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CromwellWristsCrossed

Programme Name: Wolf Hall - TX: n/a - Episode: Ep6 (No. 6) - Picture Shows:  Anne Boleyn (CLAIRE FOY) - (C) Company Productions Ltd - Photographer: Giles Keyte
Cromwell (Mark Rylance) holding up crossed wrists at Henry’s seething onslaught of accusation of plotting against him with Chapuys for the Emperor Charles V; Anne (Claire Foy) shivering in the wind, trembling as she waits to be beheaded (Wolf Hall 5 & 6)

He doesn’t exactly miss the man. It’s just that sometimes, he forgets he’s dead. It’s as if they’re deep in conversation, and suddenly the conversation stops, he says something and no answer comes back. As if they’d been walking along and More had dropped into a hole in the road, a pit as deep as a man, slopping with rainwater. You do in fact, hear of such accidents … (48)

‘He sent last week for a French executioner. Not from one of our own cities, but the man who chops heads in Calais. It seems there is no Englishman whom he trusts to behead his wife. I wonder he does not take her out himself and strangle her in the street’ … (382, Mantel Bring Up the Bodies)

Dear friends and readers,

Prompted by Anibundel’s blog The Course of History, and having finished Mantel’s Bring Up the Bodies, plus locating the release transcripts of Straughan’s screenplays, I feel compelled to add another perspective on last two hours (Act III) of this mini-series, though I know there have been many insightful conversations and blogs online, to say nothing of the print media, about it. I want to point out that this last pair turns this famous Tudor marital-sex imbroglio into a usable past, a mirror to see ourselves in, its obsessive topics circling round its terrifyingly, almost inexplicably powerful figure, Henry Tudor, the Eighth of that name: death waiting right next to us, memory continually haunting us from our particular pasts as each day vanishes, and terror, not just state terror:

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Henry (Damien Lewis) watching Anne, Elizabeth on her lap, reach out to him with an embroidered handkerchief

but what makes state terror possible, the obedient collusion of all who together make themselves subject to this terror

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Richard Cromwell (Ross Porter) come to tell Henry that Mark Smeaton (Max Fowler) has named the names of men to be accused of adultery with Anne

Bring Up the Bodies may be regarded as a kind of culmination of a group of what’s called gothic but are political themes in Mantel’s contemporary fiction, memoir, and essays diary entries for the LRB, literary reviews and life-writing as a writer. I know as steadily and maybe more continuously nowadays as Mantel that the dead are real (see Larissa MacFarquhar, The New Yorker, October 15, 2012).

The need to keep the film historical, and explain how these startling visible turns of events from making Anne Boleyn into a cherished legitimate queen and wife into a powerless traitor-concubine treasonably adulterous came about rightly takes precedence over the course of Part 5 and into the opening of Part 6. At the same time the central story line about our hero, requires dramatizing the inward journey of how Cromwell drove himself however part- (but only part) reluctantly to put together transparently inadequate evidence. And there must be a pivotal high drama for the hour so that the high point of Part 5 was Henry’s fit of unconsciousness during a joust, and the sudden hysteria and unmasking of many about the king, and the improbably resuscitation by Cromwell:

Noonedoinganything

The turning point for Part 6 the long interrogation of the foolishly vain Smeaton, seething with wounds over his “inferior status” and despised feminine brand of masculinity.

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Cromwell congratulating the smirking Smeaton as Rafe watches and listens

And when Smeaton is taken away, Cromwell to Richard:

Well, there aren’t many men alive who can say they took me by surprise. Years of being despised by lords has made a boaster of him. Sometimes I think I should have taken him in here. I don’t want him hurt. If we have to torture sad creatures like that, what next? Stamping on dormice?

These plot-designs precluded the kind of quiet dramatization of passing events that count which were seen especially in Parts 1 & 2. No time for registering the increasingly criminal behaviors of Cromwell (as when he takes a tavern keeper’s wife to bed for a casual encounter, and later brings her to one of his houses, and has her husband disposed of) and the scope of his activities across England enforcing Protestantism, growing richer himself, and the many passing quick scenes, memories of such, letters to and from middle ranking eager sycophants (names familiar to anyone who has read anything of the period, as the Lisles).

Worse yet, well over half of Bring Up the Bodies is given over to Cromwell’s dramatic one-on-one encounters, from the slow gathering of envious vengeful or simply desperately self-serving witnesses (Chapuys, Jane Boleyn’s salacious malice, to the dialogues between Cromwell and his now grown instruments (Richard Cromwell, Rafe Sadler with whose family Cromwell shows his continued ability to love, to be fond, to be kindly cordial) and first Mark Smeaton, then the four accused (George Boleyn, Francis Weston, William Brereton, Harry Norris) and what we can call protected secondary characters (Henry Percy, Thomas Wyatt). In the mini-series only the last third of Part 6 covers this material. The book does give less time to Anne versus Cromwell because he keeps away from her until near the trial.

Yes I’ve found a flaw in the series: they needed seven parts. At least another hour.

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The heroine’s text story-line is seen through Cromwell’s POV: he is ever coming upon and watching from the side the results, evidence, signs of Anne’s miscarriages (her own terror at the window after she bled after the king seethed at her trying to stop him jousting, with do you seek “to geld” me, Madame) and the way her gradual displacement is registered, most notably through the death of her dog: the helpless animal a cynosure for her.

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Purefoy thrown on the hard stones, bleeding to death

Cromwell: “The window was open.”
Anne: “He was such an innocent What kind of monster would do such a thing?”
Cromwell: “Perhaps he got up on the ledge somehow and then his paws slipped.
Anne: “– Paws slipped? Paws slipped? — “

A rare scene without Cromwell occurs when we observe her household shunted off to the side, turning on one another, but that is immediately followed with Jane Boleyn reporting it all to Cromwell. The way people become eager to tell him of the slightest breakdown of Anne (as when she says in the tower she doesn’t deserve this room and Kingston reports it unasked) reminds me of the McCarthy era when witnesses came forward to testify against other people. Doubtless my reader will remember analogies of his or her own. So we see Jane Seymour’s presence and Katharine’s death through Cromwell’s observation from afar and visits, almost as if we must have this or the story does not make sense, with the accent of the latter falling on Anne’s (premature) exultation and (wrong) idea she is now secure (just the opposite in fact happens). But again the focus is on the terrifying: the creepy nightmare of Cromwell seeing Anne served up as a meat dish pulled by sticks through the table with her face photographed upside down, her dress this deathly creamy satin:

Upsidedown

I didn’t find the trial as philosophically memorable as the Bolt one from A Man for All Seasons; it was rather realistic, with Cromwell as the effectively trained lawyer trapping Boleyn, asking leading questions of Anne. From historical studies (as well as her heir-daughter Elizabeth’s survival and reign) we know she was highly intelligent, but this is as nothing when everyone is agreed you must go.

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Straughan is concerned that Cromwell should not appear a monster (and Rylance obliges by the quietude of his tones, face, and occasional hand gestures). The revenge aspect of Cromwell’s motives are only quietly there. The memorable lines were in what was left of Cromwell’s encounters with individuals who provide phantom evidence, whom he turning into the dead.

So to Brereton’s outrage he takes him back:

Retort (1)

Cromwell: “Let’s go back. I remember in the late Cardinal’s time, one of your household killed a man in a bowls match.
Brereton: “Well, the game can get very heated.”

Retort (2)

Cromwell: “The Cardinal thought it was time for a reckoning, but your family impeded the investigation and I ask myself, ‘Has anything changed since then?’ John ap Eyton had a quarrel with one of your household only recently.
Brereton: “So, that’s why I’m here.”
Cromwell: “Not entirely, but leave aside your adultery with the Queen, let’s concentrate on Eyton. Blows were exchanged, a man was killed. Eyton was tried and acquitted. But you, because you have no respect for the law or Brereton “– I have every respect! — ”
Cromwell: “Don’t interrupt me! You had the man abducted and hanged. You think because it’s only one man, it doesn’t matter. You think no-one will remember, but I remember

To Norris’s complacent conceit, sudden bullying and threat worthy the ferociously corrupt Norfolk:

Norris: “You’ll not torture gentlemen. The King wouldn’t permit it.
Cromwell: “Oh, well There don’t have to be formal arrangements. I can put my thumbs in your eyes and then you would sing Green Grows The Holly if I asked you to.”

My favorite one:

George Boleyn: “But Mark Smeaton? — What has he done to you? — ”
Cromwell: “I don’t know I just don’t like the way he looks at me.”

He stonewalls Anne in the film, making her sudden reaching out to him feel more believable); when he looks out for her creature comforts (“Would you like your furs brought in?”) we get another more alienated light on how he looked out for Wolsey, Princess Mary’s and even Katharine’s transient welfare when placed in front of them. Given a chance, he will mouth platitudes as a wall around himself: to Jane Boleyn he inquires politely why she as a lady-in-waiting did not seek to “comfort her mistress.”

But what I suggest that we should note (while we wait for Hilary to write the third book, and then for the Straughan screenplay and getting the actors together, film-designers and so on) are aspects of Cromwell’s encounters with the king. When the king resorts to fierce bullying, Cromwell’s gesture of crossed wrists shows that there were tender moments with his father: it was Walter Cromwell who showed the boy how to soothe a wound with water and clenched hands. Henry makes an appeal which contains offers of friendship, concern, memories of shared interests, as when he takes Cromwell aside in the garden and pretends to ask what they should do for useful entertainment this summer.

Garden

Henry: “Will you walk with me? I wish we would go down to the weald one day – talk to the ironmasters. I’ve had various drawings – mathematical drawings and advices concerning how our ordnance can be improved, but I … I can’t … I can’t make as much of it as you would. It’s because … Well Because you are my right hand, sir. So, shall we go down? You and I, meet the charcoal burners?”
Cromwell: “Of course. But not this summer, sir. I think you will be too busy.
Henry: “Yeah. I cannot live as I have lived, Cromwell. You must free me from this from Anne.

When the evidence has been gathered and the trial is about to commence, Straughan does give Henry some lines suggesting that Anne aroused male insecurities, but nothing like the intense resentment at how Anne once kept at bay and then once having given in, delighted him in bed by transgressive sex. In the book we see Henry’s rigid pieties come out to condemn her as someone who must’ve been whorish before she met him.

Cranmore: “I never had a better opinion in a woman than I had in her. I can’t believe she’s guilty … Except I know Your Highness would never go so far if she weren’t.”
Henry: “She deceived all of us. When I look back, it all falls into place. So many friends lost, alienated Worse.When I think of Wolsey [Camera is on Cromwell hearing this, face to the side.] The way she practised against him. She said she loved me. But she meant the opposite. I’ve written a play. A tragedy. My own story. [gives it to Cromwell]
Cromwell: “You should keep it sir, till we have more leisure to do it justice.”
Henry: “But I want you to see her true nature. I believe she has committed adultery with 100 men.
Cranmore: “But her brother? Is it likely?”
Henry: “Well, I doubt she could resist! Why spare? Why not drink the cup to its filthy dregs?”

According to J.J Scarisbrick (a standard biography), Henry did write a play about Anne’s adultery.

But the strength of the screenplay is to (as with the book) leave it improbable that Anne was adulterous but make it understandable that she could be suspected and even thought to have had sex with her male courtiers. Again looking forward to the third book and another mini-series, we should keep the ambiguities of Cromwell’s conduct and how Henry’s mind can twist something into plausibility in mind.

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I have in another blog described the unflinching close-up way the execution of Anne is performed (“How can one tell of a life lived at this aware angle” — the question referring to Mantel herself). Here I want to say how this terror is reinforced by Cromwell’s slow walk back to the king, half terrified that the king might turn on him, and then the look in his eye as he allows Henry to pull him into a bear hug and Damien Lewis personates the half-crazed lunacy of someone who knows he can do anything to anyone, almost.

Armsextended

Eyes

A parable for our time, or a new man for how we today see all seasons. I remember reading later fragments in the papers of Anne Murray Halkett who wrote an autobiography of her life in the later 17th century as an adherent of the Stuarts. She wondered how it was that a group of men could just murder Charles I when everyone asked later on who would speak about it expressed horror. How could this have occurred? How is it all these people stand there going through this barbaric scene, each behaving with utter calmness over a detached head, a bloody corpse, a wooden box to take her away.

Head

Next to Cromwell and his son, Gregory (whom in the book he brings to demonstrate the boy’s loyalty) a man snickers over one of her women who had been so hard to her in the prison saying with frantic tones “We do not want men to handle her”: “It’s a little late for that.”

Ellen

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JaneBoleyn

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Anne (Claire Foy) has had a miscarriage (penultimate sequence, Wolf Hall 4), POV, Thomas Cromwell aka Mark Rylance first observes the sexually spiteful Jane Boleyn (Jessica Raine) and then stands before Anne

… the historical novel has been one of the sites where women writers have had most freedom to examine masculinity as a social and cultural construct, Diana Wallace, The Woman’s Historical Novel, British Women Writers, 1900-2000)

Dear friends and readers,

We left off at the close of Wolf Hall 2, whose screenplay is (let us nor forget) is by Robert Straughan since in Wolf Hall 5 &6, we will retrospectively observe and understand some significant departures by Straughan from Hilary Mantel’s conception. We watched Thomas Cromwell meditating over relics, objects to remember Cardinal Wolsey (played by Jonathan Pryce), including a blue ring he places on his finger, which he will twist now and again in the rest of the drama.

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face

I argued the over-arching trajectory of the three-act (albeit 6 part) mini-series is that of a psychologically and politically complex Renaissance revenge tragedy. Within that larger framing, there are a number of secondary stories, with accompanying themes, some which cross all six episodes, some dominating just one episode or group of scenes. This week I will concentrate on two, one pictorially and the other allusively and thematically brought out by Anibundel in her blog, Wolf Hall 3 & 4: A Man for all Seasons.

Mantel’s Wolf Hall performs the function of recent sequels to classic fiction and revisions of consensus histories; she asks us to switch our allegiances to the victimized, conquered, castigated and stigmatized lives of traditional histories and in so doing discover the tragedy going on is one where the subaltern figures are us. In this case these figures include several of the hitherto despised and dismissed women of Henry VIII’s court and his low-born secretary, Thomas Cromwell. My feeling is Mantel came to her very project, her very choice of historical span, by way of so many women’s identification with Anne Boleyn, and added to her Mary and Jane Boleyn, Mary Tudor (Lily Lesser) re-seen (as the product of a neurotic relationship of a profoundly sexually twisted man and woman, Henry VIII & Katharine of Aragon). Thomas Cromwell she came to by way of her insight of the deep evils religion (in her case, originally Roman Catholicism) promotes and disciplines people to enact.

My favorite moments are when Rylance as Cromwell speaks truth to religious hypocrisy as when he follows Benjamin Whitlow as Bishop Warham upstairs to let him know he, Cromwell, understands, the games Waltham is playing using Elizabeth Barton:

Cromwell; “Archbishop Warham. This um, prophetess you harbour in your diocese – Eliza Barton? How is she getting on?
Warham: “What do you want, Cromwell?”
Cromwell: “Well, I hear that she’s telling people that if the King marries Lady Anne, he has only a year to reign. I just wondered who is controlling her.”
Warham: “She may be a simple country girl but she has a genuine gift.”
Cromwell: “She does, doesn’t she? I hear she can tell you where your dead relatives are. If it’s in Heaven, she speaks with a higher voice, if in Hell, with a deep voice.”

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The episodes are entitled Anna Regina and Devil’s Spit, both of which refer to women, the first obviously Anne’s coronation and the second Elizabeth Barton (Aimee Ffion Edwards] a burningly spiteful self-deluded woman at the close burnt at a stake, whose spit or uttered prophecies were used by the Catholic faction at court to try to frighten Henry VIII from removing from positions of power adherents of the Italian and German circles of power and marrying Anne Boleyn. Across the two episodes we travel with Cromwell: in the first he begins with attempting to reason with the losers, Katharine of Aragon (Joanne Whalley) and her painfully awkward daughter (to whom Cromwell shows an instinctive pity):

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Cromwell cannot stand there and not offer this stumbling naive woman a chair

to listening to Mary, Anne’s sister’s self-directed description of Anne’s manipulation of Henry’s insecure aroused sexual desire, her thwarting of him, Anne’s overwrought bargains:

bargains

Towards the end of the third part he is the first to notice Anne’s propensity to flirt too much with other men beyond Henry and arouse Henry’s ominous anxiety during dancing, hears their quarreling raised to a pitch that leads to an old-fashioned bethrothal. Henry had demanded sex after that flirtation with another man. Mary comes out and seeks a Bible; they pledge themselves off stage and we are to imagine consummation (this was a recognized form of marriage before 1753). We glimpse the wedding itself at first in Calais and then the crowning in Westminster.

But Anne’s fall from power doesn’t take much longer than that of her sister, both more watched and in invisible prisons than we or they are aware: by the middle of the fourth episode, a Boleyn male spy is there to stop Mary (Charity Wakefield) from kissing Cromwell; by the the close of part 4 Anne’s dog has been thrown from the window, and she has bled on the floor, miscarried a second time.

It’s easy to miss how many women’s lives are wholly epitomized in a few shots: Alice More (Monica Dolan) whose guarded face appeals to Cromwell as she cannot reach her husband, some complicit in evil thinking (deludedly) they can save themselves (e.g., Margaret Countess of Salisbury, Pole’s aunt [Janet Henfrey] later beheaded), or are exceptions because seemingly virtuously superior (Jane Seymour, played by Kate Phillips).

I am most drawn to those who recognize there is no safety and act out of this inner apprehension for others: say the interspersed touching moments between Cromwell and Johanne, through or in her his memories of Liz and his daughter with her peacock angel wings (ghosts), none of them can he reach:

Johanne
Saskia Reeves as Johanne

Anibundel’s analogy for Cromwell is that of a fixer, but in the stories of these women he is helpless to fix their lives, and he appears to want to help them help themselves by the good advice he gives them (as well as the young male studs around Mary). He is himself a subject, dependent on the unlimited power of a near madman whose eyes (those of Damien Lewis) are fearfully threatening, fierce, glitter at us while the inner thoughts of the brains we think of as behind the eyes remain opaque:

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Opening shot of Devil’s Spit

Mantel’s reconstruction of Cromwell in Wolf Hall, her rehabilitation of him comes from seeing him in terms of all these women at the court. If you go on to read even sympathetic historical accounts of him (e.g. Tracy Boorman’s biography) in the provinces where he successfully manipulated local powerful men by rewarding and punishing them through property arrangements, criminal charges dependent on the new Anglican church laws, customs, doctrines, you have to infer he drove these middle men to destroy and execute the local abbots or any priests who got in their way. The man Bolt and others have characterized as ruthlessly ambitious, and willing to kill, organizing from afar terrifying executions is glimpsed only fleetingly. The criminal aspect of Cromwell’s character is also more in evidence in Bring Up the Bodies where he will take a woman (innkeeper’s wife) casually, have her husband destroyed, remembers murderous acts he participated in in the past.

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More

Cromwell
More pouring over the documents, Cromwell trying to reason with him to return to his home, to Lady Alice who has food waiting and will put him to bed

Part 4 is indeed a rewrite of Bolt’s A Man for All Seasons, to the point where speeches that Bolt plucked out of the historical records are re-plucked but uttered in contexts that reverse or at least significantly alter their significance. I was riveted by this as someone who has watched both movies of the original play several times: there was another beyond Fred Zinnemann’s with Scofield as More, Leo McKern as Cromwell, Wendy Hiller as Alice, John Hurt as Richard Rich; this other less-known A Man for All Seasons starred Charlton Hester as More, Corin Redgrave as the cynical allegorical ordinary man, and Vanessa Redgrave (memorably as a terrified Anne in way over her head). I also still admire More from having read his deeply humane analytical original Utopia, his Dialogue of Comfort during a time of Tribulation, his sardonic poetry, and his friend Erasmus’s Praise of Folly (in Latin translation it means praise of More as a holy fool dangerous to himself in his idealism). Much in More’s life resembles that of Cromwell as middling men in Parliament; both were instruments of Henry VIII.

In Bolt’s play all is done that can be done by More’s wife, daughter, son-in-law to persuade More to sign and live; Cromwell bullies and threatens, with Cranmore uttering the same rationalities. In Mantel and now Straughan, Cromwell takes over the humanity of the family. In Bolt’s trial it is Cromwell who engineers Rich’s betrayal; in Mantel it is Rich. Straughan’s 4th episode opens with More salivating over torturing someone, and again and again through dialogue and the burning and torture of other Protestants we are led to see More as the harmful fanatic. More’s utterance near the end that he has wished and done no man harm and if that cannot keep him alive, he’d rather not live (rendered famously by Scofield on the scaffolld), is answered here by Cromwell as they sit over a table by a list of people that Cromwell cites whom More has destroyed viciously. In the final scene of More’s beheading, in Mantel and Straughan there is only the pathos of a wretched narrow man.

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The burning (after torture and imprisonment, interrogration of Bainham for spreading the Bible as translated by Tyndale, More’s POV)

Mantel is doing more than insisting on more accuracy about More and some justice to Cromwell. As Bolt was making a fable for the hopeful sixties where people could respond to figures who acted out ideals, so Mantel is taking the past and mirroring a deeply pessimistic disturbed era where we have seen much progress made in social and other areas of life over the course of the 20th century reversed. Popular and significant TV mini-series on commercial channels (Breaking Bad, Games of Thrones) portray utterly amoral characters in environments where there is no hope for humane solutions, with voyeuristic cruel violence an accepted sport. Henry VIII in Mantel’s Wolf Hall and this mini-series is a site representative of today’s ruthless militaristic and fascistic oligarchies, seemingly crazed armies of fanatic men determined to turn women into subject creatures. She is a deeply secular woman, for tolerance, feminist. I know her Eight Months on Gaza Street shows how fearful and helpless individuals and especially women can feel in Saudia Arabia where there is nowhere to turn for certain information about just about anything, and all action hinges on gaining the favor of powerful individuals.

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I do ask myself where the power of this mini-series resides. Each time I rewatch it I think to myself it cannot be as good as I’ve remembered it, and each time it is. Is it in this vision? In the case of the famed Brideshead Revisited, one can point explicitly to a set of filmic techniques new and daring, or older and breaking with foolish taboos and conventions. If anything this is a kind of throw-back to the staged days of the 1970s. I wonder if it’s in the stillness and slowness of the filmography, how much time is left for each shot.

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Cromwell coming to talk with the Boleyn family (to the back, George, the brother, to the front, Norfolk [Bernard Hill]

I come back to the use of Rylance as POV and his uncanny ability to convey complicated layers of thought in different scenes with these highly theatrical characters in situations of deep crisis strain, to seem outside the action and questioning it. The character he plays, Cromwell, is himself deeply complicit, compromised and comprising — rising, becoming wealthier, powerful, using his nephew and ward, Rafe as spies. He says at one point, now it’s his turn to get back. He participates in the neurotic fights of the Boleyns. He may tells Henry Percy (then drunk) the day of the power of the thug warrior-aristocrat as all-powerful is over: that the world also works on money, that bankers are in charge (this seems a bit anachronistic, you’d think the Italian bankers were turned into today’s European Union and World Bank).

Cromwell: “My lord, you’ve said what you have to say. Now listen to me. You’re a man whose money is almost spent. I’m a man who knows how you’ve spent it. You’re a man who has borrowed all over Europe. I’m a man who knows your creditors. One word from me, and all your debts will be called in.”
Percy: “What are they going to do? Bankers don’t have armies.”
Cromwell: “Neither will you, without any money. My lord, you hold your earldom from the King. Your task is to secure the north, to defend us against Scotland. If you cannot ensure these things, the King will take your land and your titles and give them to someone who will do the job that you cannot do.”
Percy: “No, he won’t. He respects all ancient titles.”
Cromwell [his expression conveys how dense Percy is and how laughable the idea that Henry respects any titles]: “How can I explain this to you? The world is not run from where you think it is. From border fortresses. Even from Whitehall. The world is run from Antwerp, from Florence, from Lisbon. From wherever the merchant ships set sail off into the west. Not from castle walls, from counting houses. From the pens that scrape out your promissory notes. So believe me when I say that my banker friends and I will rip your life apart. And then, when you are without money and title, yes, I can picture you living in a hovel, wearing homespun, bringing home a rabbit for the pot. Your lawful wife, Anne Boleyn, skinning and jointing that rabbit. Yes, I wish you all happiness”

Percy has no credit card you see.

The fascination may come from the puzzle and elusive depths of suggestion. The series can suddenly speed up. Just as the fourth episode seems to come to an end and Cromwell is in the crowd watching More being beheaded, his memory becomes a series of flashbacks, he as a boy in More’s house where More was a boy. Then we see More about to be beheaded (unflinching scene) and Cromwell the older man watching.

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Then the camera moves and sees Johanne watching Cromwell deeply ill in bed, sweating, hysterical, seemingly traumatized. We enter his mind as he glimpses his second daughter (not the one with the angel wings, but the one who wanted to learn Greek and marry Rafe).

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He says aloud if he’s dying there are things he needs to tell Gregory (his son), Then a patch of sunlight on his bed, Liz (Natasha Little) his wife knotting,

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Cromwell: “Slow down, so I can see how you do it.”
Liz: “I can’t slow down. If I stop to think how I’m doing it, I won’t be able to do it.”

The camera again moves, we hear words about an itinerary, which ends at Wolf Hall and out from the corridor comes yet another set of people, the Seymours.

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By the end of this second act (fourth episode), we are back in the era of the all frighteningly powerful tyrant, and Cromwell seems to glimpse Anne’s waning power and glimpses the wary alert presence of Jane Seymour as a possible fall-back position as Henry must be pleased and wants a son.

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The last still of Part 4

Ellen

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listening
Wolf Hall 1, early shot, Thomas Cromwell (Mark Rylance) listening to Norfolk (Bernard Hill) and Suffolk (Richard Dillane) threaten Wolsey (Jonathan Pryce) at York palace (1529)

“A strong man acts within that which constrains him” …. to Henry, who resents being told he cannot war on France easily (Wolf Hall 1)
“I have never known anything but kindness from the Cardinal” … to Bonvisi, the Italian friend, advising to talk nicely to More and to dump the Cardinal (Wolf Hall 1, Cromwell)

Dear friends and readers,

I am just so riveted each time I watch one of the hours of this mini-series, and was at the end of the last, so shaken and roused out of myself to myself, that I must write some separate blogs on it now. If I waited until I felt fully competent to write a series of blogs on this season’s Wolf Hall, I’d not do it any time soon. I heartily recommend Anibundel’s meditation on Wolf Hall as demanding something more in the way of background (real knowledge of the era, the historical figures who appear with no introduction, a study of Mantel’s Wolf Hall, Bring up the Bodies, her sources and other books, not to omit re-watching the 2011 Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy by Peter Straughan), and an ability to see the genuine analogies of this early Tudor era with the politics and social life of 2015, and so I end on another must-read, Fintan O’Toole’s comparison of the RSC stage play by Mike Poulson with this mini-series (in the NYRB).

You may also have come across high-pitched diatribes by name pundits (Charles Krauthammer) and much lesser-known historians who are still engaged in a bitter debate (400 years later) over whether Thomas Cromwell was a ruthless brutal thug (Colin Burrow) or an early modern magistrate, by closely monitored persuasive manipulations effecting a revolution from a Catholic hierarchical medieval European outpost to a Protestant local monarchy, and in both cases defying his low rank and growing rich, developing a household and estate as part of his reward (G. R. Elton and Marilyn Robertson). Was More a fanatical burner of men rather than this man of conscience Robert Bolt created? Was Thomas Cromwell the first modern magistrate with some integrity but very human? How shall we understand Anne? Why was she so disliked?

And yet the deeper pleasures require nothing more than watching. After all a novel, a film, piece of music, picture must deliver in its own right, have no need of anything outside itself, and I maintain this does. Just don’t be intimidated by Straughan, Peter Koshinsky (the director) and several of the actors, most notably Mark Rylance’s, refusal to compromise. So here goes.

If they avoid unreal histrionic theatrics most of the time, and do not treat the costumes and sets as on sale in shop windows, Damien Lewis as Henry VIII and Claire Foy as Anne Boleyn, Mark Gatiss as Stephen Gardiner, Charity Wakefield as Mary Boleyn, more than make up for the quiet realistic performances of say Jonathan Pryce as Wolsey, Natasha Little as Liz Cromwell. Anton Lesser as Thomas More is more gothic than one realizes at first.

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Our first sight of More which prompts Cromwell to one of many sudden frank speeches where he speaks truth to power (including to Henry):

More: “I care nothing for wealth. “The world’s esteem is nothing to me.”
Cromwell: “So how is it I come back to London and find you’ve become Lord Chancellor? Lord Chancellor. What’s that? A fucking accident?”
More: “You’re no friend to the church, Thomas. You’re a friend to one priest only – and he’s the most corrupt in Christendom”

And the music by Debbie Wiseman as driving and forceful and memorable, and turns soft, Renaissance like and lilting throughout as any of the latest commercial serial dramas.

Let us look at our story as three act play, which I believe a study of the release dialogue transcripts bears out. Let us think about how these imagined characters relate to the historical figures they represent only after we grasp the actors’ realization of them (out of Mantel’s characters and Staughan’s script, Koshinsky’s direction, in the costumes by Joanna Eatwell) as they move through the story which is a brilliant Renaissance “revenge tragedy” (Straughan’s phrase for how he constructed a coherent line out of Mantel’s two books).

The first act lays out before us the development of a father-son relationship which travels deeply into the core of the central consciousness, POV of the play, Thomas Cromwell, once a savagely-abused boy, homeless outcast, whose alert intelligence (social cunning), thorough practical and book learning, quiet reciprocal kindness, and loyalty (constancy) Wolsey recognizes and takes in. Wolsey is all personally that Cromwell admires and wants to emulate — the great public man.

What we are watching over the course of the two hours where time moves back and forth is Cromwell remembering his first encounters with Wolsey, the development of his love and respect for this man and how and why Wolsey was personally destroyed. After Wolsey tries negotiation in Europe with the Pope’s legate and then negotiation in England and then a trial of Katherine of Aragon in an effort to enable Henry to divorce Katharine and marry Anne. Wolsey’s autocratic dealings, we see his slow deterioration, which allows for an emergence of his affectionate ways (the birth and gift of a kitten to Cromwell). Here they are playing cards (the game Cromwell says supported him on the docks as a male adolescent):

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They talk and eat together. Then as events close in, Cromwell’s helping to move the old man to Winchester and then York,

Cromwell:  “Masters, I want kindling, dry kindling … Get the fires lit … Stephen, find the kitchen …. Actually, see him in first… I need the bedding … What? Who is that? … Michael? Down, off. The horses, later. We want the Cardinal in bed and warm. …Come on, come on, we’re not done yet! …”

To Wolsey now in bed:  “I asked if they had nutmeg or saffron – they looked at me as if I was speaking Greek. I’ll have to find a local supplier.”
Wolsey:  “I shall pray for it.”

I find it very touching the way Cromwell tries to secure creature comforts for the old man, and how the old man gently mocks his endeavours. Despite Henry’s claim that he loves and misses the Cardinal, and that he cannot bring the Cardinal back (as his courtiers, and the powerful aristocratic clans who loathe Wolsey as a butcher’s son are pressuring him), Wolsey is thrown away, humiliated, sickens and dies. Against this the horrific scene of Cromwell’s father almost kicking him to death, and the one encounter where we see how vile to Cromwell Cromwell’s father seems.

By contrast,

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there is the way Wolsey teases Cromwell and then blesses him. Perhaps the film-makers have Cromwell remember a nasty deriding masque four sleazy male courtiers act out against Wosley for the amusement of Henry and Anne a bit too often, but they want us not to forget what Cromwell does not forget. Colin Burrow suggests the two novels (and I this three act play) themselves make up a revenge story, deep and abiding. At the close of the second hour, Cromwell assures George Cavendish (Wolsey’s secretary, right-hand man who later in life wrote a memoir of Wolsey) who weeps for the man that he remembers all those who mocked, and used Wolsey:

Cromwell: “There’s no need to trouble, God, George, I’ll take it in hand.”

It’s easy to miss how often in the first two hours Cromwell is waiting to talk to someone, sometimes Henry himself on behalf of the Cardinal. Partly because Crowmell is an enigmatic figure, for after all although he promises to return north, he does not. He uses his mission to bring the king and cardinal back together to secure his own place in Parliament and in the king’s entourage. We are privy to his face, his remarks, his acts, his flashbacks, but not his thoughts.

The story of an old man and middle-aged one’s respect and relationship is not one must admit the sexiest of stories, and it occurs amid the criss-cross interwoven other stories, also told often through flashbacks coming out of Cromwell’s memory: the central one which also moves across the whole 6 hours is Anne Boleyn’s rise to power as a result of Henry’s sexual attraction to her strong aggressively confident character (as seen in this play)

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Anne Boleyn (Claire Foy) as first glimpsed dancing with Henry Percy (Harry Lloyd) in a flashback as her father, Thomas Boleyn (David Robb) explains to Wolsey that the young people have pledged themselves to one another

The homelife of Cromwell at Austin Friars, with his real love for his wife and affection for his daughters, seen in warm light, before they suddenly sicken with sweating sickness and die:

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The first shot of Liz Cromwell (Natasha Little), POV Cromwell as he comes home and up the stairs

Cromwell: “You’re sweeter to look at than the Cardinal.”
Liz: “That’s the smallest compliment a woman ever received.”

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With Grace on his lap as he attempts to tell Liz of the Tyndale English translation of the Bible which she should read

The stories of the boys he takes in, trains as courtiers, then spies, and finally aides in bullying, and threat-torturing of those Cromwell wants and needs to take down, take out. In the novel (and history) Cromwell filled his house with such young men.

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Another early shot, Richard Cromwell (Joss Porter) and Rafe, his ward (Thomas Brodie-Sangster) whom Cromwell’s young Anne loves as a young girl and asks permisssion to marry:

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Anne: “Can I choose who I want to marry?”
Cromwell: “What?”
Anne: “Can I choose who I want to marry?”
Cromwell: “Within reason.”
Anne: “Then I choose Rafe.”

I warmed to Cromwell’s turning to his wife’s sister, Johanne Williamson (Saskia Reeves); he pictures her in place of Liz, but he likes her for herself. It cheered me to see them in bed together in the morning talking. I sorrowed when she brought an end to it because her mother had found out. She is often seen in the group more lit up then the others

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If I’m supposed to get a kick out of Charity Wakefield as Mary Boleyn’s bitterness and ironies about her sister, and her attempt to seduce Cromwell to become her protector (as she sees how strong he is), I bond rather with Liz and then Johanne. But I am intrigued by Mary (discarded mistress and mother of children by Henry) and Jane Boleyn (one of those who provided evidence against Anne and her brother, Jane’s hated husband) and have gotten myself two history-biography books about them to read:

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Mary talking to Cromwell

The colorful contains the dangerous and we are intensely alerted to this at each renewed encounter of Cromwell with Henry, from their first meeting in the Hampton Court garden, to court interactions,

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The careful photograph captures the neurotic king, half-unsure of himself, and the bare grey head of Cromwell

to real intimacy, as when Henry asks for Cromwell to come to his palace at 2 in the morning to reinterpret a dream.

If you remember Katharine’s bitterness, her court trial where she stands up for herself as a virgin when she first went to bed with Henry (she has the most striking headdress in the series until Anna becomes queen (Margaret More’s easy to miss, the most beautiful and tastefuL):

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there is so much going on in these two hours, it’s chock-a-block. Mantel has remembered and used Shakespeare’s Henry VIII.

But it’s best to see it as slow, the scenes and shots are much longer than usual for a movie, you can take in what you see while the sense is if something hieratic. Think of it as a build-up. The sub-stories evolving depth and emotion while the longer over-arching ones are moving towards a terrifying climax as so few have power to keep themselves afloat. In Act One Cromwell thinks he can still act justly to most and get what he wants as well as secure himself. He will find otherwise.

Fintan O’Toole has the relevance and appeal of Mantel’s thematic shift to and take on Cromwell right:

He is a middle-class man trying to get by in an oligarchic world. Thirty years ago, Mantel’s Cromwell would have been of limited interest. His virtues—hard work, self-discipline, domestic respectability, a talent for office politics, the steady accumulation of money, a valuing of stability above all else—would have been dismissed as mere bourgeois orthodoxies. If they were not so boring they would have been contemptible. They were, in a damning word, safe.

But they’re not safe anymore. They don’t assure security. As the world becomes more oligarchic, middle-class virtues become more precarious. This is the drama of Mantel’s Cromwell—he is the perfect bourgeois in a world where being perfectly bourgeois doesn’t buy you freedom from the knowledge that everything you have can be whipped away from you at any moment. The terror that grips us is rooted not in Cromwell’s weakness but in his extraordinary strength. He is a perfect paragon of meritocracy for our age. He is a survivor of an abusive childhood, a teenage tearaway made good, a self-made man solely reliant on his own talents and entrepreneurial energies. He could be the hero of a sentimental American story of the follow-your-dreams genre. Except for the twist—meritocracy goes only so far. Even Cromwell cannot control his own destiny, cannot escape the power of entrenched privilege. And if he, with his almost superhuman abilities, can’t do so, what chance do the rest of us have?

Continually all these noblemen talk angrily and ferociously about both Wolsey and Cromwell’s low origins. They can’t stand that. They loathe having both around or above them.

Look at the use of the camera and color. The POV is only immersion when it’s a deeply private moment, one which must be hid from other’s eyes:

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Johanne and Cromwell

and it is most of the time Cromwell’s. But it is to the side: the camera (and Cromwell) keep looking at others from the side and when the camera is on Cromwell himself we see his face from the side, framed in doorways, walking down dark narrow corridors (of power?). There is a deep sense then of cautious lurking. There is little use of montage — which nowadays is unusual (except for old fashioned costume dramas like Downton Abbey) and not much voice over (ditto). This keeps us outside the minds of the characters and keeps them enigmatic, at a distance, and leaves us with a sense of film as a stage. Light is used to bring out beautiful colors: the modern tendency to use light in ways that repeat the darknesses of eras before electricity is practiced, but large windows and “day” time makes up for this. Light colors, beautiful windows. Cromwell himself is soberly dressed, only gradually beginning to appear more rich by furs and the like. Here he is towards the end of part two, la rare unguarded frontal shot when he is alone, looking over the relics from the Cardinal:

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I’ve written on functions of historical fiction and film in our culture, and self-reflexive acting of Rylance (scroll down to the final three paragraphs), but the joy of the experience is the story, the performances, the characters’ relationships, the film experience.

Ellen

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wolf-hallAntonLesserasMore

Anton Lesser as Thomas More (Peter Straughan defying a fear a wider swathe of viewers will declare a series boring or slow-moving returns to some of the techniques he used in Tinker, Tailer, Soldier, Spy … ) The Washington Post featured a editorial column by Charles Krauthammer inveighing against the distorted portrait of More, showing how seriously these films are taken …

Dear friends and readers,

My concluding blog review of this unusually rich volume of essays on the often neglected and casually dissed costume drama from the BBC, for several decades a leading and influential creator of fine TV drama. The first part covered different ways of dicussing these serial films ; the second the history and evolution of historical films, and this last on the power of these drama’s audiences (especially in the age of fandoms on the Internet with their instant commentary) and how they can influence how a given mini-series might develop and frame how the series is discussed in public media.

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All we are permitted to see in the 1970s is the morning after (Ellis as Ross, Jill Townsend as Elizabeth)

Chapter 16: Julie Anne Taddeo’s “Why don’t you take her?”” Rape in the Poldark Narrative.” I liked this one — it coheres with my point of view on gender politics in the Poldark series (though I differ in how I see Graham’s stance). Where she differs from the approach I would take is she organizes her findings around the fan groups which protest regularly, where misreadings are a result of mainstream cultural values. It offended many viewers of the 1970s mini-series that Ross rapes Elizabeth, and they are given ammunition in this view by the relatively chaste presentation of the 1970s depiction, and by later qualified backtracking in the novels, to be noted in Ross Poldark’s memory — but not sufficient to turn away the reality that Elizabeth manifests intense bitterness towards Ross in The Black Moon and is in The Angry Tide given a very “rough deal” indeed (Graham’s terms for the realities of women’s lives in our culture): she dies of miscarriage she pays a doctor to bring in by causing early parturition, using some herbs known to lead to gangrene. why? the intolerable life she finds herself having to endure when George Warleggan, her aroused jealous husband begins to believe that her second son, he thought his, and born prematurely, is Ross Poldark’s.

Taddeo begins with the enormous popularity of the Poldark mini-series as well as the unacknowledged (by elite groups) extent of Graham’s readership for years of his Poldark and mystery-thrillers-psychologically complex books. Her point will be to show how the fan groups managed to influence how the film-makers changed Graham’s books when they filmed them. The central dilemma of the 12 books is that Ross Poldark loves two women, Elizabeth Chynoweth, aristocratic, upper class, who chooses to marry Ross’s cousin, Francis, partly because she fears marriage to Ross (as a man of renegade risky outcast behavior), and thought he was dead and promised Francis; partly because Francis is the oldest son’s older son, and thus the heir and she hopes can provide her with a high culture social life. Ross takes in a pathetic abject working class (beaten up or abused) young girl, Demelza Carne, to be a servant in his house. Demelza grows up and eventually they have sex (almost inevitably and this carries on) but he marries her quickly — as someone he really likes and feels comfortable with, as a good sex partner. As to defy his class; it is an act of rebellion.  He falls in love with her gradually and deeply. In the 1970s series this altered so that Ross and Demelza have sex for just one night (the film-makers feared the audience would think Demelza unchaste if there were many nights, and that even today would not condone breaking the taboo of marrying far beneath him); Demelza becomes pregnant, even tries to an abortion, but Ross finds out, stops her and “gives” and their child “his name.” When Francis Poldark dies, and Elizabeth finds herself impoverished, alone, insecure, lonely, she marries George Warleggan, even though Ross has made intense efforts to help her (like giving her a lump sum he and Demelza needed badly for his mining business).  Incensed, enraged, he goes to Trenwith and forces himself sexually upon her.  To take her back, to assert his right to own her.  Fans resent bitterly the idea that Ross could have raped anyone. Just the other day I debated this issue off-blog and off-facebook with a long-time ardent reader of Graham’s books and about his life.

So fans of the mini-series argue over this triangle, wanting to absolve Ross and turning to hating Elizabeth. Taddeo shows that Graham is seriously interested in the question of rape, presents women as subject to men; in the second mini-series (out of Books 6-8), we have a young woman, Eliizabeth’s cousin, Morwenna, forced into marriage and Graham dramatizes her experience of married life as continued sadistic marital rape — happily her husband dies, and she remarries a brother of Demelza, but she never recovers from her two years of such experiences.

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A scene related to the one focused on above: another rape scene written by a man, and this time we are encouraged to see coerced sex as aggresive seduction (Michelle Dockery as Lady Mary, forced down by a Turkish friend of one of her suitors, Downton Abbey, the first season, 2010)

Chapter 16: Andrea Schmidt dilates on “Imaginative power” of the fan fiction and postings on the Net about Downton Abbey. She demonstrates how these fans — often disdained — expose the absurdities and perversities of Fellowes. He hires a “historian” as a reinforcement of his claim that he refuses to develop his characters in more sophisticated adult ways and deal openly with complex politics because is he keeps to “historical accuracy” no anachronisms in his characters. “Historical accuracy” is his mantra (like the US uses “national security”) behind which he wants to control the depiction of the characters to suit his defense of this super-rich order of people. At the same time he can write dialogue and invent presences with the power of suggestivity. He is usually real enough, and registers the depths and amorality of people sufficiently to open up suggestions we can play with — such as my argument last year that Mr Bates murdered his first wife and Mr Green through the clever ruse of accident.

Schmidt suggests that Downton Abbey fan fiction develops his characters from hints and behaviors Fellowes refuses to make clear or explicit — he cannot sue them as they are making no money and are not acknowledged as legitimate or serious by those in charge of literature and art. These fan fictions and postings and blogs too expose the nasty undercurrents of his portrayals, his fatuity. They complicate his stories in more “interesting, self-aware and sensitive areas” that he (in effect) refuses to. One I noticed is a fan fiction that postulates a love affair between Miss Obrien and “arguably the most underdeveloped character in the series, Cora, Lady Grantham.” A pair of lesbians. In another “poor Edith” is given a sarcastic and funny voice and describes the passive-aggressive relationship of Matthew (his sycophancy and making up to her) and Lady Mary (her cold indifference and potentially needling tongue) one New Year’s Day. They allow Robert (Lord Grantham to have his affair with Jane (the widowed housemaid?).

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From Mr Selfridge: the opening episode, Miss Agnes Towler gazing yearningly at the dress in the department store window

Chapter 17: Andrea Wright’s “This Wonderful Commercial Machine” defends and analyses “Gender, Class, and the Pleasures of Spectacle in The Paradise and Mr Selfridge compared to the 1970s House of Elliot. The 1970s is incomparably more genuinely feminist in outlook — for a start, the owners are women. These costume dramas have lots of “good girl messages” I’d call them — stay home, be obedient, don’t rock the values that sustain you supposedly and you’ll be safe and maybe unhappy critics who complain about the spectacle and shopping should realize that’s the point of these series; women go there for pleasure. The older program had 2 ambitious women now we have ambitious men.

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Like The Bletchley Circle, The 1970s House of Elliot featured women in charge, dealing, negotating

Wright finds that conservative ideologies have taken over; we espape the present. In The Paradise something less authentic is taking over – modern retail is characterized by cavernous hypermarkets that lack all individiduality. The Paradise maintains its French origin in feel and tone. She carefully goes over the décor of the two series and what is projected – -an opportunity to revel. Respectability and reputation are central to women of all classes. Agnes the desperate girl of Mr Selfridge is matched with Denise of Paradise, a prey to men, clerks on display like the goods, women as a consumable pleasure. Wright compares the kinds and fates of the female characrers in the two series. They fail to offer progressive roles for women and reiterate rigid class structures. A French business women Clemence is a threat sexually as she seeks to win through sexual enticement; she is cast as a dangerous other. Normalcy restored. Agnes has little opportunity, she gets paternistilc support, a sexual education rather than emancipation. We have also another Miss Bunting, desperate over debt, who steals is not pardoned and kills herself.

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The upbeat 1940s Cherry Ames/Sue Barton feel to the series can be seen in this kind of stylized cheerful promotional shot — connected to the above still, women going to work

Chapter 18: Louise Fitzgerald’s “Taking a pregnant pause: Interrogating the feminist potential of Call the Midwife.” It’s the story of a newly qualified midwife who arrives in Post WW2 London to take a position alongside other novice midwives and Anglican order of nuns – Jenny Lee, a middle class woman who once loved classical music. The midwife can be seen as a feminist figure because she has been cloaked in misogynies – female strength not liked, a scapegoat. Birth and reproductive rights continue to be a central feminist subject; the show breaks this aesthetic taboo. Abortion becomes a flash point in the series – a story of a backstreet abortion at a time abortion not legal; Nora Harding almost dies – we witness her screaming. Neither woman (a story of Trixie who is first seen painting her nails with blood red varnish) is judged by her community, but both women are in effect punished and abortion and sexual assault are seen as the result of sexual desire. After success of first season Heidi Thomas (the writer who is a centrally important person in costume dramas, especially British) began to try for feminist content. Midwives are a much more visible presence in the UK; US media did not like its bleak ideologies and socialist Health care system. It is feminocentric and about women – none of women defined by relationship to a man – it suggests a communitarian spirit and that domestic history is valuable history.

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Another promotional still which does show the ambiance of at least the first season

The main concern of the series is the relationship of poverty and social welfare even if topics – domestic violence, abortion, rape, birth, prostitution are feminist issues – there are so very few programs with women at the center is one reason for its success. Channel 4’s reality TV show One Born Every Minute has a high prioritization of birth stories – central in popular culture today and does reinforce “fact’ of women’s biological difference from men – Call the Midwife is a ghettoizing of what it means to be feminist because midwifery childbirth and motherhood seen as female space. No new points of identification. There is a nostalgia in the way class identity and hierarchies are used (reinforced too). It is white – one nun makes an “unintentional racist” remarks does not provoke disquiet that working class women’s behavior does. A story about a black child is told without referring to the child’s race; the story about the man as a father and man. Call the Midwife does not offer new paradigms for identification nor systematically challenge sstems of oppression and inequity. The larger problem in feminist of racism is here.

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As general constant across the three parts of the book and different subgenres of costume drama and mini-series is the gender fault-line: there are men’s films and women’s films from the point of view of the characters and stories and from the point of view of how the screenplay writer, director and producer treat this content. And even if they are apparently feminist, written by women, feminocentric, sympathetic to women, they do not escape the hegemonic male dominance of our culture.

Chapter 20: Elke Weissmann’s “Transnational Complexity and the Critique of Masculinity in Ripper Street.

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Promotional: Matthew Macfayden to the fore, the women ghostly

Elke Weissmann writes on a mini-series Ripper Street (2010-) produced by BBC and BBC America. She feels the mini-series “emphasizes the problem that is constituted by traditional patriarchal masculinities.” This drama exposes while it attempts to critique the results of these behaviors and especially a nostalgic view of them. It offers an intense emotional engagement with its characters — part of serial drama. A central character played by Matthew Macfayden is at first presented as a traumatized and admirable male; he’s a versatile actor and apparently unlike Walter White in Breaking Bad where (according to Weissmann) we see a good man gradually corrupted, Reid was corrupt to start out with. A large theme is the problem of policing: who is to police such a society when the police are part of the problem. Along the way she describes similar min-series which she aligns or contrasts with this one: none of them have I ever seen; Dixon of Dock Street (British 1955-76), Wire (HBO – -I know this one is much admired), Hill Street Blues (I know it was popular.

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It’s telling how easy it is to find stills on the Net of profoundly wounded women with supposedly protective standing over them (from Ripper Street)

She thinks Deadwood the best of these, but it too makes an exaggerated use of violence, which is shown to be “deeply troubling”. Ripper Street manifests deep unhappiness and does allow for other concepts of masculinity. Violence is shown by the storylines to be a “key element of traditional, hegemonic masculinities,” is traumatizing and central to the problems men face too.

I’ve probably seen so little of this type of thing because I avoid high raw and continuing violence that I know is typical of a lot of filsm — Breaking Bad was an unusual program for me to watch

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Rob James-Cellier as Thomas Barrow, a homosexual footman who attempts to blackmail Charlie Cox, the Duke of Crowborough but finds the Duke has far more power than he (Downton Abbey, 2010, the first season)

I’ve omitted Chapter 12, Giselle Bastin’s treatment of the two Upstairs/Downstairs series and keep Chapter 19: Lucy Brown’s “Homosexual Lives: Representation and Reinterpretation in Upstairs Downstairs and Downton Abbey to a minimum. As I remarked in the second of these blogs, I watched the two seasons of the 2012 Upstairs Downstairs and want to deal with the changes from the older to the new series separately, but here I would like to record the central insight of this essay. Lucy Brown shows that paradoxically the depiction of a gay footman in the 1970s, Alfred Harris, much more hostilely than that of Thomas Barrow, which actually ends on Harris’ execution as a spy is in a way far more truthful to the suffering and reality of life of homosexual men until the mid-1970s (Stonewall anyone?) than the sentimental way that Thomas is on the one hand sympathized with when it comes to his love relationships but otherwise stigmatized as a spiteful angry desperately snobbish man (in cohoots with that witch, Miss Obrien).

A single collection of essays has to leave some topics out. I was glad to see the emphasis in two of the essays on the importance and central function and dominance of the screenplay writer in the way the BBC does its actual film-making, but wished that there had been more about the business side of things. For example, a British friend told me:

it no longer produces drama itself. It commissions it from private companies — many of them (originally at least) comprising people who used to work at the Beeb. This new system has been in place for about twenty years, and certainly applies to Wolf Hall. Commissioning seems to work both ways — the idea may come from the Beeb, or the independent companies may pitch to them.

There are reasons to dislike this way of going about things, but it has resulted in many cases in higher production values — contrasting Wolf Hall with the 1970s Wives of Henry VIII shows the difference. It has also led to dumbing down, but Wolf Hall is not guilty of that.

Some the aspects of these dramas beyond dumbing down (short scenes, much less dialogue, itself much less complicated and thoughtful) which the essayists in the last part attribute to the power of audiences could be the effect of profit-making companies who want values that uphold their company and executives to be enacted.

I am a lover of historical fiction, biography, narrative history, historic fiction (older fiction) and think all these literary forms directly connected to, give rise to serial costume drama. I will be writing soon about Peter Weir’s Master and Commander (adapted from an amalgam of several of Patrick O’Brian’s novels, directed and written by Peter Weir, featuring Russell Crowe and Paul Bettany).

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Bettany as Stephen Maturin on the Galapagos islands, writing up his notes)

Ellen

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Paratexts
From the paratexts of Plater’s Barchester Chronicles (1983)

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Donald Pleasence as Mr Harding wandering in Westminster (from Barchester Chronicles, scripted Alan Plater, the first two episodes being a dramatization of The Warden)

Dear friends and readers,

I’ve decided to share my lecture and class discussion notes on Barchester Towers at the OLLI at Mason because we had such a good time over the book. I have already put onto the Net the postings a group of us on Trollope-l [Trollope and His Contemporaries] in 1999 posted to wherever our group was at that point (it’s been on four different sites), and am aware of how much has been said about this famous series of novels.

I am not sure I am adding anything new: my lectures are centrally indebted to William Cadbury (“Character and the Mock Heroic in Barchester Towers, Texas Studies in Literature and Language, 5:4 [1964]509-519), James Kincaid’s blessedly old-fashioned close reading of Trollope in his Novels of AT, to say little of Tony Bareham’s Casebook on the Barsetshire novels. I did fast forward to the often unreadable D. A. Miller’s work (it was he who asked the question, “Why are there no police in Barsetshire?”), in this case readable repetitive few amusing points, some of which my 50 to 70+ year old students brought out without having worked their way through his prose (see way below). I came up with a few ideas — and screened some of Alan Plater’s Barchester Chronicles where Geralding McEwan, Alan Rickham and Donald Pleasence appeared to mesmerize them all.

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TheInterview
The interview: of Mr Harding (Donald Pleasence) by Mr. Slope (Alan Rickman)

Cadbury (among others) tells us that Barchester Towers is both supremely like most of Trollope and supremely unlike. Many people who have read many of his novels plump for the unlike, but there’s no denying any particular passage, the themes, attitudes, use of narrators, characters could have been done by no one else. You read it and if you’d read Trollope before, you know it’s him.

First the like, obviously the book comes out of The Warden; the central ethical dilemma is repeated in the sense that we have a caste group who protect their positions; they are fighting over the spoils, th funds for charity are not being given to them in the way intended; and there runs through Barchester Towers a similar vein of feeling and thought dramatizing what is integrity. This clash can be seen as captured by one of the various oppositions; Mr Arabin (opening of Volume II) v Mr Slope (Chapter 4, “The Bishop’s Chaplain”). Arabin justifies his fight in the world as for understanding accurately what is the nature of our lives, what choices should we make of how to decide something, even what to decide,all to be rooted in a depth of true feeling (bonds, loyalty, what is due other people), not to be manipulated or twisted; Mr Slope is all manipulation, all performance; it’s suggested somewhere in him there once was some evangelical or low church fervor where the believer and his relationship with God is the center of religious belief, but all we see once he comes to Barchester is his manipulation of the outward manifestations of power relationships.

Skilton’s introduction in Penguin says how the novel fits into a Trollopian mode: the predicament of the church at this point in history: the book shows a deep reverence for the past (in the Thornes of Ullathorne), all the while an intense awareness of the present as ceaseless change – and the necessity of removing the obsolete and that includes people – us – -by rubbish cart. Someone’s conscience versus worldliness. As the book opens, what is happening?, an old man is dying? The bishop. Is this how it’s presented? Look at the heading: it’s presented as who will replace him. What is tearing Dr Grantly up in this chapter? The old man keeps lingering on. The doctors say he’s about to pop off any minute now, but he doesn’t. Why is it important that he pop off? A change of ministry and then Dr Grantly will not get the position. Those in are Tories (Gods) and those out are Whigs (Giants): he dared to ask himself whether he really longed for his father’s death? (p. 3) Obvious why that rivets us – or can. Whether we have been in Grantly’s situation or have seen someone looking at us wondering when we are going to die and hoping for it. Or have seen someone else. It’s sort of surprising when you contemplate this line and the passages about Grantly by the bedside of his father that this is the core opener of a comic book — only that’s what meant by supremely Trollopian (or so I think).

What is unlike many of the novels: several consistently-used distancing techniques. Trollope continually distances us; he approaches his material externally first: set pieces, portraits, epic similes, talking to us about the characters as characters, and only then does he go inward, sometimes for a moment deeply, but more often to show us the character thinking socially, about social life and situations. They can reveal a lot in their conversations: for Trollope social life is not an enigmatic closed mask: through the mask the person is exposing his or her private vulnerable self and motives if only you know how to read them.Trollope’s novels by and large ask us to view the action and themes in terms of the aims and goals of the characters (The Warden). Characters deeply seen and felt inwardly. We will have this in Dr Thorne. Trollope begins with two chapters from an impinging past from the point of view of a person, consciousness, character. He also there has a single narrator who forms a personality, often characterized as congenial and accepting of what he presents even if it’s when thought about a great evil. We are no allowed deep sustaining entry into the consciousness of the characters or narrator. This novel is often called Fieldingesque, after Fielding. What Trolliope wants us to see is this larger modern world, expose it for our delectation. Finally the bishop dies (apparently with little overt pain), and first thing for the son to do is send a telegram (Penguin, pp 5-6). But not by him but his father-in-law (Mr Harding), telling him, don’t put my name on it. The book is panoramic in the way of Fielding, but the narator is more modelled after the Thackerayan sceptical disillustioned narrator in Vanity Fair and Henry Esmond. We are not given a personality in this novel so much as a comic epic bard with a group of techniques which he uses to distance us from his characters. He does provide enough of the characters to make us feel and at times think a little deeply about them.

For example, the Signora Neroni. On the surface she’s a thoroughly shady woman with a very disreputable past who enjoys needling people. Hungry for male attention as there she can experience some power, however limited. A scene between her and Slope in Volume II shows her playing mercilessly with his libidinal helplessness before her. Mother of the last emperor. But as the portrait goes on, what do we feel about her more deeply?  Her pathos (Volume 1, Ch 9, p 65-69): when she talks of her father’s demise with her brother and sister, Charlotte and Bertie, she acquieses in the idea they don’t want him to die, because then they lose all his income and are burdened with debt. Very bad news for Bertie. She expresses more than real apprehension. From later in the book where they bring up this all important topic again (who will inherit and what when the man dies or will we be broke?),the three are talking of Eleanor Bold and should Bertie court and marry her, and her thick mourning comes up: Madeline speaks:

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Susan Hampshire, Susan Edmonston and Peter Blythe as Madeline Neroni, and Bertie and Charlotte Stanhope

‘I hate such shallow pretenses. I’d let the world say what it pleased and show no grief [for a dead husband] if I felt none – perhaps not show it if I did,’ and (when they in effect say nothing) ‘you both know in what way husbands and wive generally live together.  You know what freedom a man claims for himself and what slavery he would exact from a wife and you know how wives generally obey. Marriage means tyranny on one side, and deceit on the other, and a man is a fool to sacrifice his interests to such a bargain.  The tragedy is a woman generally has no other way of living.’  This reminds me she is crippled, a cripple. Bertie and Charlotte laughingly anticipate their father’s death as a way of “getting something.” In this opening chapter Trollope says the one central characteristic of the family is heartlessness (Penguin, p 62); they’d give you the shirt off their backs today, so courteous, disarming, sympathetic, and yet heartless he says. Madeline replies sharply to the idea they’ll get something when Rev Stanhope dies: “I think we’ll inherit his debts as well.”  Bertie then chuckles and Neroni says she “I likes him … should be sorry to lose him.’

She’s not just intelligent but is in front of herself candid. She will do some noble things at the end of the novel – noble for human beings. Yet look at the chapter. We have these still portraits. Set-pieces. They remind me of Scott’s way of presenting characters in Ivanhoe. One after the other, put in front of us, rather like a stage presence and puppet who has not been set in movement. Each except Charlotte and the mother anathema morally to Victorians supposedly. Before you reject, Bertie Stanhope, you must recall that the Rev Stanhope is not big on the work ethic himself.  He collects large sums (from the church and thus the tax-payer) and does nothing

What keeps the text high-spirited and amusing is how Trollope presenst them as characters as well as people and not let us forget they are characters in a novel, and he’s not emphasizing internal realities here, nor that of his narrator. It’s a dance – with all the complexity suggested by the details and each encounter where we can understand a problem as a problem, we do not approach them from the inside but rather the outside. Chapter 2: particulars of what happened to the hospital (Penguin, pp 10-11). Old men certainly did not get anything. They have no vote, no representation in Parliament. Then chapters called subjects like “War.”  Balanced, symmetries everywhere. The detachment, the urbanity achieved is said by some to be him typically comes from not reading much more of Trollope than the Barsetshire and Palliser series, where the narrator opts for balance (leading to complacency), and this is liked. The achievement of this novel is the mastery in all the comic techniques repeatedly brought in to make us look at the world of Barsetshire as a world. In Dr Thorne Trollope demands a different level of sympathy, one where we bond intimately. We are not left alone to form a conception of the characters that could be painful – that darker level is by the way only glimpsed in the mini-series. It is there; myself I think that’s why people keep reading it. What do we care about church personages and church politics literally and a lot of people are literal readers.

All the characters except even Arabin (when he is confronted by the Signora) are made to feel or are ridiculous. Take baby worship. Eleanor is overreacting. We are told she grieved at her husband’s death, we are told the pregnancy was compensation, she keeps her mourning on, but there is a gap between the reality and the perfect ordinariness of the child. “The baby was really delightful; he took his food with a will, stuck out his toes merrily whenever his legs were uncovered, and did not have fits These are supposed to be the strongest points of baby perfection and in all these our baby excelled.” Our baby.

The two characters seen most inwardly consistently are Harding and Mr Arabin – only with them does Trollope move into the close analysis of interior views. So let’s look at Chapter 12: Slope versus Harding: the quintessential modern hazing moment: the interview. The scene before us is performative and the point is to make us see an interview scene in this new world – this novel has been called the first academic satire, about jobs in the marketplace. In this interview scene he goes back and forth at length. He does go back and forth more in the later chapters: the Quiverfuls especially but their agon is treated comically. Trollope keeps ringing changes on the number 14. The name is allegorical.

Chapter 12: The ringing insult: It is “new men carrying out new measures:” “carting away the useless rubbish of centuries.” How did they feel reading that? This is a highly unusual comedy also in that most comedies side with the young. We rejoice when the young escape the clutches of the old and mean. We are with the younger generation fighting the older one; it might be said to be deeply conservative as it builds up immense sympathy for older vulnerable people. We are with the older people, or those who have withdrawn for a while – Mr Arabin, Bertie Stanhope who is treated with a kindly irony (he copes with each day as it comes – and makes wonderful mockery of the church’s pretensions about its offices and work. If you look at Bertie and Mr Harding, I think not – because of the subversive ironies which are continually urging us to vote against those who seek power at any cost, against competition, on behalf of retreat. To win in Trollope’s first two novel is to lose – it’s done indirectly of course. In this scene it is Mr Harding who keeps his dignity – the only positive moral act in this situation with drawal. The novel sees people as decent individually but once they get into social organizations they are dangerous, often silly and contemptible. Social groups are not as bad because as in Mrs Thorne’s fete champetre (a central normative place) the groups form and reform like clouds on a windy day

This is an upside down comedy which hides a bleak view of power

And it includes us – – we do this and we know we do it. Or some of us do. What Trollope does is blame a character for having too much of one quality or too little of it, and then turn around and imply we too lack that quality. Say charity. Mr Harding has too much; we have too little. Look at how Mr Harding reacts to the proposals of Eleanor marrying Slope (pp 15-51: charitable, egalitarian.

Distancing techniques. The allegorical names. Trollope uses semi-allegorical for his characters throughout his career. Campaign manages in Dr Thorne: NeartheWind, Closer Still. Lawyers in He Knew He Was Right: Slow and Bideawhile. He likes salacious ones. If you see a dity joke (so to speak) in a name, you’re right. In Miss Mackenzie: three men, Ball and Rub. Mr Glasscock. Doctors: Rerechild and Fillgrave. Trollope loved these and there’s a long tradition of them in literature going back to medieval times. The name stands for the central quality of the figure. They are semi- because they also realistic and sometimes ordinary English names: Proudies, very proud, Grantley, been granted great luck through life. Real places are in the map.

But it does distance us. What Trollope does is contrast the characters we have met with their places in the novels. He stops to discuss how he has presented them. Mrs Proudie presented as dislikable, a devil, but says he when she feels for Mrs Quiverufl: “there was a heart inside that stiff-ribbed bodice.” She sits down, commiserates with Mrs Quiverful and her pity as well as desire to dominate and be the Bishop leads her to fight on against Slope’s wanting to put Harding in again. There’s a problem when you want to create real empathy for the Quiverfuls.  Stating the name gets in the way.

So it’s a novel on two planes. One highly conventional and subversive in that conventionality, the other not so. Chapter 10, p 73 brings together another kind of language we have seen in The Warden. The epic simile. What happens in the reception? How does Madeline arrive?

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Susan Hampshire as the Signora Neroni carried into Mrs Proudie’s Converzatione, POV Bertie Stanhope

She makes herself a spectacle and at first is not recognized as Stanhope’s daughter. Bertie utterly irreverent – -this is a novel which satirizes religion too – which is disillusioned and sceptical about people’s self-delusions. It’s telling that Bertie who is never permitted to talk to Arabin. Mrs Proudie is Juno in the scene, her wrath beyond describing when her dress torn away. As Juno looked on Paris; she is Medea over her children left by Jason, she is Achilles thinking about her husband’s pillow (p 85) … Mock-heroic romance or epic. The tone of the apostrophes is not that of narrator as character but an implied impersonal presence from literature.

Dr and Mrs Proudie? Is the book misogynous? You can prove anything if you get to make up the evidence? In reality women never could have such power, the laws gave the men property, all decent paying jobs, all education, right to beat your wife within limits, divorce was only if you could prove your life in danger if you were a woman. A man need only prove adultery. She uses sex and will make his life a misery continually if he doesn’t accede; there are people like this in marriages. Dr Proudie is a trimmer; he shows himself flexible – he will be on the group’s side to which he belongs. Such people are promoted and get ahead (p 18), even if mortifyingly hen-pecked. Proudie may be flattered into things, and is an ambitious man.

The Bishop’s Chaplain? Very class bound – Trollope is as egregiously anti-lower class people as the chapters about the old men in The Warden. Loves power, loves to exercise power above all, p 25 – not very wise of bishop to let him preach the first Sunday – we are to dislike him, mutual bond of hatred. Of those who watched the film what did you think of Rickman’s performance. He’s a handsome man, not red haired, greasy, sweaty. I thought he conveyed a tragic feel to the character coming out of his presence – he gives it gravitas – it was deliberate casting against the grain. People even in 1983 would not want an exoriation of an lower class manifestation.

The morning visit brilliantly. Of course it’s war after that — and the sermon against all Mr Harding stands for – which is outward beauty, even ritual for its own sake, but he is egalitarian – “all porters and stokers and guards and brakesman ought to be able to go to church” (p 33, i.e., have the day off.) The stopping of fun and travel on the one day a week Victorians had off a bete noire of most novelists.

At the party all of these characters are looked upon as presenting wonderful opportunities for revelling in laughter at them. Take the bishop feeling sorry for Madame Neroni, p 87: “he put on a look of ineffable distress and said he was aware of how God had afflicted her ….” Other writers of novels who are much respected have complained about this and it’s part of what makes Trollope’s reputation so dicey. He is not serious – -how can we take his vision of life seriously. Is he meaning to show us what life is like? I think so: the phony hypocrisies and cant – pretending to feel moral norms and spouting moral talk we don’t really believe or think at all. People at funerals.

Romance not ignored. There is no novel without love. Who are the widow’s suitors? (Chapter 15, Pp 117-118).  Does Eleanor survive this treatment? How? Each time we see her she does act with a certain integrity and sense of her identity, and pride. She will not bend the wrong way – she does not want to hate Mr Slope. Partly the novels cohere – they build on one another. You begin to see this especially in Framley Parsonage. She carries on being loyal to Mr Harding (Chapter 16, pp 137-38). So Mr Slope wants to give the hospital back to Mr Harding to please the widow — in the hope of money. But he will not lose one influential friend before he gains another (p 119). Human politics a tricky business. But of course we know Eleanor is not a pendulum and has no intention of marrying Mr Slope. The widow’s persecution: Eleanor gets caught up in a web of conflicting people as is her father. So we have all sorts of plot threads: who is beat out who? Mrs Proudie or Slope? Grantly or the Proudies? A far gone conclusion. Will Harding get the hospital job back? Who will if anyone Eleanor marry with a champion (Mr Arabin) waiting in the wings.

In usual Trollope novels central character vacillate from within, and it is Mr Slope who does (p 120). Mr Slope trying to figure out what to do. Here is where Alan Rickman was able to make something human (not reptile) from character (bottom of p. 120: remember Mr Slope not a bad man.)

What kind of person is our fourth or fifth male, Bertie Stanhope, her other suitor? No ambition, no desire for place, frivolous. He is not respected in the novel (pp. 123-4): Sufficient for the day is the evil thereof. That’s him. He is liked for his unworldliness and kindness of disposition. Charlotte wants to know if he will go through with this project? Marry Eleanor for money. It’s here the moving speeches of Madeline occur (pp 126-12)7 Bertie summed up as a “tame cat” – he would have been an amiable but useless husband.

Cock of walk is Mrs Proudie or Slope. Like an animal fable Trollope reduces and mocks. Aesop’s fables are quintessential satire: they turn us into animals and then reduce the animal to a few less than admirable human characteristics (Ch 17, p 139). There are all the allusions to contemporary history, familiar classics, the ancient classics.

Close to end of Volume, a dialogue between Grantly and Mr Harding. The two talking, a quiet invitation to come to Plumstead. Sudden realistic feel. Last chapter one of great beauty, “Barchester by Moonlight.” First a debt must be hidden in the Stanhope residence – never far away from realities.  700 pounds owed — it will be brought back at the close of the novel.  Charlotte the manageress keeping the Stanhopes afloat manipulates so she is with Slope and places Bertie with Eleanor outside.

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The pathos of Mrs Quiverful Maggie Jones) coming away from reassurance by Mrs Prouide the position is her husband’s

Volumes 2 into 3:

So to return, we were at a crux of the novel. Unerringly Alan Plater the screenplay writers of the BBC Barchester Chronicles dramatizes the central scenes of the novel which engage deeply and complexly with its central themes. One such is the interview in Book One between Mr Arabin and Mr Harding we’ve looked at. Central figures who Trollope does delve inwardly and allows their thoughts to spread over pages.

The chapters following our most exemplary figure (Bk 2 , Chs 1) Mr Arabin and Ch 2, St Ewold’s Parsonage (where they talk of how to fix it), we get a longest pictorial chapter in the book: the Thornes of Ullathorne. It is an Elizabethan mansion, unspoiled. Trollope’s celebration of it makes it difficult to call this a subversive fiction. What is Trollope’s attitude towards them? Symbolic heart of the book. At first they are presented as hilarious, absurd, introduced with usual detachment, even contempt: but we find they stand for old hospitality, bonds, loyalty, and they do open their party to the whole countryside despite Mr Plomacy; they do allow Mrs Lookaloft and her daughters to sit where they want.

Had this been a book written during the height of Trollope’s career, I’ve no doubt we’d have at least one full illustration. The Folio Society has a comic one of the quintaine but many of them are picturesque and touching. I had mentioned I spent a couple of months studying the illustrations through looking at magazine copies of installments at Library of congress and counted 445. The illustrations which accompanied the early publications of Trollope’s novels add to, interpret, and point to meanings in Trollope’s texts that he was unable to bring out forthrightly, or which can only be conveyed pictorially.

So compare what seems like a more minor character, Book 2, when Slope makes his second visit to Mr Quiverful and tells him after all he is not to have the position of warden and salary for the hospital. What is Mr Slope’s motive for wanting after all to see Mr Harding in the hospital? Book 2, Chapter 5 (“Mr Slope at Puddingdale”), pp 214 in my edition. “But Mr Harding had another friend fighting his battle for him … .”  Mr Quiverful is waiting for Mr Slope to come in the house (pp 215-16. Trollope asks us to be ourselves as we enter into  Mr Quiverful’s self-jusification? A little later: is not everyone in this world “so griping” of whatever they have? (Pp. 218-219). A powerful word there: gripin.

Plater simply transposes a lot of the words from Trollope’s text to make his dramatic scene here. We get a full empathetic view of Mr Quiverful. Why does Mr Quiverful give in? He thinks he can’t hold on to it, and he’ll end up worse if he fights – should take a note from the old men who at least fought but then ended up worse off. My husband used to say if you were powerless stand not too close to the powerful. You will become a substitute target.

Book 2 ends with Slope beginning to lose out – that’s important. At the end of book 2 Trollope has built up a lot of tension. Eleanor left the Grantley; her father upset.   Mrs Proudie has asserted her in that bedroom, Slope, knowing this, does not give up by a long shot – he is also contrasted to Mr Harding; he is like Dr Grantley only maybe cleverer, two political letters (pp 303-6), each masterly, but rhetoric will not do unless you have something to exchange – he asks for support without insisting on it – but he has nothing to offer in return is his problem  A new man conveniently dies: the dean – everyone waiting about. Poor Dr Trefoil (p 291)  Only the unmarried botanist daughter will suffer. Trollope is aware of this – but he mentions her botany as a joke. (The science allowed respectable women at the time was botany.)

Slope has the nerve to put himself forward; the establishment, Gwynne and company want Arabin. We get Tom Staple. Trollope uses Staple in a couple of ways. One is to introduce yet another attack on what Trollope regards as the unfair power of newspapers over people’s minds, people being sheep and apt to believe that what they are told is everyone’s opinion or way of life actually is. Trollope here stands for a value I have seen him stand for before: he suggests it is good for students to be allowed to get into debt. The struggles, agonies and hard lessons learned that way are part of education. This reminds me of many modern Americans’ way of talking about school: they seem to regard it primarily as a social training ground where the strong and tough get ahead, and others are somehow coerced into being stronger and tougher. Academics come secondarily — this is really Deweyism (educating the citizen not the mind). I want to come out on the side of the Jupiter. Not everyone grows stronger and tougher from troubles, and for some the troubles can become so bad they can take a long time to retrieve. (To put this in modern terms, I would not encourage my 21 year old daughter to get herself a credit card and start buying as this might teach her a lesson). In this scene we see Arabin holds firm to principles — that it’s implied however someone might not agree with them shows a deep level of scepticism in Trollope towards any particular religious doctrine too.

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Mr Plomacy (Roger Booth) who has organized the party

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The Ullathornes (Richard Leech and Ursula Howells) congratulating him and themselves

Book 3:

So we move on to Act III: book has three acts, the fete champetre has three acts, and at the end we have parallel chapters of “At home.” Act I occurs as everyone arrived, our hostess in some consternation, between Eleanor and Mr Harding (III:2 or Ch 36). While we find a meeting of the minds between our loving father and daughter (at long last), there is also much discomfort and at the close still some misunderstanding as well as a residual disappointment in Eleanor that her father should have misunderstood her. What’s interesting about the scene is how Eleanor overstates the case against Mr Slope and not Mr Harding. To Eleanor’s sudden insistence it would have been disgraceful for her to have even considered Mr Slope for a husband, and that somehow having been suspected of erotic feelings towards him somehow soils her and her relationship with her father, her father replies:

‘”I don’t know what you mean by suspicion, Eleanor. There would be nothing disgraceful, you know; nothing wrong in such a marriage … (Penguin BT, ed RGilmour, p. 348).

But before Mr Harding (generous, can see other points of view), can offer a common sense view of the case, she interrupts him with a fit of crying, an insistence it would have been ‘horrid’ (which sexually speaking to her it would have been), and intense relief for which Trollope uses the word grief. She cannot show these emotions, nor does he give expression to the ‘load off his heart’ all that has happened has occasioned him, but there is quiet ‘melodrama’ (p. 349) here. There is crass class-bias here:  throughout the depiction of Slope it’s there; the same techniques used to whip up anti-semitic feeling over Fagin in Dickens, Trollope’s Mr Emilius and Ferdinand Lopez in the Palliser books.  He identifies with Slope’s doctrines and even the outcast but only minimally in this book.

Entr’acte: three of our leading females converge, someone has breakfast while someone dies, and Lookalofts, Greenacres and De Courcys play musical chairs, with a little help from Mr Plomacy.

Act II: again, Trollope works to keep us at a distance by interjecting himself at intervals as narrator, e.g, ‘And now it is to be feared that every well-bred reader of these pages will lay down the book with disgust…’ (p. 384). I thought his summary of his own fiction very funny: ‘At one moment she is romping with young Stanhope; then she is making eyes at Mr Arabin; anon she comes to fisty-cuffs with a third lover; and all before she is yet a widow of two years’ standing’ (Bk 3, ch 6, pp. 384-85). Yet Eleanor’s response inwardly is not funny: she is dismayed, for she has been ‘entirely wrong’. The man has been after her after all. Her pride is hurt: she thought she was so above him. I like this lesson Trollope gives her.

The absurd behavior of guests who come super-late, of Madeline Neroni inside with the men around her. The social stratification seems to be built into human communities, and certainly it’s visible at Ullathorne, with its four different places for feasting. There’s the indoor dining room and tent for the uppers, and the paddock and park for the lowers. It’s telling t the most generous act among the guests, and the man who voices the richest large sentiment is Farmer Greenacres. I have a feeling Trollope has done this deliberately. Farmer Greenacres is in fact the hero of this chapter, and we are told through the description of Mr Plomacy’s happiest hours that Farmer Greenacres is a lucky, happy man:

‘[Mr Plomacy’s] moments of truest happiness were spent in a huge armchair in the warmest corner of Mrs Greenacre’s beautifully clean front kitchen. ‘Twas there that the inner man dissolved itself, and poured out in streams of pleasant chat; ’twas there that he was respected and yet at his ease; ’twas there, and perhaps there only, that he could unburden himself from those ceremonies of life witout offending the dignity of those above him, or incurring the familiarity of those below’ (Bk 3, Ch 5 RGilmour, p. 378).

The paragraph is so lovely in tone because it testifies warmly to the idea that what counts is the inner soul expanding out to others (very wise words too). It’s also wise: points out why people cannot have this kind of contentment.

Time out for the quintain — it’s illustrated in the recent Folio Society edition, and Plater does it full justice, appropriately bringing in the empathetic Bertie.

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Bertie and Miss Ullathorne’s favorite, brought down by the quintaine

Now we move out to the festivities: Slope unwisely attempted to put his arm around her waist and give her a kiss. Eleanor unthinkingly ” … sprang from him as she would have jumped from an adder, but she did not spring far; not indeed, beyond arm’s length; and then, quick as thought, she raised her little hand and dealt him such a box on the ear with such right good will, that it sounded among the trees like a miniature thunder-clap.” (p. 144) That reaction, at any rate, was conclusive. There was no way Mr. Slope could put a positive slant on Eleanor’s reaction. Eleanor ran away, and Mr. Slope furiously nursed his anger. He much wished he had her in a pew, and he was in the pulpit, “fulminat[ing] such denunciations as his spirit delighted in”. His spleen then directed itself at

… such a vanity fair as this now going on at Ullathorne … he began to feel a righteous disgust at the wickedness of the doings around him. He had been justly chastised for lending, by his presence, a sanction to such worldly lures. The gaiety of society, the mirth of banquets, the laughter of the young, and the eating and drinking of the elders were … without excuse in his sight. He had consorted with idolaters around the altars of Baal; and therefore a sore punishment had come upon him.”

He does not like to be hit by a woman Trollope says, feels shame.

No sooner does Eleanor flee Slope than she falls to Charlotte who takes her to Bertie who could teach us some lessons in humility – he is ejected at the close – Anyone feel for him? “They hey were troubled waters which Charlotte had to throw oil upon. The angry father was ready to find fault with his entire family; first Bertie’s incapacity to make his own way, then Madeline’s expensive taste in accoutrements. But Dr. Stanhope had Austen’s Mr. Bennet’s awareness that “if they were all bad, who had made them so? If they were unprincipled, selfish, and disreputable, who was to be blamed for the education which had had so injurious an effect?”

It’s very Trollopian to have this party end in vexation for our principle characters.

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Post-fete champetre.

Unerringly, Madeline Neroni early on had “read the secrets of his heart, and re-uttered to him the unwelcome bodings of his own soul”. She tried to inspirit him: ‘ Is not the blood in your veins as warm as his? does not your heart beat as fast? Has not God made you a man, and intended you to do a man’s work here, ay, and to take a man’s wages also? … The greatest mistake any man ever made is to suppose that the good things of the world are not worth the winning. And it is a mistake so opposed to the religion which you preach! Why does God permit his bishops one after another to have their five thousands and ten thousands a year if such wealth be bad and not worth having? Why are beautiful things given to us, and luxuries and pleasant enjoyments, if they be not intended to be used? … You try to despise these good things, but you only try; you don’t succeed.” (pp. 364-67)

Madeline found Mr. Arabin to be just as captivating as he did her. He did not gush flattery as most men did, and the signora was pleased by this. To show her pleasure, she inserted the needle even deeper:  ‘ Let us see. There is the widow Bold looking round at you from her chair this minute. What would you say to her as a companion for life? … Come, Mr. Arabin, confide in me, and if it is so, I’ll do all in my power to make up the match.’ ” Eleanor Bold, outside, more really the object of three men, two supposed for her money.

At length Dr. Stanhope was brought around by his skillful daughter to agree that Bertie must have the two hundred pounds, but he must leave the next day. But the entrance of this hopeless Romeo almost upset Charlotte’s careful plans.
Bertie is not unlike current youths who exasperate their long suffering parents with monosyllabic responses to their queries, and placid replies to their threats. “Where have you been this evening?” “Nowhere.” “Who was there?” “I dunno.” “You are really making me angry!” “So?” Dr. Stanhope’s anger too apparently left his son unmoved, and this only made his father more furious. Wouldn’t you be tiffed if, while you are attempting to give a richly deserved lecture to your wayward offspring, he would doodle on a handy memo pad? I could not help smiling at Bertie’s response to his father’s rant:

‘You have disgraced me, sir; you have disgraced yourself, and me, and your sisters.’
‘I am at least glad, sir, that I have not disgraced my mother,’ said Bertie. (pp. 201 – 202)

Dr. Stanhope’s fury escalated with the lack of response from his son, until Bertie narrowly avoided being completely cut off by the quick thinking intervention of his sister. ” ‘ Is he only to blame? Think of that. We have made our own bed, and, such as it is, we must lie on it.’ ” (p. 202) Stopping her brother from drawing also helped.Patient as she usually was with her inept brother, Charlotte was annoyed when she found out that not only had Eleanor refused him, but he had allowed the whole scheme for achieving monetary solvency, slip. It would have been for them all.

BishopandMrsProudie

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As last seen — Slope ejected from his position by Bishop and Mrs Proudie (Clive Swift, Geraldine McEwan); Trollope says he did not do badly in London.  Some darker notes here.

Miss Ullathorne helps Arabin and Mrs Bold find some private space; and we have now gone over nearly the fate of everyone.

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Barchester Towers a Victorianization of The Warden so it’s fitting near the end we have stills of Arabin and Eleanor looking like illustrations we might see in a Victorian novel

Mr Harding rejects the offer of dean and gives it to Mr Arabin.  The hilarious dialogue over Mr Harding having no duties is given depth and feeling by Plater when Donald Pleasence tries to express why he doesn’t want the position: he is old, he has no idea what the (political) duties of a Dean need to be.  We end where we begun, Mr Harding and the misuse of charitable funds put aside, with a moving close on Mr Harding

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Archdeacon Grantley (Nigel Hawthorne) and Mr Harding facing off — a contrasting pair — this from an earlier part of the book.

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Resolved at last: the hospital to go to Mr and Mrs Quiverful, their 14 children (not to omit new old men, 12 old women and a woman to “supervise” them) (From a closing montage in Episode 7, Barchester Chronicles)

So, what are we to make of the novel? We have watched a man whose business it is to make novels and he has done this in front of us. He has taken us into his confidence, expressed the obstacles to his endeavour, preferred some of the characters to others, excuses many (as which of us would not).

It is a place that does not seem to need a police. One of my students said they are all kept busy closely monitoring each other. Miller thinks there are no police because the system all encompassing; if you do not get you want from one department, you apply to another. Women appear to submit more or less contentedly to the patriarchy – as long as they have their own space or patronage.

Dr Thorne we will see is very different in mood and stance: the first two chapters give us the first full description we have of Barsetshire and it’s filled out as we go until Framley Parsonage when it is set inside the larger England and we get a map. Deeply felt presences in complexities of life then and now.

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Mr Harding as we first see him: playing his cello in The Warden

Ellen

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Mark Rylance as Thomas Cromwell (Wolf Hall 3)

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Natasha Little as Elizabeth Wykys Cromwell, Thomas’s wife, who dies of sleeping sickness early in the series

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Eleanor Tomlinson as Demelza rescued from an abject life by Aidan Turner as Ross Poldark (2015 Poldark 1): she is facing down Heidi Reed Elizabeth while Ross turns away

Dear friends and readers,

I acknowledge the unfairness of comparing these two mini-series airing at the same time on the UK BBC and US PBS, about which much fuss is being made. Wolf Hall as written by Peter Straughan (with the acknowledged presence of Hilary Mantel) is a throwback to true quality drama of the 1970s through say 2009 on PBS. It may carry on on BBC TV in Britain as many of their serial dramas do not make it over to the US. Wolf Hall has (relatively) long scenes between characters, longer utterances and dialogue weighty with meaning and wit, its model is ironic drama on the stage and great care has been taken with mise-en-scene, culled juxtaposition, flashbacks, and literal accuracies. The new Poldark as written by Debbie Horsfield follows the recent trend in mini-series to reach a wider audience (apparently 7.0 million no longer makes the cut) with short scenes, only rare excursions into longer developed scenes (but they are there, as in the long sequence at the close of Episode 4 from the time of Ross and Demelza’s love-making, marriage, and first time together through to the end of the Christmas visit); its model is action-adventure TV dramas (Master and Commander and Outlanders as the 1970s kept in mind The Oneddin Line and costume drama from the 1940s Gainsborough swashbuckling school),and cost-saving measures which make for crude and abrupt movements between shots, confused chronology and (without Graham there) irritating anachronisms.

I’ve been reading Jerome de Groot’s Consuming History: Historians and heritage in contemporary popular culture — spurred on by some panels at the recent ASECS  and what interests me here is how these two mini-series are presented as historical fiction films, based on history as well as particular novels De Groot writing about the resurgence of history in popular culture. At the same time as academics get ever more sceptical (post-modern) about what we can know of the past, and insist on disillusion and almost disbelief in documentary source, at least “interrogating” them, and self-reflexivity before they will give prizes to anyone; popular culture is devouring historical fiction and it is now respectable, making and going to historical dramas, costume dramas trying to make a comeback (if not based on older great books, based on recent very good ones).

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Is there a difference among historical fiction, historic novels (older written in the 18th century, say Tom Jones by Henry Fielding), and films and “real” narrative history. Yes – especially thoroughly researched history which is often thematic as well as narrative and well-documented. But for readers: do you read an older or historic novel differently from the way you read a historical fiction? More is it not so that historical fiction influences the average person’s conception the past and forces into reactionary historical narratives modern concerns.

Do these historical fictions then become part of the fabric of historical knowledge. Yes. In the case of Graham, he is bringing to bear also the strong pro-revolutionary currents of the 1780s and 1790s into discourse – that’s why the books still matter in some ways (also the proto-feminism and some other themes), Mantel’s Wolf Hall is a revision of common understanding of the Tudor era skewed by Bolt’s and the 1960s desire to worship Thomas More. Morrison’s Beloved is now part of our understanding of the effects of slavery – and the horrific reconstruction period for black people down south. I reviewed Heffer’s High Minds – historian writing popular narrative and it is Tory paternalism that is brought before us despite all his research.

Historical fictions, these 20th and 21st century books, the first four Poldarks and Wolf Hall —  on face of it differ considerably from one another and from fictions actually written in the era they are set; yet both are created from imitating these earlier fictions, what is familiar about the earlier literature of the era, and recent other historical fictions and films. There are long traditions in the representation of the Renaissance and the 18th century. Just to begin with the 1960s on (who has not seen Robert Bolt’s A Man for all Seasons, with Orson Wells, Paul Scofield, Robert Shaw, Wendy Hiller) they imitate Jacobean drama and what is felt is true of the 16th century classics (Machiavelli, Montaigne, More) we get these Elizabethan/Tudor political types as seething with subtexts, as all of them ever so intelligent, witty, ironic, guarded, making killing remarks that are funny. Similarly not to go back to Kitty (Paulette Goddard and Ray Milland) but just the two Tom Joneses (1960s and 1998), the 18th century is a time of sexual transgression, rebellions and riots, country life, manliness as building a world. The source here are also the 18th century novels, from Clarissa to Austen, and the French soft-corn porn too (who has not seen Stephen Frears’s Les Liaisons Dangereuses with the smoldering eyes of John Malkovich), and recently movies centering on traditionally heroic masculine males. (When a person writes a novel set in the 19th century today he imitates novels set in the 19th century and conventions about the 19th century that are found in historical fictions set in the 19th century; so Byatt’s Possession imitates George Eliot as seen through the Brontes.)

Now common sense tells us there were as many witty seething ironic and subtextual people about in say the 18th century as the 16th and just as many dullards, obtuse dense people at the court of Henry VIII as at the philistine court of George III who never made an interesting remark in their lives. Documents easily bear me out that Charles James Fox and Sheridan were far more into wit than Thomas Cromwell or Wolsey. In fact that is part of the power of say Thomas Middleton’s plays (a contemporary of Shakespeare): in Middleton’s famous The Changeling the man who is the evil cente of the play, Deflores (played brilliantly in the 1980s by Bob Hoskins in a BBC production) is not articulate and not very bright; worse yet is the silly heroine (played by a young Elizabeth McGovern in the same production) while the smart people (one played by Hugh Grant before he gave up on serious acting) are done in by Deflores. Deflores can’t and doesn’t want to make smart remarks. They are dangerous.

The great delight for those who delight in this sort of thing of Wolf Hall is the myth that everyone was supersubtle in talk and thought. It gave Hilary Mantel a terrific remit. Her novel (which I acknowledge I did not finish nor even start her Bring Up the Bodies, but which like some watchers I am now intent on rereading to where I left off and now finishing so as to enjoy the film adaptation the more). Her book imitates James Joyce in its self-conscious use of stream of consciousness, fills in with the expected rich furniture and strange doings of the Renaissance as seen in films, other historical fictions, “real” historical narrative, not to omit Shakespearean plays. She has also re-seen the paradigm given us by Bolt and the 1960s so now the ruthless thug politician (Leo McKern) is now true ordinary man, no better (though smarter and with more kindness and braver before the king) than the rest of us. It must be a winner.

The Poldark people have to make do with 1940s novels that mirror the dark times just after World War Two, and to give them credit, they are doing this far more authentically with the central characters than the progressive 1970s mini-series. And as Graham did, they are given voice to the marginalized and powerless, the abject, the lowest of the low, in a wide ranging perspective which includes underlying economic realities. The crime of poaching which leads to the death of one of the characters from epidemic typhus in prison was a disguised war of the propertied against the 99% of the era. Everyone knew it was a victimless crime, punished highly unevenly, the equivalent of Jean Valjean put away in prison for 20 years for stealing a loaf of bread in Les Miserables. We see the stranglehold of monopolies as Ross fails to make a go of it smelting and selling copper himself at prices that will keep the mine going and becomes a free trader (smuggler). So we need vast scenes of peoples not tight encounters of individuals.

I’ve written a more detailed comparison of one episode from each (the fourth Poldark, the first Wolf Hall) on my Sylvia blog (scroll down to the concluding three paragraphs) and so won’t go on at length — until that is, I’ve read Mantel’s books and seen all 8 Poldark episodes, but here would like to turn the depiction of the women in the new Poldark and Wolf Hall. For now I want to talk just about heroines of each. According to De Groot and Miriam Burstein the archetypes across historical fiction repeat themselves – whether the character is called Demelza, Anne Boleyn, or some version of Elizabeth. In short the heroine who is anti-ambition beyond marrying up, who does not act out agency, whose greatest happiness is with a partner, male (or female), being a mother, and virtues are loyalty is rewarded. Books side with constancy, prudence, obedience, domesticity (Katherine of Aragon, Mary Boleyn). Graham departs in giving us Demelza fighting for Verity’s liberty and then punishes her hard. Elizabeth seeking a life outside her family and ending up dead; Verity escaping to a kind of solitude of two in Falmouth.

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Scene from Wolf Hall
Hero and heroine scenes from both

For the supposed heroine of Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies, the great and important book on Anne Boleyn is Retha Warnike’s The Rise and Fall of Anne Boleyn,– she shows the false constructions, where they came from, tries to disentangle this woman from myths, but go look at the popular historical fiction (The Other Boleyn Girl or Mantel’s Wolf Hall – I’ve not yet read Bring up the bodies). In Mantel’s presentation of Anne it’s as if Warnicke never wrote her accurate and moving portrayal of this woman,  caught up in a world of totally male hegemonic world where her family was out to sell first her sister and then herself corrupt coteries, a totally male and we are back with Boleyn as sly, amoral, wrongly ambitious, untrustworthy, deserving almost to be beheaded. I should bring up how in the 18th century Elizabeth Tollett wrote one of these Ovidian narratives deeply sympathetic to Anne, and full of the terror of beheading, but she sentimentalizes her.

We are hearing about the terrific performances of Rylance, Damien Lewis, watching Anton Lesser as More. But what of the women of Wolf Hall? Since she left off Amy Dorrit (Bleak House, scripted by Andrew Davies), Claire Foy has taken on ‘evil’ shallow ‘spoilt’ women — she did this kind of role for the 2010 Upstairs Downstairs, the pro-Nazi, Lady Percy, sexually exploiting the chauffeur. Angel face. But Foy is overdoing it, standing there stiffly; and Charity Wakefield as Mary Boleyn is mawkish (apart from the historical reality Mary was not acceptable at court once she had had a son by Henry who remained illegitimate — has no one read the recent history on these women?). The presentation of these women is not feminist — it’s typical historical fiction across the board. The heroine who is anti-ambition beyond marrying up, who does not act out agency, whose greatest happiness is with a partner, male (or female), being a mother, and virtues are loyalty is rewarded. Books side with constancy, prudence, obedience, domesticity. Graham departs in giving us Demelza fighting for Verity’s liberty but then the structure of the novel and everyone around her punishes her hard for trespass. She was not supposed to rescue Verity to choose her own life. And the actresses can’t do as well. Liz, More’s wife, has depth — but she’s all caution and prudence, won’t even read the Bible, sticks the prayer book as safer but she’s killed off by a dread disease of the era (sleeping or sweating sickness) — so Natasha Little (the great actress of the 1998 Vanity Fair) goes to waste — unless she’s brought back in flashbacks later in the series. By contrast, Eleanor Tomlinson has a complex role to play as did Jill Townsend for Elizabeth Chynoweth Poldark Warleggan in the 1970s. Elizabeth has a real ambition, for society, to rise in life; Caroline Penvenon has agency. The real sin among these women is the same as Anne Boleyn’s: when they are not loyal first and foremost. I admit my bonding thus far from the films is Demelza as played by Tomlinson and Liz Cromwell as play by Natasha Little. The books are different: I deeply enter into Verity’s case, bond with the intelligent Elizabeth but have not gone far enough for a second time into Wolf Hall or its sequel to grasp where I can find some purchase.

What is the definition of manliness in such films or their books? the heroes are Thomas Cromwell who takes More’s old place as the tolerant man of integrity; Ross Poldark who builds a home and world.  It’s curious to see how physicians, Dwight Enys (Poldark), Stephen Maturin (O’Brien’s sea-stories — to me Paul Bettany is perfect) are held in high repute in historical fiction and merchants (Stephen Vaughn of Antwerp, Antonio Bonvisi from Lucca, friends to Cromwell) in Wolf Hall.

For myself I still haven’t enjoyed a costume drama mini-series in the way I am thus far Wolf Hall and also only intermittently the new Poldark since some of Andrew Davies’ film adaptations in the first decade of the 21st century. Bar none (perhaps exceptimg Breaking Bad, better in its depiction of women, probably much more thematically important and relevant), Wolf Hall is absorbing, entertaining most of the time, usually intelligent (though not Anne or Mary Boleyn). Certainly Downton Abbey was problematic even in the first two years. The new Poldark’s closer reading of Graham’s depiction of the sources of Demelza and Ross’s relationship is teaching me why I so bond with these recurring two characters, Wolf Hall is pulling me into strange violent terrors of the 16th century, religious — you can’t mock the way Clive Francis as Francis Poldark or Paul Curran as Jud dared — a world without any individual rights. The savagery reflects our own era.

Ellen

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Dear friends and readers,

Way back in December 2014 I announced the publication of this volume, edited by James Leggott and Julie Ann Taddeo, in which my own essay on “Epistolarity and Masculinity in Davies’s Trollope Adaptations” appeared. I’ve now read the whole of the volume and had a chance to view some of the films I knew nothing about before reading it. In the Foreword, Jerome De Groot makes a strong argument for regarding costume drama as a central export of British TV, and when done as film adaptations of great books, truly fine movies; at the same time he brings up why and how they are dissed continually. I thought a review of its sections and individual essays would be of interest to those who love these mini-series as I do. Since the volume is quite rich (see the Table of Contents), I’ve divided this blog in three parts following the divisions of the collection. This review is of the essays in Part One: Approaches to Costume Drama.

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From Shoulder to Shoulder, a young Sian Phillips played Emmeline Pankhurst

Clare Monk’s “Pageantry and Populism: Democratization and Dissent: The Forgotten 190s,” is on the power, the liberal outlook, and variety of themes and art of the mini-series and costume dramas of the 1970s. She opens with an excellent demonstration (convincing) that the costume drama of the 1970s has been ignored, partly because it had a number of centrally influential highly liberal mini-series, only one of which has appeared on DVD, Days of Hope (it’s upbeat at last). Shoulder to Shoulder a significant contribution to the history of suffragettes and how they were treated is not wiped out but obstacles are still put in the way of re-digitalizing. Monk demonstrates the richness of the 1990s and a type of structure, pattern, cinematography, historiography is a development of the 1970s and lasted until 2003-4 when (alas) Mobil Exxon withdrew its support. She does not say but Eaton tells you that was when the bottom fell out of PBS. She also shows (I’ve know this for years as does anyone with some access to British TV) that only a small number of British mini-series came over to the US, the type that Downton Abbey comes out of.

The second essay by Thomas Bragg, “History’s Drama: Narrative Space in ‘Golden Age’ British TV Drama, also examines the 1970s, as a seminal period of costume drama: the sixties began it, and it was serious because of the simultaneous presence of the play of the week (Wednesday nights) and the reality that the people on the London stage were the same people on the TV in these plays. They began to cross over to the mini-series in the 1980s when British film having collapsed in the movie-houses (due to Hollywood’s popularity) moves into TV (e.g., My Beautiful Laundrette), writers and all.) Bragg’s thesis is not so admiring of the 70s, is a corrective. The 1970s have been credited with going-out-of-doors and several of the famous mini-series are repeatedly said to be photographed on location, out of doors, most famously Poldark. Bragg demonstrates that while the film-makers did indeed go on location and film some sequences there, these are few and far between. The central space remained the studio and built versions of rooms. At the same time though the uses of camera work changed: in the 1967 Forsyte Saga, a filmed stage play, the camera becomes a narrator, moving in and out of spaces; the rooms themselves are highly appointed visual versions of the era (made to seem accurate by specifically elaborate props). A strong use of mirrors, windows, and angles made the viewer aware there was an outside which was redolent of wide open spaces. Bragg argues this is the equivalent of how historical fiction works or had worked since Scott; the important scene within a confined area, carefully described objects and houses from the era, with occasional forays out to descriptive landscapes. This is interesting: how does one give the effect of a past time in a written fiction.

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A scene of the family group in the 1967 Forsyte Sage (early on, Episode 1)

Bragg suggests this way of filming changed again in the 1990s when TV film-makers no longer had to rely on older film techniques to film out of doors but could take their computer equipment, moving cameras, one tied to the waist of the cinematographers. Then he makes the point that in Downton Abbey, the one standing heir to all these older dramas, focuses on the outside. The way the characters are filmed, walking, talking, interacting the effect is that of a group of people say in a courtyard (as in Poldark when Ross when to market they filmed in a courtyard in Ealing Studios) — but the great emphasis is the house, the lands, the dominating wealth. Where in the 1970s Upstairs Downstairs do we see the grand houses, the outsides, the gardens? we don’t. Some film-makers wanted to give the impression of landscape more than others; I’ve been thinking about the 1972 BBC Emma: this would be one much less concerned to make it seems as if the story is filmed in a landscape but I can see how the disposition, way of filming, where arrangement of scenes is that of the 1970s Poldark, and Upstairs Downstairs.

James Leggott’s “‘It’s not clever, it’s not funny, and it’s not period!': Costume Comedy and British TV” makes this an unusual volume. Leggott is a BBC person; he teaches film and TV at Northumbria University and is chief editor (he started it) of the Journal of Popular TV. It’s on a topic I’m not qualified to evaluate: a kind of BBC and (in a way) elite costume drama that rarely comes over to the US: Blackadder was a rare cross-over and it appeared later at night on PBS; I watched maybe one or two. Jim used to like them when he was watching TV. He’d laugh and laugh.

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A remembered moment from Blackadder

Blackadder belongs to a sub-genre of hour-long and mini-series which make fun of serious costume drama; He mentions Upstairs Downstairs Abbey and Lark Pies to Cranchesterford (a mocking title). These types include Monty Python’s Holy Grail, on the one side, and Benny Hill on the other: low humor pretending not to recognize its own salaciousness, boy’s stuff. The Carry On movies come out of this: Carry on Cleo for example (mocking the Cleopatra movie). Leggott covers sitcoms: Brass, Dad’s Army, and others which are anti-war, anti-hierarchy. For those of us who didn’t see the full panoply of the 1970s costume drama we won’t recognize what’s rejected and made fun of. Leggott shows these deconstruct and expose the fallacies and harm; they are often attacked — as “not clever, not funny and anachronistic.” So what? Well, as he proceeds he shows that some viewers begin to believe the history they see in these programs; they really do and instead of getting the parody or critique the original shows ideas are reinforced. And some come out of a reactionary point of view very strongly. Apparently you can find British people who believe in the medieval period they see in these or the 18th century mock-ups. Not so much the Victorian.

Marc Napolitano’s “It is but a glimpse of the world of fashion: British Costume Drama, Dickens and Serialization,” attempts to show that the costume serial drama embraces many of the attributes of soap opera by looking at the techniques of serialization. Napolitano says the incessant reiteration of Dickens’s name as what early films were like because Dickens is so cinematic was an attempt to gain respectability; yes Dickens published in installments but his installments were words. What was influential was not so much the vaunted pictorialism of his texts but their open segmented narratives. Napolitano says Dickens’s novels are open-ended; and what we have in costume dramas from Upstairs Downstairs on is an open-ended story that can keep going. In fact, the continuity and themes are grounded in character and setting not story. They use a limited number of sets while an overarching story narrative which ties the season together. By contrast there are older film adaptations of specific books that no longer how long do have an ending because the books have an ending: Forsyte Saga and Pallisers. By chosing this open-ended structure, the writers and film-makers can respond to audiences and experiment. He’s really describing and defineing a television novel: that we have television novels nowadays. He writes in detail about The Foryste Saga, and Duchess of Duke Street. He mentions in a note Breaking Bad. Vince Gilligan had a general idea where he was going but at any point at the end of a season he could have pulled the curtain down; and he did pay attention to audience response and grew far more daring as he goes along. It’s the daring experiment that makes for the innovation. They dare not do that anywhere near as much on PBS, and we in the US get only a limited range of what goes on on British TV.

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A lesser known moving moment towards the end of Davies’s Bleak House: Sergeant George (Hugo Speers) caring for Sir Leicester (Timothy West)

Benjamin Poore develops Napolitano’s essay further — “Never-ending Stories: the paradise and the Period Drama series.” Beyond an analysis of structure he pointed to features we see after 2005 or so. The lead writer who becomes an executive producer and is the linchpin was in place by the mid-1980s. An emphasis on the workplace which makes the workplace a substitute for family (and not said in the essay remains pro-establishment utterly); source texts which are relatively unknown (like Zola’s novel, Gaskell’s short stories — My Lady Ludlow is narrated by a crippled servant in the book); production practices: the fully built complicated set and precinct (the house or department store and land or streets around it); a “warm bath” atmosphere — everyone kindly, communitarian — the new reassurance factor is strikingly different from the 1970s. He discusses Davies’s Bleak House as a half-way between the older forms and this newer one — alas it did not get enough audience and so now the BBC and ITV people want a “springboard’ rather than a classic book. Poore discusses pragmatic practicalities and how decisions are made based on commercial considerations and audience numbers.

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One of the quieter and feminine of the many epistolary scenes in The Way We Live Now, Georgiana Longestaffe (Anne-Marie Duff) writing to her Jewish lover while she is in the London house of the Melmottes

Mine comes next — “Epistolarity and masculinity in Andrew Davies’s Trollope films. Here rather than summarize or evaluate my own essay, and in order not to interfere with copyright (so I won’t put my essay on the Net), I offer Taddeo and Leggott’s summary of my paper in the volume’s introduction:

Perhaps the most subversive writer to examine, Ellen Moody argues, is Andrew Davies whose two BBC adaptations of Anthony Trollope’s novels, He Knew He Was Right (2004) and The Way We Live Now (2001), offer a liberal feminist interpretation of Victorian domesticity and masculinity. Moody closely analyzes Davies’s televisual techniques of filmic epistolary sequences, montage, flashbacks, and voice-over, critiquing and shedding light on the relationship between the original source texts and their adaptations. Davies not only undercuts the conservatism of these novels while exploiting conservative tendencies in heritage films, but also freely adapts Trollope’s male characters’ psychological experience as they cope with the demands the characters make upon themselves while they attempt to enact sexual ideals of manliness and achieve financial and social success.

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In Small Island, the mentally distressed Uncle Arthur (Karl Johnson) coming upon the Jamaican British solider, Gilbert (David Oyelowo)

The section concludes with Karen Beth Strovas and Scott M. Strovas on “music in the British Serialized Drama,” the first half of whose title is “What are we going to do with Uncle Arthur?” It’s more than an allusion to a music hall song and dance Sarah the servant does in the 1970s Upstairs/downstairs,” but is a trope: in Small Island, there is an aging working class man called Arthur, and the joke his while others around him regard him as a simpleton or treat him like one (as in the older programs; Mr Weston in the 1972 Emma is made into a sort of semi-salacious genial simpleton), Arthur is rather cunning, and more sophisticated in his tolerance and observation than any one gives him credit for. There are few essays on music in film of any usefulness — so few have the technical knowledge and those who do can’t write to make themselves understood and anyway write on classical music and history (musicologists). This pair of people manage to describe pieces of music with concrete words that yet eschew technical language. New terms have evolved: source music for music that the characters in the film are making, and underscore music for the music we hear but the characters do not. The thesis is that music is so important to all film, and even in the 1970s ones where it seems it was not used to provoke emotional response the way it is today. The mini-series used the 1970s Upstairs/Downstairs, the 2003 Forsyte Saga and again Downton Abbey. (Before people cry out against this obsession with DA, the people doing it make their materials available for study. The composers for DA have published material that is usable — the way Fellowes’ scripts and 2 of his companion books are scenarios and of real use.) These three mini-series can be used to analyse others — so here again we have a rare instance of the editors and write managing to produce an essay that those outside costume drama might find useful and general.

The Strovas show that what developed is a use of music beyond the opening and close themes. All three have theme music that begins and ends the show each hour, and is brought back in particular different ways to make emotional and thematic points. In the 1970s music was a tool to define and intensity the class conflicts of upstairs and downstairs — and conflicts were much much stronger, it was a polarization. Eventually upstairs took over when the hero became the son and heir, James as a tragic figure, but not so before that. What happened was a development whereby source material states explicitly some of the themes or underscore but in key scenes the two interact so as to musically enact emotions and thoughts and what’s happened. It is much more developed in Downton Abbey because they are more conscious of what they are doing and have more money than U/D did. DA uses music more psychologically and very effective it is — much more lush, but not drooling because of pace. Those who have watched the 2003 Forsyte Saga will know that operatic music is used a lot; the book and film take advantage of Irene being a piano teacher, musical and the wealth of the family leads to soirees and going to opera. The Strovas analyses the first encounter, sex and rapes scene to show our source and underscore music is used as a counterpoint. Sarah in U/D loves music hall and we see contrasts of her singing and dancing downstairs as the upstairs ones sit composedly. A scene at the close of the 2nd season of DA has Mary and Matthew playing the gramophone with a haunting love song at the time and an underscore that stops and starts as well as allusions to a show that flopped. The 4th season of DA used music a lot: Dame Nellie Melba came and sang Puccini; the black Jazz singer of course sang his songs and there was dancing. In both Forsyte Saga and Downton Abbey when a woman is raped, all music ceases where she is.

Paratexts
Poldark 1975-76: one of four sets of paratexts that opened and closed the mini-series, each having images epitomizing the actions of the four episoces and accompanied by the same memorable alluring music

Ellen

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