child’s classic owned by her dead brother, Madeleine takes it back. At the same time Ralph is pushing Aafrin to find the terrorist who printed the pamphlets (he knows or suspects that the writer is Aafrin himself).

Aafrin is again like Alice, easily vacillates, easily blackmailed. We are shown more closely a male of pure evil for the first time (like Captain Merrick in Jewel in the Crown. Naresh Banerjee is a crazed terrorist, and when he is shot down by the British (using the excuse Rowntree believes Banerjee spread the pamphlets), Aafrin saves Banerjee’s life, but in ironic reciprocation Banerjee plucks Kaira back from the safety Aafrin had tried to send her to — as she has also been a mole for Whelan (she too has a son to protect). Aafrin had tried to placate the man, first finding a file to satisfy him (that’s an obvious thing Aafrin should not have done, it implicates him too) and when Banerjee uses the information to threaten Kaira as the Black Kite or mole Aafrin desperately says he fabricated the whole file. At this Banerjee coolly shoots Kaira through the head.

The count of those ruthlessly unfairly murdered thus far includes only Indians: Ramu Sood was the first; Jaya’s brother the second (in prison beaten and cut to death) – now Kaira Das. They will be joined by the end of the season when Leena is sent away to prison for 9 years after Hawthorne tried to molest/rape her and Adam, showing real fury, throws sets Hawthorne on fire – she takes the rap. The only white killed will be the moral minister, Raworth, white, is killed – by mistake trying to save a child from a bomb the child is wheeling about.

It’s the truly horrible Charlie who manages to needle Cynthia by calling her Mrs S, a char woman; we see how awful he is again, but this time accompanied by his giving Ralph a big check to keep that mansion up. Alice is unable to free herself, but still making gestures at Aafrin. Cynthia wants to get rid of Alice and urges her to go home (the way she did Madeleine), but Ralph, now more alert to this kind of thing, puts a stop to that. Cynthia also insults Leena when Cynthia sees that Alice has hired her (she was homeless, a beggar when deprived of the missionary job when Mrs R returned and became pregnant) and threatens her if she tells that Adam is Ralph’s son. Sooni’s role remains normative somehow: the mother wants to marry her off to a proper Hindu male and invites a woman friend/relative to bring her son to dinner; Sooni is resisting marriage, she wants to use her lawyer’s degree – it’s the most situation comedy storyline of the series.


Sooni, three years older …

Season 2, Episode 3: White Gods

One might be forgiven for thinking the series is turning into the story of Aafrin, as his trauma and behavior under terrific stress is central to the over-riding plot-design of this one. He is so deeply distressed by Nareesh Bannerjee’s murder of Kaira, and fear what he will do next, Aafrin, again on that same broken typewriter, writes a warning the man has a box of explosive bombs he intends to blow the club or someone’s mansion up with and its in a cave. He manages to persuade Ralph to take this seriously and send Rowntree and his men to search. Nothing is found, but the camera shows us it is in the bazaar. We can see that Ralph follows Aafrin’s advice because he believes Aafrin’s underlying motive is loyalty. Ralph as a character is and must be more self-contained.


Dressing the maharajah (Art Malik) for cricket (sly humor here)

A central scene is a cricket game where Aafrin is required to be umpire. Not easy for the spoiled Maharajah (Art Malik grown much older) whom Whelan is courting wanted to win. We meet this vain and amoral man and his mistress, Sirene (Rachel Griffiths), apparently actually from Western District of Australia (real name Phyllis).

A dinner at table reveals to Cynthia how ugly is Charlie’s humiliations of Alice and so she stops pressuring Alice to leave and to get back at him for calling her Mrs Sparrow provides a room for Aafrin and Alice to carry on. The stress of this cricket game, what he endures at the club (from his well-meaning benign father), and now this fulfillment makes him break out into hard sobbing. He had loved Kaira but cannot refuse Alice and the profferred English way of life she might take him into.

We see Lord Hamilton begin to chase Leena, that Raworth refuses to help her and his kowtowing to his wife again seen as coward’s way. Ralph is beginning to have his whole household treat Adam better, teach him things a Sahib should know … Madeleine watches this


Ralph Wheelan (Henry Lloyd-Hughes) showing Adam (Dillon Mitra) something

I have omitted my favorite male character: Ian McCleod played by Alexander Cobb: I love how he trails around in an Indian version of a kilt, the relaxed atmosphere around him, the lack of phoniness, the friendship he is building with Sooni — they go together to investigate the place where it appears Bannerjee was “confronted” (it was the other way round) by Kaira and Aafrin, and where Jaya took lost her life too.


Ian relaxed, dressing comfortably for heat and work …

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For Episode 4: Empty Chair (clicking on comments) and Episode 5: Hide and Seek (ditto).


Ralph comforting Alice

The titles of the episodes are mostly ironic. This second season is not nearly as melodramatic as the first, but the politics and human relationships go deeper, have gone on for longer, and are at the end (Episode 10) harsh for many, yet accepted … At this point we are reaching the midpoint of a second volume of a novel.

Ellen

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Sarah Badel as Lizzie Eustace wearing her diamonds (1974-75 Pallisers, scripted Simon Raven, directed Ronald Wilson, Episode 7:12)


Keeley Hawes as Rachel Verinder wearing the moonstone diamond (1996 Moonstone, scripted Kevin Eliot, directed Robert Bierman)

I stood there as one thunderstruck or as if I had seen an apparition (from Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe, as read aloud by Gabriel Betteridge & acted out by Leo Wringer in the 1996 The Moonstone)

Robinson Crusoe recovered quite a lot from his shipwreck before it sank off his island of despair and transformative salvation … no disputing his collection kept him alive — Chantel Lavoie, Collecting Women, p 142)

This blog brings together my experience of a group reading and discussion of The Eustace Diamonds in the London Society Trollope every-other-Monday zoom group with my experience of a group reading and discussion of Collins’s No Name via zoom at Politics and Prose; my own reading, watching and teaching of Wilkie Collins’s Woman in White at OLLI at Mason (in person! yay!), and my watching the two latest movie adaptations of The Moonstone and (finally) listening to The Moonstone (unabridged) read aloud by Peter Jeffreys.

Dear Friends and readers,

I thought I’d interrupt our journey through Indian Summers, with a relatively brief foray into territory I used to regard as unreadable (and in the corresponding film adaptations, simply puzzling), Wilkie Collins’s second masterpiece in the Victorian mystery-thriller kind, The Moonstone, which Trollope’s still (apparently) popular and widely read (among those who read the long Victorian kind) Eustace Diamonds, which many regard as Trollope’s very Trollopian mirroring and parody of the sensation novel as practiced by Collins, signaled to us by making diamonds the material center of the tale.

I no longer regard Collins as unreadable (with the exception I used to make for The Woman in White and Rambling Beyond Railways), having found (due to some change in temperament in me where) I have more patience for cynical frivolity and now find myself responding to non-realistic modes of realism beyond that of the gothic, which mode Collins’s novels also partly fit into. This past summer I read with a class Collins’s Woman in White and became aware how truly meaningful and artistic it is. I had No Name with an intelligent insightful teacher at Politics and Prose (via zoom), whom I credit with opening my eyes to how this book was communicating itself; read Catherine Peter’s literary biography, and have just about finished listening to Peter Jeffrey’s effective reading aloud of The Moonstone (unabridged, 2 MP3s), and watching both the 1996 2 hour single episode rendition, and the equally attention-holding 2016 BBC Moonstone, scripted by Rachel Flowerday and Sarah Hails, directed Lisa Mulcahy —  wholly a woman shaped production (Yvonne Sellins, Tania Neumann two of the producers). I am chuffed to say I got a commendation from a couple of the people in the class, and three have told me they will take my class teaching “the two Trollopes” (Anthony and Joanna) this fall.

I’m writing about this just now because I not only am I about to “switch” to Trollope’s Last Chronicle of Barset (together with Joanna T’s The Rector’s Wife and The Choir) for the fall, but I’ve just finished reading The Eustace Diamonds with the Trollope Society Monday zoom every-other-week group, and they (we) are about to begin Can You Forgive Her? for some two months and more. I found myself more drawn to The Eustace Diamonds than I expected, and reading it more carefully than I had planned to. I took notes as I read, took notes as others gave talks, and read Mark Green’s article on Lizzie Eustace in the recent Trollopiana (No 122, Summer 2022).

I dislike Lizzie Eustace every bit as strongly as Trollope’s narrator claims to, though I grant she shows great daring when she hunts with no previous experience, but she is an interesting character, especially when lined up against the other women in the book, including Lucy Morris, who I take it shares the spotlight – and is part of a continuum of vivid servants (this insight from Peter Fullilove’s talk) — Lucinda, Mrs Carbuncle, Patience Crabstick Miss Macnulty &c. I’m a fan of Lucy’s – within limits – I was with her when she refused mean bribes, when she refused to kowtow to Lord Fawn. She reminded me of Fanny Price in Mansfield Park when against all pressure she refuses to marry a very rich young man because “I cannot like him well enough to marry him.” She does go beyond this into perversity when she endangers herself and courts insults and leaves Fawn Court (where every effort was made to make her stay) for living with a harridan Lady Linlithgow. Then she’s asking for it — Frank has no shown himself exactly trustworthy.

I like especially how Mark’s essay takes us into Phineas Redux and Lucy’s doings there and into The Prime Minister and our last glimpses of her – so it’s a full life insofar as we see. A kind of biography. We can see why many readers are fascinated and also why Trollope abhorred her.

I want to recommend also Jane Nardin’s He Knew She was Right where she shows Lily Dale’s problem to have been that she was too conventional – the usual wise advice was the worst thing to do; it seems our real rebel is Bell Dale. Nardin discusses these various heroines. Lucy Morris behaves perversely and self-destructively when she leaves Fawn Court and she is doing that to behave according to conventional ideals. Also to consider Fintan O’Toole’s formula of DARVO – this he says describes what some unnamed politicians (as well actors in court cases) do: Deny, Attack, and then accuse the victim of doing what you have done. Lizzie is mistress of this maneuver too.

For most of the rest of this blog I offer notes on The Eustace Diamonds (see plot summary from Fortnightly Review, 1871), from the group discussions, and for myself, where the book resembles and departs radically from Collins’s methods and The Moonstone.  As a coda, I talk about how the two most recent Moonstone movies cope with the problem that so little happens on the surface of The Moonstone (see plot summary on wikipedia).

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From The Pallisers: Terence Alexander as Lord George de Bruce Caruthers who courts Lizzie thinking to marry her but decides she is too much trouble, too much a liar to connect himself to, and again Sarah Badel as Lizzie, here trying to coax him in her usual actually contemptible way (also 7:14)

The London Society on-line group had people giving talks at the opening of each session. Helen Small suggested it was “not the kind of book to talk about characters’ rights in,” a “world of surface commitments” and “public life,” a “sultry class performance;” Peter Fullilove that it was fascinating and fun to read, that he admired Lizzie and “she did not know herself to be false or bad,” a kind of functioning sociopath. The central characters given “a psychological underpinning,” with males controlled by “chivalric ideals.”  I liked so much how Peter brought out the novel showed us lower class characters, servants, many more levels of people than is usual with Trollope.  This is just as one of our heroines is a governess.

His talk led to Dominic Edwards showing photos of a trip the Society took to just the castle in Scotland that Portray represents, with real rocky landscapes, beautiful gardens.

Sati Mackenzie talked of the novel’s “concerns:” Mr Camperdown and Mr Dove on what’s an heirloom, what paraphernalia; at Fawn Court Lucy courageously battles Fawn, and her engagement to Frank causes her much “anguish;” high life around Lizzie is awful; Mrs Carbuncle “bold, audacious,” Sir Griffin “vicious”(“physically repulsive” to Lucinda). She looked at Frank’s predicament, and pressures on him; OTOH, Lord George, Lizzie’s foolish idea of a Byronic corsair in Trollope becomes a kind of radical, republican, a Fenian.


Marvin Jarvis as Frank Greystock, here taken aback by Lizzie (in the novel I think he is supposed to be having a liaison with Lizzie, one under his own control so he does not have to give up Lucy; to me he was not a sympathetic figure, just a notch above Adolphus Crosbie)

Frank Greystock makes a good contrast/comparison to Adolphus Crosbie because Greystock is just as ambitious, he just as “helplessly” finds himself asking lucy Morris to marry him, and he _does not go back on his word- — even after much pressure and he stays away. But he never betrays Lucy to Lizzie. I haven’t seen this discussed anywhere in print and I agree it would be hard to make stick: but I do think there are enough hints and sudden silences to suggest that between Frank Greystock and Lizzie Eustace much literal real sexual congress is going on. There is nothing quite as pointed as the scenes in the grass between Crosbie and Lily: I feel Trollope was pointed in SHA was he felt he needed to justify why she was so shattered when Crosbie betrayed her. There is no such necessity here, but I think the book becomes richer because Grestock more interesting (more like Crosbie only far more in control of himself) if we see him too engaged to one girl (innocent, good ,Lucy Morris) and behaving like an engaged man with the other, in this case a truly awful woman whose baseness does not bother Frank as much as it should. Lizzie does not bother hide her baseness from him so we can see the elements in her character that are so low and hard to right: lying continually, accusing others of what she does (becoming classic that), a nasty insinuating mouth, when it suits her arrogant. Lucy has no intention of marrying Fawn, only wants to triumph through humiliation; she would quite like to marry Frank and thinks she could manipulate him. It’s not clear that she would not be able to were they to marry, but as with Lucinda and Sir Griffin, Trollope does not allow what probably have happened in life to be the character’s irrevocable destiny.

Gilly Wilford talked of the book as a sensation novel, full of humor and social criticism, the troublesome necklace leads to two thefts, the cruel third-rate society into which Lizzie finds entry. She was staggered that Lizzie could fall into debt with her yearly income of 4000£!  She talked of how Lizzie fails to tell the truth that she has the diamonds when the box is first stolen. (When in doubt, Lizzie always lies.) Patience Crabstick is the inside person who could be enabling thefts


A Victorian cast iron box in which people carried valuables — myself I found Lizzie’s troubles over her heavy box intendedly funny.

In the general conversation and break-out groups covered Lord Fawn’s selfish obtuse behavior (Mrs Hittaway was not brought up as much as she should have been for comedy and domination). Lucy and Lizzie were the two ends of the continuum of femaleness. So in contrast to Lizzie’s (and almost everyone else), Lucy’s letters are short, plain, thoughtful, show suffering; that Lizzie’s lowest moment was her visit to Lucy and attempt to bully and insult Lizzie into giving up Frank; someone said Lizzie cannot even sustain any friendship, while Lucy’s real strength was the respect she compelled from others (even Lady Linlithgow), and her continual attempt at some independence. It is a very benign presentation of the governess position. Lucy Morris is in as much risk of destitution and homelessness as any of the lower order people (but for the pillow-like Lady Fawn). But she refuses Lizzie’s open bribe of money and a broach to provide inside information on the Fawns to Lucy as mean and an insult to her — it would be a singularly mean thing to do

People delighted in the Scottish servant Andrew Gowan’s mocking candor. The anti-semitism of the book and Trollope was (again) debated. We have a charlatan clergyman in this novel. A loveless world. A struggle for ascendance and domination and power includes Lady Glenn; the “characters seek security, status, prestige, elegance; show snobbery, envy, pretentiousness. The wonderful confrontations of the characters with one another.

The effective way the detective story running through everything else is carried on with pointed out, with (I add) Trollope always telling us the truth and using dramatic irony where we know what most of the characters don’t and watch them cope. I thought the depiction of Major Mackintosh very effective, very respectful of him and the other police and detectives, even when confounded. I thought the depiction of the lower class criminals did not demonize or sentimentalize them. I found the hunting scenes some of the best in Trollope: really well imagined, and each character figuring forth their inner life. One woman, though, differed and kept asking “what is the worth of this book? why are we reading it?”

Well to that I answer here: the key to this is to agree with Trollope that Lizzie epitomizes the worst kinds of lying, falseness, craft, sordid greed, manipulative attempts — and ignorance and stupidity and they are the banal everyday of the world (the tenacious milking of every cent she can ferret out in Trollope’s Mrs Carbuncle). If you do that, you are with him all the way. Also to make the connection between the continual deadpan ironies towards the Fawns, and even (or also) Frank Greystock. It does become a very different book from Collins’s because there is no secret (to us) about what Lizzie is — and to a number of the people she has to deal with.

I wish I had written down who suggested the story of Lucinda resembled that of Scott’s Lucy of Lammermoor — Trollope had read a great deal of Scott as had many other reading Victorians; he said at a dinner that Scott would not succeed “today” because he was too “boring.” I can see it. Again and again Thackeray’s Vanity Fair and Becky Sharpe were brought up and compared to this novel and Lizzie. Dominic Edwardes seemed to feel we compassionate Lizzie, and the book holds us by its variety of weak thoroughly analyzed (sometimes believable) male characters.

For my part I don’t know that I like The Eustace Diamonds: towards the end I felt there was repetition and filler, with Trollope apparently having nothing compelling him on but the moral confusion at the core of the book’s depiction of ordinary life, but I do admire it, it’s strong, vigorous and deeply sceptical . I’d call it hard comedy. There is hardly a soft heart in sight, and no one left but Lucy as a person of integrity. India comes into this: a princely state and prince whom Frank Greystock defends and attacks the whigs on because it forwards his career — no other reason; Fawn is angry because he is Whig and the attack could hut him.

It is so Collins-like and so different. No secrets, no over-the-top solemnity and yet the necklace with its fabulous worth, and intrigues over it, and the connection to colonialism and India — Fawn’s phony hollow proposal, Lizzie’s willingness to hold him to it out of spite is not a Barsetshire world motif at all. Women who are bullies or complicit, or ever so conventional, the men ditto. Yet the sarcasm and world before us is utterly believable — more so than Collins it stands up to believability. Collins, though, we must remember, often did have real life situations he had read about or experienced himself in mind.

Where Collins-like: the way Trollope continually informs who is related how to the diamonds and one another, is nonetheless more Collins-like, at least as I’m seeing Collins in the Moonstone. The centrality of these jewels. How the detectives are cornering Lizzie — from Bunfit to Gager (who in his wrongness also contributes to why he is wrong) and Major Mackintosh. Mrs Carbuncle (obviously Lord George’s once mistress) begins to suspect Lizzie of hoarding the diamonds or not telling the truth. The accusations and suspicions swirling around George have become too much for him, he begins to get very angry, and needing someone (knowing to tell Frank would be to lose him), Lizzie suddenly confesses to Lord George. Again telling the truth so quickly makes for a different kind of surprise — psychological troubling but probable and in terms of the law, perjury.


Lizzie suddenly telling Lord George the truth

Last, Bunfit reminds me of Cuff.

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Antony Sher (a bit too subdued in the role) as Sargeant Cuff and Gregg Wise as Franklin Blake conferring (1996 Moonstone)

As to the film adaptations of Collins’s books, these bring out the actual structure and matter of Collins’s books because they are so difficult to translate into an audience-holding movie. This part of my blog might be considered a footnote to a blog I wrote just on the difficulties of adapting Collins’s novels, and in that case it was The Woman in White, to film.

In the case of The Moonstone, in the novel, on the surface we are to delight in the characteristics of the diary keepers, and the satire and sympathy extended them and the characters they dwell upon (not the same as the characters who stole the moonstone); after his initial entry, the hero, Franklyn Blake is kept off stage to nearly the end of the book, with the heroine, Rachel Verinder running away and refusing to explain herself, the heroine’s mother, Lady Verinder (played magnificently controlled by Patricia Hodge in 1996), dying on us 2/3s the way through, with the actual story we are kept waiting for is kept to a bare minimum of acting out towards the end, with unexplained suicides, angry crippled people, and silent stereotypical Indians (orientalism) along the way.

By contrast, the film adaptation of The Eustace Diamonds omits a lot of the story because there is too much to tell (and anyway wrongly Raven despises Lucy Morris, drops Lucinda Roanoke, the vulnerable victim daughter of Mrs Carbuncle, who is nearly married off to a brutal abusive man because at heart he is an anti-feminist).

The Moonstone mirrors Collins’s own problems with opium in the not wholly explained story of Franklin Blake as the victim of an opium (over)dose and the presentation of Ezra Jennings, who as narrator combines a type of disabled man and an ex-addict (working for a doctor). There is a great poignancy in the suicide of Rosanna Spearman — reminding me of the pathos of Anne Catherick in Woman in White: both young women never had a chance because they are of a sensitive disposition — Anne Catherick at every turn ignored, bullied, threatened and finally shut away; Roseanna Spearman put in prison, and becoming clinically depressed she is unable to throw off her despair, and when the moonstone is stolen, she feels she will be blamed and drowns herself rather than be again subjected to police interrogation. So the detectives and police are actually no joke in Collins.

The interest in India in The Moonstone is real — as is the interest in Italian politics and Risorgimento spill-over in Woman in White. I have not mentioned the superb performance by Peter Vaughn as Betteredge: he carries much of the novel.


Leo Wringer as Gabriel Betteredge (2016 Moonstone, scripted Rachel Flowerday, Sarah Hails, directed Lisa Mulcahy)

It’s arguable that the 5 part BBC film had the edge or advantage on the single episode. It makes no pretense at realism: each episode opens with a cut-out doll and puppet presentation of the theft of the diamonds by the 18th century thug-captain, John Herncastle. It is a wholly a woman-shaped production (even the producers were women, Yvonne Sellins, Tania Neumann). It has a delightful Bettheredge in a black comic English actor Leo Wringer and this time the way the people find an excuse for bringing in Mr Blake Franklin early and keeping him on stage is a sort of homoerotic comic relationship between these two players. We see them play billiards; they are seen as doing things around the estate together.


Lisa Niles as Penelope

A black actress for Penelope makes more sense out of what happens than ever Rachel Verinder (Terennia Edwards) and she is comic. The actor playing Franklin Blake, Joshua Silver, did some notable acting as a soldier come home from WW2 in a later Foyle’s War episode. The film-makers have had nerve to make Rosesanna Spearman (Jane McGrath) as suicidal neurotic, and the Cuff and Bruff are minimized (in favor of Betteredge and Blake as remembering the past), with Jeremy Swift as an effective Dr Candy. They are highly inventive with stage business and confused dialogues. Almost nothing concrete happens, it’s all conjecture, evasion, and one tragic death (Roseanna Spearman), and continual struggles to remember the past, remember details, ferret out different people.

The success of both movies is they attend to the idea the story is about hidden selves, but there is also (what I did not emphasize enough earlier) much lost. Particularly in one of the journals and characters not much mentioned in the literature (except Jenny Bourne Taylor’s In the Secret Theater of Home. Listen to just this one small quotation from Jenning’s explanations of himself — all the characters explain themselves, justify themselves; for Drusilla Clark, it’s a satire on the blindness of evangelicals. Here we are looking at how the mind works:

Under the stimulating influence [of opium], the latest and most vivid impressions left on your mind — namely, the impressions relating to the Diamond — would be likely, in your morbidly sensitive nervous condition, to become intensified in your brain, and would subordinate to themselves your judgement and your will. Little by little, any apprehension about the safety of the Diamond which you had felt during the day would be liable to develop themselves from a state of doubt to a state of certainty [and so on and so forth], Taylor, Hidden Theater of the Home, 222).

This is the true explanation of how the moonstone came to be stolen from Rachel Verinder. Collins at his best is exploring the sub or unconscious and many levels of minds in juxtaposition. His non-realistic epistolary methods can explore life in ways Trollope does not get near. Here is the difference between the two men that matters. It is also where Collins enters the realm of the gothic through non-supernatural and non-taboo-breaking means: the many juxtaposed voices are central to this layering. Both movies begin way after the book begins: the 1996 show us Blake and Rachel married, sleeping in bed together, and all is a flashback; the 2016 it is a year after the moonstone was stolen, Blake gone to and returned from Italy for the funeral of his father. They eschew the stylized performances of the 2018 Woman in White; perhaps they should have taken them on more centrally.

The 2016 movie brings out the character of Lucy Yolland (Sophie Stone), crippled, profoundly resentful on behalf of Roseanna and trying to protect her:

Both they both make a use of repeating landscape (the shivering sands) symbolically and effective music.


This is from the 2016 palette; the 1996 is grimmer, all browns and greys, but both fearful places where an impulse towards death lurks

Ellen

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Ramu Sood (Alyy Khan) being brought out to be hanged (he is absolutely innocent of any crime and everyone knows this)

Dear Friends and readers,

A few days ago I provided a framework, perspective, synopsis and then summaries and commentary for the first half of the first season of the superlative Indian Summers. Now we turn to the second half of the first season, dominated by the mysterious murder of Jaya (Hasina Haque) from having been stabbed and drowned (by whom we are not quite sure even at the end of the season). The accusation is imposed on Ramu Sood; we watch how this comes about, the trial, and its conclusion in the British power murdering Sood.  They have colluded to exclude from evidence that Ralph Whelan (Henry Lloyd-Hughes) was Adam, her boy’s father and stood to lose everything if Jaya persisted in following him about with the son. It’s not that the idea that the parentage of Adam is the key to the murder simply does not surface.  This truth is repressed by those who know and lies about Sood are provided as a distraction from Ralph.

It’s shocking even today as it is made plain the British are doing this to rid themselves of a wealthy, proud “trouble-making” landlord.  We listen to several characters tell Sood’s one full supporter, Ian McCleod (Alexander Cobb), it does not matter if Sood is guilty or innocent. Sood is the kind of person the British want dead. They resent — Cynthia had already thrown Ian out of the club for working for Sood — and fear him. Sood tells McCleod the moral of his story is “keep your head down” if you are not a white and powerful male.


Jaya and Adam – she persistently abducts Adam from the missionary school where he was taken after rescue in the first episode so as to bring Adam before Ralph

Within this over-arching story, we watch Aafrin Dalal (Nikesh Patel) become bitterly disillusioned with Ralph. At the end of the season Aafrin realizes that Ralph will do nothing to prevent the gov’t from hanging Sood. Aafrin had assumed that Ralph would recommend mercy in the form of a prison sentence and then leniency in later years to cut down the sentence. Ralph at first writes a letter to that effect, but Ralph, after letting it stay publicly on his desk, destroys it and instead lets the death penalty take its course immediately. We also see the full criminality and viciousness of Cynthia’s (Julie Walters) character, who beyond lying on the stand to convict Sood, is responsible for the death of Eugene (Edward Hogg) Mathers, Madeleine’s (Olivia Grant) beloved brother and plots to persuade Olivia to return to the US and never return (despite Ralph’s determination to marry Olivia in order to give some moral pattern to his existence). Ian McCleod (Alexander Cobb) emerges as a hero risking all to try to save Sood, and when he does not, siding with the Indians to rally viscerally against the injustice in a funeral.

I admit I had not realized that WETA has placed online recaps of all the episodes of the first and second seasons, and left them available (here is one place you can reach these), but as these are not easy to click on in chronological order and are told neutrally (though concisely, concretely, accurately) I will carry on providing summaries and evaluations of the series.

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Episode 6 brings together all the threads we had come to understand in a violent open near murder by Ralph of a Irish soldier-hunter, Captain Billie Farquhar (Jamie McLaughlin), a character out of Kipling, because Farquhar is threatening Alice (Jemima West) with blackmail (she can pay him off with sex). We also see in a memory flashback the death of Jaya — who dies screaming, screaming. Her body shows multiple stabs (plus much abuse from earlier years as an outcast beggar).

Jaya had started to show herself, to come to Ralph’s house and with Adam, their son; he goes to her and proposes that if she agrees to go somewhere else, he would support her, but he appears to do nothing about this.  Leena Prasad (Amber Rose Revah) as the missionary teacher who loves Adam repeatedly wrests Adam back from this half-mad mother: Java threatens the boy, puts him at risk; she confides to Ralph that beyond her life in the streets, all she has known from men since Ralph abandoned her has been abuse. At the end of Episode 6 Jaya is apparently waiting for Ralph by the river (it seems like an appointment was made) and looks eager and then (apparently it’s not Ralph) because this person is doing something which horrifically frightens her, and next thing we see her drowning and screaming.

A second thread is that of McCleod’s relationship to Ramu Sood. Jaya has strayed into Sood’s house and finding a woman’s beautiful wedding clothes in a closet, takes them and puts them on.  These turn out to be Sood’s dead wife’s dress, and he becomes very angry. Sood is a lonely man who sits on his porch, half asleep with a gun across his knees — we learn in the trial his wife had died in childbirth. The gun shows he feels that his life is continually under threat. Now it was McCleod who, sorry for Jaya, let her work in what were McCleod’s uncle’s and are now Sood’s tea fields. McCleod’s good nature and naivete contribute to the tragedy.  Sood had looked at her impersonally and thought she would not be an effective worker and felt she might bring trouble. By this time Sood is training McCleod and they are working together.

In David Gilmore’s The British in India (cited in my first blog on Indian Summers) Gilmore says that a disproportionate number of Scots people came to India for work and became successful businessmen working closely with the Indians. We see the two men forming a friendship, Sood training McCleod: a mentor-father relationship forms. They sit and drink and Sood tells of the beggar woman and wedding dress.  Sood invites McCleod to stay, but McCleod insists on going home alone and hears the screaming nearby at the river — having seen Sood on the porch waving to him a few minutes before.


Farquhar’s first appearance: he is showing the ladies the head of the snake which he just killed

A separate thread is the discomfort and on again off again relationship of Alice and Aafrin. The absence-presence of her husband, Charlie, looms again. Irish Captain Billie Farquhar (James Maclachlan) comes out of nowhere to shoot and kill a snake who terrifies Madeleine, Ronnie Keane (Rick Warden) and maybe frightens Alice (Jemima West), all taking a sort of stroll in the bush (as it were). He is Irish, and presents himself as a mountain climber needing permission to climb the Himalayas. We are told this climb is extremely dangerous physically, and it quickly emerges that in fact Farquhar is not there to climb these mountains: when Ralph gives permission, Farquhar suggests Ralph wants to get rid of him. He reveals he is a friend of Alice’s husband, Charlie, and soon Alice is again in a abject position. She is susceptible to bullying; is bullied continually by Sarah Raworth (Fiona Glascott) who also knows of the marriage and her flight, and threatens to reveal she is not a widow but has (in law) kidnapped her son.


Sarah and Alice — this frenemy relationship is continuous — Alice is actually the friend of Leena, and tries to help at the missionary school

Ralph watches from afar, at first thinking Alice is “leading Farquhar on,” and when she denies this, Ralph literally throws Farquhar down the stairs, bashing Farquhar’s head on a wall in such a way as possibly to cause a serious concussion. Farquhar leaves in haste, but not before he has threatened to tell Charlie what actually is the condition of Alice and reminded her the boy belongs to the father.

A lighter note: Dougie Raworth’s (Craig Parkinson) keeping to his wife, puts her in a better temper and we see her for once on a roof accepting drink from her son and husband (playfully) instead of enacting incessant bitterness, aggression and pride and snobbery, envy, and spite.

That Ralph can risk murder of Farquhar shows his violence. We see him remove Madeleine from tea at one point and he forcibly in effect rapes her from the back (buggers) her and we see her submit to the pain (no pregnancy would happen). Then Ralph’s close servant, Bhupinder (Ash Nair) goes after his wife, Sumitra (Anitha Abdul Hamid?) who is Alice’s servant and nanny to Alice’s baby son, Percy — from the back, but she has the courage to refuse him and run away. We do see Ralph grieve over Jaya’s body in the morgue, but continue the lies he does not know who she is.

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Complicity would be a perfect title for S1, Episode 7. We see how Superintendent Rowntree (Guy Williams) leaps on McCleod’s naive bringing forth of information about a link between Jaya and Ramu Sood — specifically her taking his wife’s wedding dress and his anger over this — to accuse Sood of premeditated murder. Then the complicities slowly emerge:


Ian (Alexander Cobb) in his flat realizing he has been badly used

It takes time for Leena to realizes Raworth is holding back information which might help Sood: Raworth and she both know that Jaya was Adam’s mother, but more importantly that Ralph is the father. Raworth keeps saying he is not telling to protect Adam; but the reality is he is afraid to expose the Private Secretary for fear of reprisals. Ralph has sent him a huge check for the school (soon after Jaya began to be seen around the compound). Our respect for Raworth ought to go way down: his abjection before his wife is matched by his cowardice before British authorities.

Cynthia keeps up the drumbeat of false stories, including that Sood killed Armitage, when it was Armitage who attacked Sood. But then (like Leena slowly about Raworth) I realized Cynthia suspected Ralph did it and he suspects her. So Sood is a screen for both of them. (What do they care about him?) Aafrin seems as yet indifferent to what is happening in the trial, caring only that the Muslim girl (Sati) he found himself engaged to (through his father’s behavior) lied to him and endangered his position as a trusted Parsi among the whites.

Sood cries after being beaten into confession — as he says his crime was to behave as if he were equal; he should have kept his head down and not taken over the tea plantation. It ends on Ralph also (yet another person) telling McCleod it’s no use to offer any alibi, you will not be thanked. I did not realize that the whites and the passive obedient Indian community really meant to hang Sood when they knew it was a false charge probably because such a program as this would have poetic justice (so I thought).


The players — one of the more savagely ironic stills in the series

There is a play within the play going on: the British are putting on Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest, with Cynthia as Lady Bracknell. Events happening within the play and the behavior of the players to one another reveal their characters and parallel events leading up to the trial. Cynthia tries to win McCleod back by welcoming him into the club and giving him a major part in the play (one she removes from Eugene Mathers out of spite), but he gradually sees through this and returns to the police to tell what he saw and insist he is Sood’s alibi. The large analogy (not obvious and thus probably lost to an American audience) is that Cynthia is Lady Bracknell and cares intensely about Ernest, who in this paradigm would be an allusion to the orphaned Ralph.

The larger event referred as happening off stage is Ghandi’s threat to go on a hunger strike and Ralph objects to staging the play as bad politics (the British will look bad); but the Viceroy (Patrick Malahide) who has a major role, and is much flattered throughout, insists the play go on (in effect he threatens Ralph with loss of his position). Ralph fears this ignoring the suffering of thousands and Ghandi’s symbolic recognition will cost them the parliamentary votes they need. Viceroy laughs at him.

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Episode 8: The Trial. The first time I watched the framing (very weak) and then trial and conviction of Ramu Sood, I didn’t realize quite how “guilty” was a foregone conclusion. The Indian judge had never for a moment considered coming up with a “not guilty” verdict. I admit that still I couldn’t take in that in the next episode this innocent man would be killed before our very eyes.


Raworth suddenly standing up at the trial, stopping Leena (whose POV we are in) from giving evidence that Ralph Whelan is Adam’s father

Some striking moments: Raworth protected Ralph Whelan so closely and then sent back Ralph’s check. Raworth cannot face his own lack of integrity, but to send the money back is as useless (one might say) as both Ian and Leena’s evidence on behalf of Sood in the trial. When Raworth signals to Leena on the stand that she should not utter Whelan’s name that made her evidence no evidence. She has come courageously to the Indian lawyer to tell him that Adam is Jaya’s son and that an important part of the evidence is who the father is. But on the stand she does not identify Ralph. She also made the mistake of criticizing Jaya (ironic that this is used against her). The Indian lawyer on behalf of Sood, suggests that she herself might have murdered the boy because she so yearned to be Adam’s mother, and then the unscrupulous British lawyer repeats the idea. So she is triply betrayed: by both lawyers and in effect by Raworth. Raworth fails Leena as McCleod does not fail Sood. Now whether telling the truth would not harm Leena, we cannot know ….

The worst villainess of the piece is Cynthia Coffin — ruthless, supposedly for Whelan, she ceaselessly blackens Sood. When it’s insinuated that Raworth might be Adam’s father, she says oh no, it was Armitage — no sleaze is beneath her. She (we realize wrongly) fears that Raworth might tell the truth were he accused – and the accusation is obvious when he stands up in the trial to stop Leena’s evidence. I probably should reread The Importance of Being Earnest to understand Lady Bracknell’s full relationship with Ernest; it is parallel with Cynthia’s with Ralph. She has now consigned Eugene to an early death by putting him in her club basement because she wants to get rid of both Mathers people and find for Ralph a much wealthier wife.

I did begin to feel there is misogyny in the way Cynthia is continually fingered as so powerful and so cruel. Sarah Raworth’s behavior reinforces this misogyny. She seems to vomit during the trial when Raworth stands up to defend Leena – all she cares for is is she acceptable by these racist imperialists. She comes home after the trial exposes Raworth and Leena has having some relationship to Jaya and Adam, and she rages at Raworth on the grounds she will now be stigmatized and excluded again. She tells him how boring, boring are his sermons. Against this is that when Aafrin breaks with Sati and tries to reach Alice, we are to feel for Sati who now will have her reputation utterly compromised — so not a misogynous script.


Sooni seated by the Indian lawyer; the snide insinuating English lawyer badgering Sood to confess …

Also the character of Sooni (Aysha Kala) shows us a feminist paradigm  — as does the story of Alice who has no rights or power or ability to earn an income it seems.  Sooni supports Sood, helps the Indian lawyer, gets McCleod to the court sober to give his evidence on behalf of Sood. Sood tries to persuade Ian not to give evidence; Sood pretends hostility to Ian, and insults him, and in Ian’s emotional hurt, Ian runs off to get drunk. Sood is the unselfish good man — who understands the way the Raj works but (as he said) assumed he could be an exception. We see him on the stand treated disrespectfully and played with by the lawyer — and realize the full extent of his personal tragedy: a man who lose a beloved wife and child only a few months ago.

It’s not an overtly violent, over dramatic ratcheted up drama — it is utterly believable.  At the end the last shot of the episode is of Ralph’s feet. The British lawyer used as evidence incriminating Sood that a filthy old sandal was found near the river. The lawyer scoffed at the idea a British man could wear sandals. But could this be Ralph’s sandal? We are given a clue here: the sandal was in too bad a shape to be Ralph’s. So who could the murderer have been if not Ralph, and an Indian man? Stay tuned.

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Cynthia justifying herself to Ralph …


As Sood is taken to his death, Ian jumps up and attempts to hug Sood, and stop this killing — very moving moment

See the comments for Episodes 9 or “Secrets Out”, and 10: Temporary Resolutions and the Hanging of Sood.

In another week or so I’ll write about the second season. For now Indian Summers might be considered an answer to the critiques of The Jewel in the Crown. Here we genuinely see the Raj from several different Indian POVs, and its power and cruelty are before us. It also much to its credit gives us a deeper sense of the permeations between England and Indian culture — no matter how hard the English tried to insulate themselves, they cannot. The little instruments are here too: it’s also the first one I’ve seen showing how ostracizing someone from the club could be used. Without the club, Ian has no friends, no where to go. These ever so civil upper class types, high cultured, are a bunch of ruthless murderers. But all are equally capable of evil and harm. An Indian man comes up to Aafrin and lets him know he knows about how Aafrin stole the document — he is demanding money to stay silent. I became intensely involved with all the characters; part of my grief at the cancelling of the series was to lose their presences and their full stories over the projected 50 episodes.

Ellen

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