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Archive for the ‘Costume drama’ Category

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Ross (Robin Ellis) and Demelza (Angharad Rees) (Poldark 1975)

Demelza to Ross at he leans down towards her: ‘I live only for you, Ross’ (Graham, Ross Poldark, Bk 2, Ch 6); ‘Oh, I love you so!’ (Pullman, 1975 Poldark, Episode 3); Horsfield 2015, no equivalent …

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Ross (Aidan Turner) making his appeal to Dr Choake (Robert Daws) seen from the back in the courtoom (Poldark 2015)

Dr Choake to Ross’s request for help: ‘My dear sir, we’d do as much for a friend, but don’t ask us to testify on behalf of a young vagrant who’s been caught poaching’ (Graham, RP, Bk 2, Chapter 4); of Jim Carter as Jim is led into the court room: ‘They’re a different breed, sir, a different breed’ (Horsfield, 2015 Poldark, Episode 3); Pullman 1975, no equivalent …

Dear friends and readers,

This week I enjoyed both versions of Episode 3 so much, I returned to and reread the parts of the novel covered. As in the first episode of both versions, in this third, much the same material is covered, with exceptions being made for a rearrangement of events and changes in detail (so that Jim and Jinny’s wedding occurred in Episode 2 in 1975 and as in the book was not precipitated by Jinny’s pregnancy, while it occurs in Episode 3 in 2015 and is so precipitated), and both were similarly in different and the same places faithful with different or similar striking departures. Yet as in the second episode, the excellences of the two Episode 3 were felt utterly disparate and left such a different effect. How is this?

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Ross offering Jim (Alexander Arnold) and a pregnant Jinny (Gracee O’Brien) a rent-free place to live

Last week I tried to account for this by describing the new way of movie-making as manifested in montages, continual quick cutting back and forth, juxtapositions, and brief scenes. I showed why some watching prefer the 1975 mini-series, and in this third episode in 1975 the full developments of deeply traumatic, angering, erotic moments as well as the passing of time and ephemera of life was on display, as well as such effective dialogue and acting. But to be fair this week did have a number of long scenes (it had to, for example, the court scene, the initiating of sexual love-making between Ross and Demelza) and effective epitomizing lines, powerful outcries against the injustice of Dr Halse (Robin Ellis pitch perfect embodiment, especially in his sighs, and patience under boredom) on the part of Ross (Aidan Turner). It was done as far as a brief scene in a costume drama can be accurately — including a sense of the discretionary power of the judge.

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The confrontation

The scene in 1975 was slightly comic, and personal tensions between Nicholas Warleggan (Nicolas Selby) and Ross (at the time a young Ellis), the presentation of Nick Vargus as a low-life crook (so deserving punishment) overshadowed the main issue: the laws against poaching when the average person was not far from starvation as a disguised property and class war. In 2015 that came to the fore; the 2015 scene reminded me of one in Fielding’s Tom Jones (Book 8, Chapter 11, not in either the 1966 or 1997 films of Tom Jones) where a sadistic, sardonic “hanging judge” (Sir Francis Page) maximizes the power of the establishment’s agents to refuse any clemency to a man accused of stealing a horse (he is summarily hanged).

As in 1975, in 2015 the initiating of love-making between Demelza (Eleanor Tomlinson) and Ross occurs over several sequences. It is literally closer to the book — except that Horsfield will not permit the kindness of romantic love, and only hints at the the motive for manipulation that Demelza has (because her father has come and threatened to take her back to a rightly hated home). Demelza is drawn to Ross’s mother’s rich dress, and puts it on; there are two separate scenes, one in the front room where he grows angry and the other in his bedroom, where he does not and she comes to him the second time.

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He scolds her for daring to wear his mother’s dress

I am so intensely drawn to Demelza’s outbursts the following day (a proud yet distraught Angharad Rees pleading to be allowed to stay and then angered because she is in effect being rejected so denying that she has no where to go, no one to turn to, “What makes you think [that!]”)

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and flat-out leaving, without his trying to make her come back; and the subsequent theatrical re-engineering of the marriage in Episode 4 when she is found to be pregnant (from a single night — not probable), I cannot regret the changes. But as Graham’s novel has it, Ross commits an act of deep rebellion (and determination to separate himself from his gentry peers) by marrying his kitchen maid fully voluntarily and within a month or so. It was not unknown: Fielding married the housemaid after his wife died; Charles James Fox married an outright prostitute, Elizabeth Armistead whom he had fallen in love with. Horsfield cannot resist having Demelza try to leave out of hurt over Elizabeth’s visit and Jud and Prudie’s continued scorn (this latter not in the book at all); it seems neither film-maker was willing to show that Demelza never thinks of leaving, that she has no where decent to go, and that Ross Poldark’s view of her has become her and what he wants, she does. That is part of why he finds her irresistible.

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A very different walking away and calling back

So it’s not the new way of movie-making nor is it the change in the emphatic presentation of a particular kind of feminism (women as genuinely oppressed, without power to choose their own lives); after a proto-feminism, 1970s style is on display in the 1975 fourth episode (to be dealt with next week); nor the emphatic over-riding use of the mining anti-(unameliorated) capitalist story as in 1975 there are long scenes of negotiation to open Wheal Leisure once again to look for copper, as well as (more believable) scenes of ploughing, sowing, harvesting.

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One of many depictions of Ross working in the fields; his servants near by

I fall back on what I suggested at the outset of Episode 1: a key aspect of this Poldark is it’s critical for the film to present this upper class hero (a member of the 1/% of the era) as sharing the work ethic and at work, shown to have the skills and qualities of the vast majority of working people (the 99%). In 1975 Ellis remained a gentleman whatever he did, he was elegant at an assembly, danced in a sprightly way; his Ross and Graham’s too, embodied a notion of gentility that makes the upper class ontologically superior to, or at least different from everyone else. Swashbuckling is what Errol Flynn or Stewart Grainger did for fun; Ellis didn’t do that, but he contained the residues of separate higher status. Angharad Rees was made to become part of that upper class by the middle of the first season. In 2015 Aidan Turner prefers not to dance and denies being any good at it; we see him sweating, working side-by-side in the mines with his men, continually at strenuous tasks. Eleanor Tomlinson is seen twice getting and giving herself “pump discipline.” She’s not presented distinctly as a child when we first meet her nor do we see her in stages growing up (as is dramatized in a couple of comic moments in 1975 as when Angharad-as-Demelza insists the world might be round); in the novel she is a child of 13 when Ross brings her home, with a child’s body when he washes her down. The scenes in the 2015 film reminded me of one I saw in an Australian classic film: The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith. Jimmie, a man half-aborigine and half-white is subjected to cascading waters of a pump in a cold dank area twice so as to prove himself clean enough to come inside. At the time it was believed that lice brought on typhus and typhus was a killer.

Juxtaposed to the alienation and misery we see in Trenwith and the business dealing and prostitution in a tavern in Falmouth we see Jinny and Jim’s weddding with Demelza dancing there. Ross looks at her and she refreshes his soul, and he begins to dance too. This communal dancing contrasts to the high romance mythic dancing with Elizabeth in the assembly which was such a strain for him.

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Demelza having a good time, drinking, then dancing, Ross watching, likes her

The archetype for this new Poldark is not after all Outlander nor Master and Commander, but the Australian versions of American western films. Old family connections, ladylike ways (which Heidi Reeds as Elizabeth carries in her every movement) are presented as useless; the new Charles Poldark (Warren Clarke) nags his son, Francis (Kyle Soller) to get to work, but Francis doesn’t know how; he is a gentleman. All this is fantasy; upper class people knew very well how to keep and make money when they wanted to; it was done mostly through the patronage system. But it is the social presentation of characters that are thought to support progressive politics to the average person today.
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A few observations on 1975 Episode 3 (compared to book and 2015 Episode 3):

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Her begging and pleasing to stay; him trying to explain he thinks it’s for her good; after all, he cannot marry her is implicit (see above and below)

One skein has Demelza slowly growing up some more, turning into womanhood (signalled by her hair changing and become this luxuriant long red), and at last in a weak moment Ross awakening to her beauty and then, drunk, succumbing to having sex with her. The scene of their first encounter is remarkably well done – and tasteful. In this version he shudders; they are in front of the fire; she cries out how she loves him. She sure does and we have been persuaded it’s absolutely natural. If he’s stern or difficult at times, he alone of all the characters has shown her real continual kindness. Verity lives apart in Trenwith, in another world and is upper class and older. All Demelza has she now has from him: dress, reading, daily quiet life of tasks that make sense.

In his Making Poldark, Ellis said he objected to the way this is changed from the book. He’s right. The next day in the film Ross determines to send her off: he is too honorable to have this happen again; she at first clutches him and says don’t send me away and it doesn’t matter if it happens again. He says oh it does, and begins plans to whom. They quarrel (as they have before) and she lights out for all the world like Huck Finn. Improbable. In the 18th century she’d have nowhere to go; parents would not take her back, the friend she goes to we learn (Jinny Carter) would be so near subsidence she’d be with her relatives who would not take Demelza in. Not even damaged goods given her lower class drunken miner’s daughter background.

In the book the incident is triggered by her father again coming to demand her back. People are talking and he’s married a religious woman. She is terrified of this and we are asked to believe entraps Ross — who is drunks and upset (more on this later). This is the male point of view. But it is harder. Then far from sending her away, in the book Ross and she begin to be bed partners. He does like her, and in the film the scene is triggered by how angry he feels at himself, at what happened, he wonders why he should control himself.

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Norma Streader

The film has other skeins. There is the temporary ending tragically of Verity and Blamey’s courtship. We see how they have grown to know and love one another — a good scene. Ross comes in and there is talk and plans. But the two Poldark men find out how Verity has been meeting Blamey in Ross’s house and come there enraged. Francis, hot-headed, insists on a duel, and keep slapping Blamey who cannot endure this and they duel, Francis is shot (not fatally, or even dangerously) and Charles collapses. The affair betweem them they see is impossible. In 2015 the actor playing Blamey makes him likeable — emotionally appealing and Horsfield changes the story so he killed his wife by accident, it was manslaughter. That makes the story less complex, and it is troubling that in 2105 the wife is blamed.

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Jinny given separate scenes where we get to know her

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Warleggan personally grated upon

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Ross articulating a set of values

Centrally important is Jim Carter is led to poach by starvation; he is imprisoned and Ross tries to save him. The judge Warleggan gets angry at Ross’s insubordination and declarations that such laws are deeply unjust (see above). In the film the trial scene very effective; a sense of a large active crowd. Lots of individuals brought out to show different indifferent unconcerned reactions. Ellis presented as an older. We have seen Jinny friendly with Ross, Jinny pregnant, talking with Ross, her love for Jim, and helplessness to stop him; now Jinny’s grief brought out. Ross comes home that night drunk from this incident. In the book at what has happened after a little time passes, and he determines to make the final rebellious act and marry her.

Elizabeth. In retrospect by the fourth book (Warleggan) Graham gave the earlier history of Ross’s continuing intense love for Elizabeth and Elizabeth’s dissatisfaction with Francis. It’s right to bring it forward as it give the overarching tension to the series and by the end of this novel (a Christmas scene of rival piano playing between Elizabeth and Demelza) Demelza realizes she has a real rival, but by bringing it forward it changes the whole feel of this early material which is much simpler and somehow less meretricious because less complicated, less contrived . This episode has Elizabeth coming to see Ross once — right after the trial in need of decent conversation and solace but too proud and upper class to let down the barriers

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Negotiating business deal scene in 1975 – note the elegance of the surroundings, all gentlemen

There is only the one negotiating gentleman scene about the mine but as with all the scenes, the dialogue is better, more precise, more engaging; in the first half of 1975 episode the Verity material is still playing out (it was squeezed into episode 2 in 2015) and we have Verity’s meeting with Blamey and the finding out about it by the Poldark men and the powerful duel clash. It just seems to me at every point the dialogues are better, the focus on the characters more precise, more distinctive, and more varied. They are rounder, more believable, more time given, separated out.

We do feel time passing, the sowing done slowly, farm work is more central but there no sense of a big community around as in 2015. It feels in the 1975 film as if they have more time, but it’s that Pullman and his team used time and montages more cleverly. A sense of time going by is better even if in the book we are told they married quickly, it was a month or so. The characters feel older in the 1975, dressed to look and act older.

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Observations on 2015, Episode 3:

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Ross seen climbing up the high hill over the mine; the people come to work

2015 begins again with the mine. Ross is ringing the bell, the miners are up and glad to be so, headed for the mine. The great rejoicing moment of opening — camera on Demelza supporting Ross. The sneers of Choake, the Warleggans. Demelza works in the field and told by Jinny of Jinny’s worries, and after one of several eating scenes with Ross together,

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Eating and talking; she is now the cook

Ross makes efforts far more central and intertwined to insist Jim (who seems more immature in 2015) marry Jinny Carter with the opening of the mine.

The new mini-series shows Verity unhappy, downtrodden, talked down to by the Poldark men, embittered against Francis. Francis looks much worse in his bigotry against Blamey, for not working alongside men as our Ross does here.

Horsfield’s George is not a monster — there is an attempt to make the capitalist understandable, but he is now a sneak as he was not in the book (in the book George was as far as could be seen rather open and brutal and amoral rather to anyone who can observe). Jud and Prudie have become sullen servants which is odd — instead of making the lower class servants at least someone we can be fond of identify with, they are mean themselves. Jim and Jinny Carter are also kept at a distance; we don’t see enough of them close–up. In effect some might say the 2015 film is more class-ridden, more class self-conscious.

Horsfield does not show the passing of time and we move into the poaching too quickly, with the trial and then the love-making explosion between Ross and Demelza afterward. Demelza’s behavior feels more passive during the love-making scene. Then as in the book we get Elizabeth’s too late visit, and Elizabeth’s intuition something has happened between Ross and Demelza. Though not in the book now I feel it is also a loss not to have Ross trying to send her away for her own good, a real loss her anguished speech about how she has someone to turn to; here she is merely seen fleeing, he once again rides after her, and after silent observation, simply marries her — she just does it. There is not enough preparation. The book does not show Demelza’s agreement and both the book and 2015 show women submissive but it leaves a hole in the psychology that is not made up and the hour ends on.

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A typical scene of Francis scolded, lacking dignity, takes it out on Verity

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Made a supine fool by Margaret

Probably the most important character change is in Francis: The episode brought out Francis’s incompetence over his mine (he hasn’t lost it as in 1975 because he gambled the money away carelessly like an aristocrat), his unfair jealousy of Ross when Elizabeth gives birth and at the christening Ross talks with Elizabeth; how he blames Ross for Elizabeth not wanting to have sex with him. In the book it’s the child; in the 1975 this is not a thread. The 1975 Francis was not mean and jealous in this way. Kyle Soller is made to look stupid, he can speak truth back to George Warleggan but is seduced into forgetting; he is not appealing (there are now two scenes where Elizabeth has been reluctant or refused him access to her body and bed), rather helpless and writhing and angry over this. It is far too easy for Margaret to flatter him that he is the only Poldark. This Charles is not likeable as Frank Middlemass could make him. In the 2015 not only does the character sit on a horse looking helplessly at a mine, he is made smolderingly jealous of Ross; when we see him with Margaret he calls himself “the Poldark.’ He is arrogant. He buddies with George which he never does in the book or the 1970s.

It’s implied but never brought out in the novels that Francis is not a good leader of men, not pro-active on behalf of business; but this is never stated. In the fiction Margaret preys on Clive Francis as Francis through demanding gifts, and she encourages his gambling; she sneers at his love-making as boring, jeers at him. In the fiction we may feel Francis is distrustful and jealous of Ross’s love for Elizabeth, but it never comes out, except when Elizabeth begins to refuse sex — then the narrator tells us it’s Geoffrey Charles she prefers.

Well in the 1970s programs Clive Francis as Francis is never jealous (the sex scenes are cut) and his lack of business acumen and leadership is never mentioned. In fact he finds and tells about the scandal pamphlets sent out against Ross. In the 1970s Clive Francis is witty, kind, well-meaning, likes Ross and I am among those who find the timbre of his voice intensely appealing. In short it’s not the actor whom some of us may be alienated from; the actor was chosen to fill a role of Francis from Horsfield: she doesn’t care for th ne’er-do-well sceptical Francis. Amanda Foreman who wrote the biography behind the film of Georgiana Spencer’s life, The Duchess said that Hatcher, the screenplay writer was not sympathetic to Georgiana and that’s why the movie made her less than sympathetic, and Hatcher agreed. Horsfield cannot like the type Francis Poldark is supposed to represent in Graham’s book.

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To conclude from the above: paradoxically the strongest part of the 2015 film is its historically accurate presentation of the court scene as well as the basic relationship of an upper class male (however made more egalitarian in presentation) and a servant girl in his house.

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Demelza angry and yet helpless against father’s demand she must return

The strongest part of the 1975 film are the same court scenes done in a way that brings out 1970s values in Ross’s speech, the sympathetic depiction of Francis as a flawed but understandable male character:

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Clive Francis allowed dignity even when behaving in foolhardy unthinking manner

and the final love-making scene and disruption afterwards that represents a departure from the book that weakens the film’s radicalism (such as it is).

Ellen

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I have a right to chose my own life — Verity (2015)

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Final still, a far shot (2015 Poldark, written & created by Debbie Horsfield

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A few stills before: Demelza (Eleanor Tomlinson) come with Jud, food & other supplies, watching Ross (Aiden Turner) who sits absorbed in thoughts about his mine

Dear friends and readers,

While Episode 1 of Horsfield’s 2015 mini-series (it’s important to remember how central the writer has now become to BBC film adaptations) seemed closely similar to Episode 1 in 1975 (Jack Pullman, writer, and Christopher Barry, director of the first four; with 3 others writers & different directors for the next 12, and a kind of organizing central conception and linchpin hold from the single producer for them all, Morris Barry), as I wrote and Anibundel noticed, Demelza’s entry into Ross’s household begun in the 2nd quarter of the 1975 second episode and clinched in the end of the 3rd (her father’s greedy intervention) was brought all into one into the 2015 first episode. What that meant is much in the original episode 1 (at least 4 scenes of mining and banking), had to give way and everything presented made briefer, shallower.

Reading over the blogs in reaction to the 2015 Episode 1 this week, I see that one unfortunate result has been most watchers have misunderstood the novel (Ross Poldark), which is not a triangular love story of a brooding angry man. Graham’s Ross Poldark is the story of a revenant, a man believed dead, who comes home to realize that no one minded him dying (except Verity and his now dead father, Joshua, and in some moods Elizabeth Chynoweth), that he has been replaced, his house gone to wreck, and who gradually gains the strength and determination to build a new life for himself as a land- and mine-owner; the last part of the book is a love story (a beautiful idyll), but Demelza’s story is primarily one of a lower class girl growing up, and painfully learning to integrate herself into the upper class Cornish world, which is not a lush rich one, but people on the margins, many genteel impoverished (Nampara is a farmhouse, the Chynoweths are broke, the Charles Poldark Trenwith home on the edge of bankruptcy). As I wrote the Elizabeth Chynoweth matter in both the 1975 and 2015 first episode was heavily taken from Warleggan (the fourth Poldark books).

Thus the slow-moving Episode 1 and 2 of the 1975 mini-series kept much more of the original emphasis; it also kept Graham’s political perspective, a pro-American revolution outlook, for a social contract among people (reflecting the Post World War Two atmosphere of the book), not just or even sheer anti-capitalist; and if my impressionistic survey of what’s being written on the Net and what I’ve read about the sales of the books from the 1970s to 1990s is accurate, while in 1975 and a decade afterward many readers turned to the books, and read them, the new mini-series may be increasing sales of the Poldark books, but few appear to be reading or re-engaging with them, understanding loving Graham’s Ross Poldark, just as much or more than the films.

A second reason for this disconnect is the new way of making films. Forty years have passed; in the 1970s through early 1990s, TV films were conceived as stage plays, whether filmed on an indoor set or outdoors; actors learned longish interactive talk and dominated much longer scenes (it could be as long as 8-11 minutes) on a screen; individual complex character conception out of virtuoso acting was prized. It’s not true that the 1975 Poldarks resembled most others by having characters standing around repressed. What made it so popular was it had characters who openly expressed their emotions, acted them out physically; and that (unusual until the mid-1980s), much was filmed on location in Cornwall, with different locations central to the action (as in a later episode when Dwight Enys sets a fire on the top of a mountain to warn the smugglers below the prevention men are coming to capture them). The music was highly original, haunting. In fact much less of this sort of thing is being done in the new Poldark: the new Poldark is more set-oriented (included the set for the mine), the music very average (not Cornish), the same landscape used stills over and over as sheer backdrop.

What is generically new and apparently compelling to an audience brought up on post-2000 movie-house films is the continual use of embedded montage and a very different mood. The technique of the 2015 film is ceaseless, sometimes abrupt montage, quick brief shots of epitomizing scenes, a continual wipe out as the camera moves from one group of people to another. Inside a series of these quick pictures with few words, reliance on gesture and sheer picture is heavy, are embedded references to different on-going stories. The mood of the new series is brooding melodrama, high and intense romance (in picturesque settings for Trenwith and Heidi Reed as Elizabeth), grating, edgy, a sense of emotions of those on the screen at any second about to explode (with Eleanor Tomlinson providing the languid resentful moments as an excluded and overtly oppressed target for others to hurt or order about). There is no comedy — there was much in the 1975 film.

The embedded montage in this film at any rate keeps many of the less central characters at a distance from us; it’s a tribute to the effective intelligent acting of Kyle Coller as Francis Poldark, Crystal Leaity as Margaret (presented as a prostitute), and Pip Torrens as Cary Warleggan (George Warleggan’s father, a man of at least minimal integrity as a capitalist has been cut) that we really get a sense of their characters — at the same time as Horsfield has reconceived these three (as well as Elizabeth). Horsfield is determined to add George Warleggan in early (as they did in 1975, with the commanding feel of Ralph Bates’s presence simply there now and again), but while Jack Farthing gets some individual moments (as bully, as treacherous, a kind of Iago to Francis’s Othello, but also favorably as this man trying to negotiate with Ross Poldark to bring him to compromise with the corrupt world), often he appears for a split second, says a line and then we move on.

This is a choice it must be remembered; it is seen most unqualified in the modern genres of western, action-adventure, crime-thriller and semi-fantasy films. In a historical film (which Horsfield’s mini-series aspires to be) you are allowed to slow down, offer scenic moments of the past (and Horsfield does this in the sets of the village and fair), and yes return to coherent precise talk. The choice here seems to have be taken as an effort to secure a larger audience. I have seen films where embedded montage is overcome enough that we have rounded complex characterizations in the minor characters (e.g., the recent Bleak House and Little Dorrit, Andrew Davies products). The film-makers may also have felt the staged playlets are seen as elitist and might therefore drive away audiences. They have ignored the reality that Downton Abbey uses this older technique and no one has complained; the more than 16 complex characters have been bonded with.

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Verity subaltern, Elizabeth mismatched (by mother it seems in this series) with nothing to do

What interests me personally though and what this blog will be about is how in Episode 2 of the 2015 Poldark series, Debbie Horsfield has reconceived the Graham story’s and the story of the 1975 film. (I know she denies knowing the 1975 but it’s transparently obvious she watched it carefully, as who would not, if only because it is well thought of, and sometimes develops and changes things from the 1975 not in the book at all.) Episode 2 turns the Poldark matter (let’s call it) into a mining story: the second episode begins and ends with the mines; its high moments are Ross’s hard work and gradual success at securing a combination of men to find and work copper in Wheal Leisure after the Warleggans have closed Wheal Reith, and it’s seen that Charles and Francis’s Wheal Gambler is failing, even though paying lower and lower wages.

The secondary story of Episode 2 is feminist as Horsfield understands feminism: the mistreatment of Verity (everyone is much harsher to her than the book or in 1975): Ruby Bentall is used as a servant, this Charles (Warren Clark) does not want her to marry (Graham’s Charles and Frank Middlemass as Charles did), she is presented as supposed to be subservient to Elizabeth (who protests and does not want to be idle and looks frustrated and bored). All of Verity’s initial story is told in Episode 2: meeting with Blamey, falling in love, courting, and the ugly thwarting by Francis and Charles (in the 1975 film it was, like Demelza’s, done leisurely over 3 episodes). This Cinderella kind of perspective is repeated in how we see Demelza literally kept in the dirt, at the hearth cleaning ashes, protected and looked after more by Ross than anyone else has: in the small time he’s got he noticed Jud and Prudie harass her, insult and make her life harder, and encourages her to negotiate for cheap prices for fish, and buys her a clock. Elizabeth is presented as bullied by her mother into the marriage with Francis, and afterward having nothing to do. This is Horsfield’s career-oriented idea of feminism; I’m surprised it hasn’t been noticed.

What has been noticed and constitutes (for me) the worst or flawed moments of this episode are the imitations of and reactions against other popular films: in order to get over a charged insulting moment, Ross is seen going swimming, naked from shoulder to waist, with Demelza in the grass, voyeur-like watching him in sensual enjoyment. This is taken from the famous “wet-shirt” scene of Colin Firth in the 1995 Pride and Prejudice (scripted by Andrew Davies). Jud (Phil Davis) and Prudie (Beatie Edney) are made into nasty people, avoiding hard work wherever possible, having sex in the corners; this belies the pro-the people thrust of Ross’s actions, and seems to be a reaction against all the happy free servants we are continually confronted with in two-level humanity shows like Downton Abbey. The 1975 mini-series also showed the characters as existing on two separate levels (with Elizabeth and Francis’s wedding an elegant cold affair and Jinny and Jim Carter’s a warm free-for-all country dance and drinking), but we did get a sense of the lower class male and busineessmen characters’ individual personalities. In Episode 2 Zacky Martin (Tristain Sturrock) and Mark Daniel (Matthew Wilson) and Henshawe (John Hollingworth) appear and at least Jim Carter and Henshawe and the “bad guy” Dr Choake (a weakness there, played ably though by Robert Dawes) but there is no sense of them or the other male miners or the businessmen as real individuals.

What follows is a description of Episode 2 in 1975 and 2015. This time I won’t try to compare as the matter of the two is so different. My interest is to show how differently the movies are made in this one episode (I won’t do it again, this will be the one study) to suggest why they have such a different effect.

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Demelza climbs up, Ross watching her (Angharad Rees and Ellis)

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Francis (Clive Francis) as aristocratic young man, center of friends & cronies, women, enjoying himself

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Verity’s (Norma Streader) successful appeal to Ross (2975, scripted Jack Pullman, directed Christopher Barry)

Episode 2, 1975:

This Poldark story is treated archetypally, from the standpoint of sympathy with the lower classes of Cornwall and the fringe people gentry who are being exploited and starved by monopolizers and outsiders (the Warleggans stand for these), with a strongly active story-line of social scenes (gambling, dancing). The point is to build a whole varied world. The use of landscape is entrancing. The story thread now is how Ross (Robin Ellis) is (against his own will in part and certainly not done with open arms or glee but rather stern reactions) gradually brought into social interaction with people, gradually decides to start up his life as a man in the community, of some standing as well as family. I have never been able find a release transcript dialogue on line or a shooting script (these come as xeroxed copies held together with clips) for any of the 50 minute parts, so I can’t quote some of the speeches as it’s long and tedious work to take them down in stenography. To anyone coming here who knows where I could buy one, please let me know.

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The arching pattern has the story open with Ross with a prostitute (with a heart of gold, alas), drunk, gambling: he’s cheered by the woman and his activities but also desperate. When he sees Francis (Clive Francis as our good-natured well-meaning libertine, his own worst enemy but charmingly witty) comes in with a bunch of cronies, Ross leaves upon seeing Francis; Francis regrets that Ross has seen him, lest his activities get back to Elizabeth (Jill Townsend). To the watcher in the 1970s there was something congenial and manly in Francis’s artistocratic bearing; he is enjoying himself even if not virtuously, not despicably. Ross is doing the same, Francis by gambling, Ross by his relationship with Margaret and gambling.

Establishment shot of Nampara, and we are inside and there is Verity (Norma Streader) coming over finding Ross in a stupor and scolding him into at least getting up and doing something. She wants him to take her to a part, a ball, she has no partner. She too lives a desolate life she says — lonely, with no love of her own, no world, no activities outside caring for Trenwith and Francis’s family.

Ross’s determination to begin to make something of himself begin with his knowing he needs food and money, so the first thing is to farm his land. His visits to the Carters and Martins show him that Jim Carter, a young man he likes, is ill, needs work, and he hires him (three scenes). This thread will lead to Ross’s rage over how the poaching laws (a property war) are used with Jim as scapegoat to repress and kowtow and simply maliciously hurt lower class people. Carter is weak but well-meaning, an ailing person who cannot work in the mines (very bad for anyone) and comes for a job and proves his worth as a human being. We met Jinny in a juxtaposed scene, the Martins too. The wife is not individualized but everyone else is and made appealing. The sets are based on 19th century paintings from Cornwall: this is an impoverished world which maintains an important veneer of civility for themselves.

Then hopeful Ross is off to the fair to buy livestock and start farming. It’s a wonderfully recreated fair which in the book is also fully achieved, including in the film a St George and the Dragon play. The high point of the part and certainly I felt all the frisson was his meeting with Demelza (Angharad Rees) as a thieving young urchin and being led to bring her home. This is not quite as in the book for in the book he takes her out of two fighting fierce dogs (she’s protecting hers) and a resulting mob scene (people who object to her saving her dog). Here he saves her from a fierce beating. But the effect is the same. He is relentless with her too: scolds, berates, threatens. We do see she is falling in love with him because he is being kind and decent.

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Jim and Jinny Carter at their wedding

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Verity and Blamey dancing, falling in love

The film does fall into somehing the book does not: upstairs downstairs. We have the Carter wedding with Ross as viewer and this is (quietly) juxtaposed to Ross at the ball dancing so elegantly. We see the two subgroups interact in parallel ways but apart. There is an acceptance of this by showing it this way. The book does have these levels of people but does not make this kind of parallel contrast which by its presentation justifies the hierarchical okay point of view. it is here we see Verity and Blamey begin to fall in love in stills of them quietly dancing; Charles is agreeable to the idea if Blamey has money and status and asks Ross to help him find out. He will see what he can discover.

Then the coming of the Carnes; it’s treated half-comically. The father is corrupt and wants to be paid, at the same time to appear this male bully. Ross refuses to play this game, and a fight ensues over male pride. Jim comes in and genuinely participates in fending off the Carnes with Jud in the comedy of the piece: they help Ross throw out Demelza’s corrupt father and brothers.

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The young Demelza runs in to protest against her two guineas a year being given to her father: women have no rights, she declares

Ross is called to Trenwith by Elizabeth and rushes over: this is a rare moment in this hour where we see Ross’s love for Elizabeth come out. She tells the story of Blamey as a wife-murderer and alcoholic and says Verity refuses to give him up. She does not identify with anyone outside herself once again. Ross at first sees the wisdom of separating this couple, and the scene between them shows his concern for Elizabeth (he says her name ever so softly), but in a closing touching scene just outside Trenwith he is brought to agree to help her at least get to know the man by allowing meetings in his house. here it is made clear the man killed his wife, had a violent abusive alcoholic past. Graham and the film-makers of the 1975 film do not treat this as necessarily unacceptable — there is arguably some implicit and overt misogyny and disregard of women’s primal needs and problems in the 1945 books and 1970s film, but the 2015 film’s solution is to blame the woman: Bentall as Verity claims the wife was violent first, Blamey killed her wholly by accident. This is not much better.

To conclude in 1975 the central event is the coming of Demelza but she is seen against a backdrop of creating the world of Cornwall and the lives of other characters; nothing presented overtly didactically at all but subtly — more subtly than I’ve time or space to show. The use of the house (Poldark’s Cornwall names) it in which Francis, Elizabeth, the father, Verity live is very good. It fells such a natural place and yet has this lovely taste and landscape. So too is the farmhouse believable, feels real. Photographed naturally.

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Verity standing watching the duel between Francis and Captain Blamey, whose results will dictate, probably ruin her future

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At the assembly ball, a rare moment of laughter for Elizabeth while dancing & talking with Ross

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Ross’s crucial moment: the businessmen gather as he spreads out his papers to persuade them to re-open a mine to search for copper

Episode 2, 2015: this is how embedded montage works in this film, and how the themes of mining, business, and the oppression of women emerge.

Phase 1: The opening set of stills, rocks, crashing waters, the silhouette; then the mine set: bell, wood, lantern, leaves, Ross glimpsed working hard in the mine.

Cut to Ross at desk, thinking, working at papers, looking at crystal he has drawn from the morning work. Overvoice of Phil Davis as Jud chanting: mines, in the book, a copper vein the bread of life; what you eat, sleep breathe; cut to shot of closing notice of Wheal Reith; Jud’s voice continues: “she’s your salvation and your downfall” and soloiloquy turns ominous, dark. Cut to establishment shot of great house, and then inside an aristocratic man tying his bow, the other side, a footman knocking “my lord?” Phil’s voice continues, “making reckless, making blod.” Cut to redcoats and officers stopping men at a mine from working. Jim Carter to the fore: “’tisn’t right ’tis all we have,” men in back. Full medium shot of Jud drinking, Ross working at table, bitter look in both faces. We hear footman again: “My lord Basset, there are bailiffs” at Wheal Reith, as cut to inside and aristocractic man puts wig on head in front of mirror. Jud: “A fool’s game will end in tears” at table. Cut to Jim standing forward to fight, knocked down. Jud’s voice: “your father died before his time, now Ross answers “I admire your optimism.” Jud to Ross: “Your father died in his bed. And it won’t be the last man that mining did in, and if he were here today … he’d tell you not to make the same mistake. Shot heard from aristocratic house we saw during montage. Ross speaks to Jud’s soliloquy: “I wonder ..”

Cut to sea, and we hear and see surging waters. Establishment shot of farmhouse, Nampara. Demelza’s voice heard, angry: “Judas it’s cold, brr it’s freezing,” she is dousing her head with cold water from pump. Ross seen at window. She calls herself “a buttock of beef,” he is amused, she fierce. Jim comes up as Ross looks out window. Cock crows; Jim says “mine closed .. Basset dead.”

Cut to Warleggans, very handsome inner study with the young George worried, fretting, “We called in his loans,” and now we see his uncle at his desk, “no,” says Carey, “we declined to extend it.” George: “Does it not reflect poorly that it falls on deaf ears?” Carey snarls: “Are we in the business of sentiment or profit?” Before we can feel for George, Margaret at door comes in to say “I be going now Mr George?” George cold, “Have you been dismissed? He is all arrogance, tells her she is to address him as sir,” and turns to say to Carey: “These ancient families they lack backbone.”

Cut to yard: Jim and Ross sitting together on a log : Jim: “Why would they call it? Ross”Believe me; it’s the banks.” Jim: “Grambler is the only mine.” Ross: “My uncle won’t take you in?” Jim: “there’s my breathing.” Ross: ” You’d welcome a few months above grass,” hands Jm the cup. Jim: “I need to work or my mothers and sisters starve.” Cut to Prudie scolding inside to Demelza, nasty, “So now we be home to all the waifs and wastrels of the county,” Ross coming in, hears, turns away, Prudie continues her taunts about begging bowls, with Demelza at threshold Prudie bangs into her, thus connecting her to Jim. Demelza looks awry, skeptical, hard.

Cut to books on library shelf, beautiful piano, beautiful things in room, Ross sits down and picks up 300 pounds from Charles to be gotten from Warleggan’s bank. Flashback: he remembers Elizabeth on the cilff in the sun before he left for America, and then fingers the ring she gave him. Cut to him determinedly charging across landscape; arrives at Trenwith, Elizabeth at window, seemingly satisfied. Downstairs Charles, Verity ever serving, Agatha, he walks in. Verity: “Ross!”; Agatha says “You still here?” Ross to uncle “I’m minded to give back money, puts down on table. Now Charles sneers, “Just like your father,” snaps fingers at Verity (she is treated like Margaret by George). Ross: “Heard about Wheal Reith, to which Charles “and Bassett” –-. Ross first of interventions for Verity: turns to her: “you must visit me soon Verity,” selfish greedy Charles retorts, “And neglect her duties here? She’s too busy to be gadding about,” with a further sneering reference to “Cousin Francis as not much good.” Ross walks out, and Elizabeth watching from window. She looks as a woman in love, she sits down to mirror, Francis comes in (minor key music), he wants to go to bed with her clearly, camera on her her hand on table as he says “Shall I join you in bed, m’dear”, he puts his hand around her reluctant one.

Cut to Demelza in Nampara farm yard washing in tub, Jim passing by with farming equipment; cock crows and nasty mischievous Jud and Prudie stick more sheets and shirts on her to clean. Now the working men seen chasing after Ross on horseback on way to mine, teasing him that he’ll be arrested for inciting a riot soon, Martin thanks him for hiring Jim, and another man says “Happen you could do the same thing for we?” He’s told that Charles Poldark has hired men for starvation wages, Ross’s bitter voice, now soft voice, “I can promise nothing.” Ominous music and mine seen in silhouette. Inside of mine photographed with ross Letting himself down.

Phase 2: Cut to outside mine, Francis with high hat rides up to mine, Ross coming out, Francis; “Are you staying. Ross: “do you resent this.” Now Francis appeals to him again (as he did in Episode 1) “We used to be friends … you aren’t thinking of reopening?” Ross: “I’ll think of anything hat might help those devils left off of Wheal Reith. Francis says he can’t take “responsibility” because “father doesn’t trust me.” Back shot of two against mine and Ross’s voice heard: “Perhaps we should share burden, Open wheal leisure together …”

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Cut to Elizabeth gathering eggs on Trenwith grounds, Verity to her, “what are you doing? A lady should not be doing this,” but Elizabeth wants to, Verity that “the lady of the house, goes to assemblies,” so Elizabeth shows her Elizabeth’s invitation to a ball and asks Verity, “May you not go?” Verity tells her that her days “activities are as a kind of superior servant, her life is not Elizabeth’s life” Note: Heidi Reed’s hair-do left over from Gainsborough’s films, high curls and one on shoulder, Verity’s a group of knotted buns, not 18th century, perhaps 1950s.

Cock crows and Ross in town – very much a rural scene in the streets. Effective set. Montage cut to Ross in banker’s office, talking to Pascoe who is saying “Have you taken leave of your senses. Ross: “What do I need?” Answer includes “capital, knowhow, allies, men of means, money men.” Ross’s reply includes “marginal, smattering, cousin will lend his name.” Pascoe: “You need investment and have reputation somewhat tarnished. I am speaking as banker and friend.” Cut to tavern, POV Ross, Margaret seen from side – she is clearly a prostitute ever out for a lay. Western like minor musical tune, soft pedals from piano. Margaret approaches him, and he says he “has neither money nor inclination,” advising her to seek “another profession;” cut to her telling his fortune (he agreed to that at least) and brings out qualities about him, prophecies: “you have made the mistake of falling in love … came back … and you still care for her; she is kind, perhaps she loves you still.” He looks at her with a kindly smile on his face. Cut to vision of Elizabeth on chair in luscious garden looking melancholy – with appropriate uneasy music.

Ross riding back across landscape (a repeated motif) and Verity catches up on her horse; he is glad to see her. “You escaped then?” They come to farmhouse and Verity says: “I see you’ve not been idle” Jim and Jud pass them as they work. Ross calls out “Demelza” as she is at hanging out clothes near pump, introduces “Tthis is my cousin, Verity: she courtesies very awkwardly. As two ride off, Verity: “Has she settled?” Ross: “still somewhat feral.” Verity asks if if his wound still pains him, she comes down from horse, a more intimate tone than we’ve heard “I wonder if I might ask you the greatest of favors.” Cut to invitation, we are to gather she wants him to take her. Cut to him staring out from desk, glimpses in nearby room Demelza sweeping. Lone unconsidered figure she is feeling this. Cut to brief shot of Elizabeth in fancy outfit in Trenwith, with Francis coming in front of her and asking, “My dear, will you not reconsider, you know how I love to show off my wife to the world.” She looks irritated. Cut to Demelza sweeping, looking up warily; Prudie comes over as Ross walks by. “Where’s he going?” Demelza: “To a dance, he don’t look too glad about it.” Puzzled. Prudie: “gentlefolks is strange.”

Phase 3: the assembly romance juxtaposed to Demelza at Nampara: shot from above looking down at high artifice in room, elegant classical music, camera from above, looking down at ball room candles people dancing, elegance, luxury. Verity walking down stairs on Ross’s, thanking him for getting permission from father. Ross: “I’m entirely at your service,” Verity: “Don’t be … ”

Downstairs, close-ups: luxury tables, piles of food, men gambling, Choake and the businessmen at a table: Choake: “Those ruffians settled themselves? Cary sneers about lack of jobs, Choake: “They have no business to have an opinion at all.” Francis: “Some would say that is outdated.” George: “In America for instance all men created equal. Choake “Preposterous. George (ironic for us to see him say this): “Distinctions of rank must be preserved,” Francis (conscious irony of his own) “Especially when they are so dearly bought. Cut to Demelza scrubbing floor; Prudie and Jud gloating over her (Cinderella scene) and enjoying fire and liquor.

Cut to dance floor: Georgeby steps: “Not dancing, Ross, will none of the ladies have you? mocking gently that he has a whiff of the workers. Ross asks if he needs perfume. George self-deprecating: “Yes how else will a family of blacksmiths … “, trying to be genial, with rapid line of “One of these days you may need to come knocking. Ross: “I would be desperate.” George walks off “I look forward to the prospect.” Turning round POV Ross sees Elizabeth apparently resigned (but has sad look on face however transient) on Francis’s arm, holding her face up, holding her own as best she can … Ross sees Blamey there, saying “you know that lady” to someone, Ross watches Verity and Blamey meet, Verity knows him, addresses him, but his attention diverted by Miss Teague trying to make conversation (his words rebarbative), then without him camera switches to an awkward Verity, trying to make conversation, “Ah, a sea captain,” she is trying so hard. Juxtaposed to hypocrisies of Miss Teague to whom Ross says: “I fear I possess few of the refinements of polite society”. Verity lacks them too; implication, they are socially dysfunctional (if real relationships is what you are after). Cut to Demelza to underline point: We see non-polite society; she is filthy sweaty, with candle lured into library, sits by harpsichord (minor chord), camera catches Purdie and Jud drunkenly singing, going up to their bed. She gazes at desk, maps, papers, crystal …

Ross coming down hall, Mr Treneglos accosts him; friendly men with Henshawe who worked as mine captain for his father, all talking of mines now. Henshawe eager: “Are you thinking of opening, working it.” Pascoe heard saying he’ll see what can be done … requires discretion. POV moves to George near by, spying. Ross: “I fully comprehend you sir.”

Verity and Blamey falling in love over his drawing his ship on a pad, He: “When can I see you again? She: “Oh captain Blamey that I couldn’t say. Cut to cruel scene of Jud coming upon Demelza in library, threatening her, rough, telling her “go home you are getting ideas about your station,” she is angry, wretched. Cut to Blamey: “Forgive me, I do not wish to appear forward, but I would dearly like us to be better acquainted,” Verity quietly: “Me too.” Miss Teague back to trying again, Ross she and her mother by heading for Elizabeth who is talking with Francis, who genially retreats for the one dance.

High symbolic romance: Magic music hands touch – the director imitating Wright in 2005 Pride and Prejudice and recent Anna Karenina with single couple mesmerized, glimpsed and glanced by others again and again. (Nothing in book justifies this, in 1975 Ross upon seeing Elizabeth in a pattern dance, cannot bear assembly anymore, bids adieu to Verity and leaves.) George, Iago-like planting seed in Francis’s mind; “Your cousin most attentive … to your wife …” At first Francis doesn’t take this in: “I don’t think he cares for dancing, he only came to please Verity.” George alert: “Who is that man” pointing to Blamey. Francis: “A captain but father couldn’t spare her and Elizabeth would miss her, George insinuatingly replies: “doubtless our wife would find ways of distracting herself.” So Francis begins to watch intensities between Ross and Elizabeth – we see trouble in his eyes. Mrs Teague now seeing Elizabeth and Ross, Verity notices, Francis upset, and Verity hearing high nervous laughter from Elizabeth, ignored Blamey’s stuttering asking if he can ask her father, comes to rescue by hurrying to Ross and stopping dance moment: “Ross may I introduce Captain Blamey.” Verity tells Ross, “There is nothing there for you,” and she and she look back at Elizabeth with Francis, and Verity asks: “You’ll take supper, thank you I’ve no appetite.” George seen nastily shadowing Francis,making ugly gossip about “Ross in love, see the spectacle – Ruth Teague is unlikely to remind one of previous attachment.” Ross goes out into night, turns up in tavern and then Margaret next to him: “May I be of service m’lod,” Ross: “One service is all I required,” he ushers her upstairs. Cut to Demelza with dog in bed, Elizabeth upstairs watching unhappy drinking Francis below.

Bright day over roofs – bell of morning – Margaret and Ross wake, he is kindly disposed, she tells him again “you’ve a rare hand it knows what it wants but not always how to get it.” The male upper class arrogance Horsfield concerned to show in Ross’s speech: “I was not in a talkative mood last night.” Demelza seen walking by beach – now he is seen stripping self and washing – presumably doing water therapy but the voyeurism and reference to Davies’s P&P (Colin Firth) unfortunate, and absurd: Tomlinson even breathes heavily …. and glinting sun –

Phase 4: The success of both Ross and Demelza in town.

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Arriving he calls out to Demelza

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She is glad to be respected, given a trusted serious task – buy food for household

Ross seen at work at his desk again, Demelza brings in food, the angry Charles comes in, opening a mine, the cursed of the Poldarks” but he wants Francis to be part of it — “he must learn to stand on his feet, but as is clear by Charles’s choosing this for Francis, he is not learning; Ross says teach him discretion “from his good friend George.”

Jim ready with horse, Demelza with basket, Ross wants to take her to shop – it is a kindness to get her away from Jud and Prudie seen in distance sitting – have they been making you a beast of burden, you look weary – she bursts out I know my place, He “your place is where I say it is, fetch your cloak. She: “Sir? Never had no cloak ..” The two on horse, her hands held in this abject way – lively scene of town by the sea – everyone doing different economic things, visual expansive realism as they on horse move by – important day for us both let’s see who can strike the better bargain .. as she gets off. He spots Verity speeding along and she ducks. Demelza coming down stairs to fish monger. Elizagbeth out of shop with cloth – he is so eager to help her ,allow me (she didn’t need it and Demelza did) George glimpses them walking together .. she asks if he enjoyed –- she pretends to say Miss Teague was pleasing him and perhaps he should look here, he asks would that please you, so she says she has to go, Verity looking for her. Shots of Demelza bargaining; glimpses of Verity and Blamey.

Ross goes into tavern, meaning to bring Francis along, but it’s too late, as George coming away from Francis saying: “I’ll leave you.” Francis (tears in his voice) refuses: “I need something I can depend on.” As Ross walks away, we see George standing there, is swaggering. This to me is an unfortunate degradation of Francis: in Graham’s novel and Pullman’s 1975 script Francis refuses because he doesn’t like risk, is in too much debt, especially to Warleggan; here he is emphatically just an insecure jealous male (lacks all dignity).

Key scene of episode: the business men gather, Henshaw sitting down, Ross spreading out papers, maps – he has worked so hard for this. Henshaw are we expecting your cousin, Francis has changed his mind a pit yit would lend a certain gravity – Choake deeply hostile at idea of spending gold for copper.

Cut to George seducing Francis in tavern: “some see arrogance, others observe a sense of entitlement; Francis: “To o what?” Whatever takes his fancy – then tries to pump Francis for info on “latest venture”. Cut to Ross talking it up; back and forth between two scenes; Francis does refuse to talk; Trenegloss question is, “What will it cost us? Choake irritated bankers not to be Warleggans. Back to George: “Warleggans will lend but persaps Rossdoes’t value friendship or family. Ross to Choake: “Warleggan will lend only in prosperity once it starts to struggle they take money out,” and Renfew and Henshaw add: “This costs miners dear (interrupton of George poring down seduction) – costs mine owners dearer. Cut to Francis, an idiot listening to George – he’ll advance anything.

Juxtaposed: Ross rewards considerable for these risks … he’d sooner gamble at mine than cards 50 guineas a piece for the first three months, Henshawe adds his and then the others fall in, Ross looks happy as others give in different ways, toast to Wheel leisure. Ross looks out window and sees George with arms around Francis. Cut to Ross outside and Demelza coming up with fish in basket; men see her, what am I a circus attraction, poorly dressed. He buys her a clock — in 1975 it was a new dress.

The last phase: tragedy of Verity and Blamey cut off from one another and ending with Ross finding solace and meaning in starting up mining, Demelza at his side.

Establishment shot of Trenwith then Elizabeth overhearing angry Charles and Francis discussing Verithy’s shamelessness with blamey; Charles angry you should have dnoe something before our family name dragged through mud. Demelza and Ross home on horse. Cut to Demelza at kitchen chopping; calls Jud and Prudie, goes to door it’s Elizabeth, she is squashed and Elizabeth all elegance. Ross comes out so pleased and soft toned; Jud comes in as they are nearly talking of love despite Francis, she wants him to speak with francis and father, saddle his horse; rides there and Elizabeth there – hears with startle about Verity – now we now father selfishly against it anyway – -contrast to Charles 1975 – Clarissa solution she does not leave house until she swears never to see him again He is all agreement inside but looks loath. He is now outside – verity cones up to him, produces softened version in which she attacks him first – ross agrees t ohelp her. Blamey in house: she’s my angel of redemption – later he says Demelza his redemption

Comic heavy handed interlude with Ross escorting Mrs and Ruth Teague around his property; Mrs Teague: “One has only to taste her syllabubs to know their succulence,” “Is Miss Verity still meeting that blaggard?” Ruth or her mother asks.

As Blamey and Verity talk of their families, Ross asks Demelza if she hears word of her family. She has not. Ross’s ride across stormy countryside on his way to Wheal Leisure: Francis and uncle infuriated and scene over Blamey ensues. Ross now moving down swiftly: He had come home so happy about investment meeting, thinking about Francis may yet join him – they are all stiff and hostile – George must not be told he will betray, Francis accuses him of betraying them over Verity, who is given the utterance: “I have a right to chose my own life.” Francis’s response to this: “Perhaps a thrashing” to Blamey. Not in my house, says Ross – Blamey rightly calls Francis a puppy and he is incensed now father wants him to stop – Francis “anyone may abuse our trust – incensed over jealousy of Ross, he strikes Verity down more than once, wants Jud to act as referee – pathetic scene of Verity and Blamey outside. Shots. Francis falls.

Prudie feared of blood and Demelza helps Ross stop the blood. Back and forth, Elizabeth comes in and is hysterical blaming Ross. Dmelza “Your cousin do owe you his life, then to Ross: “Where’d you learn to do such things,” Ross: “on the battle fields of Virginia. Stupidity of Charles, says to Ross: “You are a disgrace to name ofpoldark and offers no thanks. Elizabeth leaving “I do not blame you. I wouldn’t for the world wish him hurt. I now more than ever I need him by my side because I am with child.” This is the signal of the end of his hopes we are to take it; in 1975 it was Ross telling Elizabeth Demelza pregnant and he would marry her; no such scene in Ross Poldark.

Cut to Nampara: Demelza comes in to front roomand he puts hand on forehead, reaches for her hand, “Do I have half wit branded across my forehead. She: “No.” He: “Yet I fell for it again (he is talking unfairly of Eliziabeth) and should be grateful. Fetch Jud and Prudie, we have work to do.

Episode returns to mine imagery and setting we started with. A sign, Wheal Leisure is put up. Demelza is making a fire. Cut to inside Trenwith, dinner table, Charles and 3 women but Francis’s place empty. Cut back to Ross turning to Demelza come to give him his meal. Ross tells her she “did well today, but “if you miss your family” she can go home (illogical, why would he say that?) She is hurt: “You’ll be wanting rid of me … ” He: “I was merely offering you the chance to return to your home if that’s where you feel you belong.” She: “belong here I belong here,” and he smiles.

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One of those shots from 2015 where a world is created and felt

To conclude from what these analyses show: Admirably Horsfield has reseen the books; she is more pointed. Her way of using embedded montage makes for less subtlety, more abruptness; the characters are given gnomic statements too quickly, with out grounding: they hate, they love. It’s a woman’s film insofar as she constantly recurs to the women’s stories. They are presented as much more oppressed, from Verity who is openly caged in, subaltern, subordinate, used, to Margaret who is ordered about. She wants us to see Ross as loving Elizabeth and see her as learning after she marries Francis that she loves Ross after all. She has a cyclical structure for both episodes, the ending returns us to the opening. I find I prefer the naturalism of the 1975 film, its longer scenes with precise thoughtful dialogue that is believable. The characters (except for the Warleggans) are kinder to one another; we live in a harder world in 2015. There was less anxiety about masculinity in 1975: the strong good-natured protective male, the weak well-meaning sensitive one; there is much less enjoyment for the characters in 2015 thus far. By having to cover less, there are more scenes of characters doing things that have little to do with plot, but capture character, milieu, time. More of Graham’s language makes its way into the 1975 mini-series but Horsfield is careful to keep or make up new epitomizing lines.

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The St George and the Dragon play played out in the 1975 fair, the kind of scenes the new style of movie and its mood has no room for

Ellen

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Courage shall grow keener, clearer the will,
the heart fiercer as our force faileth …
— Anglo-Saxon poem, The Battle of Maldon (as translated by Michael Alexander

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Aidan Turner as Ross Poldark: as magnificent against defeat

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Eleanor Tomlinson as Demelza Carne, asked where she is going (near final shots of Episode 1)

Dear friends and readers,

As I have written altogether too much (probably) about the twelve Poldark books, the 1975 mini-series (a Cornish Che Guevara) and 1977-78, Graham’s other historical fiction, mysteries and costume drama, I asked myself what could I contribute that would be found useful, or enrichening to readers of the books and watchers of these two mini-series, made 40 years apart. Well, comparisons. I will not be recapping; I assume my reader has read the novels, at least Ross Poldark, Demelza, Jeremy Poldark and Warleggan (the first quartet, written 1945-53) and refer him or her to recaps elsewhere. I find most far-reaching in the changes is how the popular vision, how we today see the 18th century is changing in films:

Let us begin with Episode 1:

Let us first admit there is a real similarity in what is covered and emphasized in two mini-series, though the presentation seems worlds apart cinematographically, and what was contained in two episodes in 1975 (the taking in of Demelza occurred in Jack Pullman’s 1975 Episode 2) and occurs in one in 2015 (the screenplay writer is a directing force in British productions, so 2015 is shaped by Debbie Horsfield). Neither film dramatized Joshua Poldark’s death, both begin with Ross coming home in the stagecoach; both have his visit to Trenwith where Verity and Francis greet him with emotional friendship, while Charles holds back; while the 1975 includes Pearce as a first visit and Pascoe as a second.

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Ross and Pearce (1975, where an emotional soft bonding counts, Pearce calls Ross “m’boy”)

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Ross and Pascoe (2015, where the banker is predominant in telling the bad news of no legacy that can support him)

Both emphasize how Nampara has become a wreck (though Jud and Prudie are made more appealing in 1975, more genuinely attached to Ross, and he less severe to them), Ross’s bonds with his tenant-friends and companions and decent humane behavior towards them. Centrally important, both take material from Warleggan, the fourth Poldark novel (the back story which is not told clearly or that emphatically in Ross Poldark, the 1st) in order to make clear how Ross has loved, in his mind and heart clung to, a dream of Elizabeth Chynoweth, so we have several scenes between them. Both have Francis and Ross going down in the mine and Francis nearly drowning because he tries to apologize to Ross for taking Elizabeth from him and arouses Ross’s deep rage, with Ross’s hesitation about saving him (“Why haven’t you learned to swim?”), the wedding, Ross’s desolation.

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Kyle Soller as Francis trying to explain, openly vulnerable (2015)

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Ross and Clive Francis as Francis Poldark, companionable, after Ross’s rescue, Ellis not as deeply angry as Turner (1975)

In literal details it may seem that the 2015 episode is closer to the book (for example, Ross meets Elizabeth first at Trenwith at the engagement party), but a second viewing will reveal some pivotal details have changed. For example, nowhere in the novel does Charles offer Ross 300£ to leave; Horsfield (however she may deny having watched or read the previous mini-series) got that from the Pullman where Charles demands 300£ in money owed him by his brother, Joshua, money Ross desperately needs and has borrowed from Pearce; Horsfield makes central to her first episode that Ross is tempted to leave and then decides not to because what is most meaningful to him in life is his relationship to the people there, the land, and what he can do for both through his ownership of possibly payable ground (mining). Horfield brings Demelza in much earlier than Pullman because Demelza is not seen as a raucous “fiesty” semi-sexual thieving rakish girl (a concept Pullman and his team modeled Angharad Rees on from Tony Richardson’s influential 1966 Tom Jones where women are coy sex kittens), nor Ross as combining the swashbuckling romance hero of Gainsborough costume drama (a kind of Stewart Grainger) with the strong leftist-liberal politics of both Graham’s 1945 book and the 1970s BBC progressive costume drama.

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Robin Ellis and Angharad Rees from Episode 2 (1975)

Instead Demelza is a genuinely abject semi-cowed, beaten, subaltern young girl, understandably hostile (like a dog who has been badly treated), guarded against all comers, attached to her dog, Garrick, who alone has loved her, and standing for in Ross’s mind, Cornwall itself, what (he says in the last moments of the episode) he had almost forgotten, what he will retrieve, and the eighteenth century here is not a world of elegance seen from an upper class Austen-ish point of view, but from below, a grimy, grim, brutal, desperate place of people living mostly a subsidence life, where they are hard to one another.

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Ross by fireside drinking and eating with men; he often also drinks alone

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Demelza walking, singing with dog alongside, but basically alone too

The analogy for 1975 is The Oneddin Line mini-series, for 2015, the recent Outlander, indebted to Peter Weir’s 2003 Master and Commander). Ellis’s ultimately descend from the Errol Flynn image of the gay swashbuckling, elegant hero, combining with the liberal outlook say of Albert Finney as Tom Jones; Aidan Turner’s looks are rough, Napoleonic era long coat and rebellious army man, strongly influenced at the same time by Johnnie Depp in The Libertine.

Other important differences which will be developed: Heidi Reed (2015) as Elizabeth Chynoweth is made much kinder, sweeter, less self-involved, and unlike Graham’s Elizabeth) partly marrying out of obedience to a mother and affection for Francis, guilty about Ross and herself rooted in Cornwall (all an invention on Horsfield’s part)

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Reed given a penultimate speech to Ross that he must stay in Cornwall (completely outside Graham’s Elizabeth’s character

Jill Townsend is permitted to enact Graham’s concept in Warleggan of a woman genuinely frightened of the reckless Ross, seeking material comfort and prestige, in need of security. In neither series does the ambiguous woman, adult with complex motives, deeply resentful of Demelza eventually, and no friend to Verity, selfish and yet strong when and where strength is needed, not particularly enamoured of Cornwall (she’d love to go to London) whom Ross had fallen in love with:

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Townsend turning away from Ross lest she be seduced by her erotic and affectionate attachment to him

Perspectives on the themes of Graham’s book matter: in both Verity is a kind of female Ross, both of them indifferent to worldly values of others; I found myself preferring Norma Streader because she is allowed to be more forceful and to scold affectionately:

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Streader is unafraid to project her emotional life: Ross is here the revenant come back

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Rare moment of selfhood for Verity (2015)

Horsfield’s version of feminism is to show us how women are subject to men (so Charles is made to use Verity ruthlessly, forbid her men — in 1975 Frank Middlemass as Charles wanted Verity to marry) and Verity does not get much chance to emerge until Blamey comes onto the scene. But Horsfield is much more pro-capitalist and conformist herself; she brings George Warleggan in much earlier as someone willing to negotiate work with Ross, more humanly understandable supposedly in his cool greed, more acceptable than in 1945 or 1975 (with the man of some integrity as a capitalist who will stay within the law, Nicholas, not there, instead the amoral more criminal type, Cary companions George).

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Jack Farthing as George Warleggan making overtures (2015), Turner as Ross turns fiercely away

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Some notes on particulars in the two series, with a (I hope) fair assessment. We should remember the 1975 mini-series had the advantage of not expecting a wider critical audience, of seeing itself as fulfilling a minority taste in historical film costume drama, and by expecting a smaller minority audience could be more daring, more original, take chances. The 2015 has the burden of being second, of having to endure comparisons (like those above), of having much more closely monitored ratings so it must satisfy conventional expectations (thus Aidan Turner had to be muscularly gorgeous).

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The iconic ending of the first episode (1975): Ross standing alone, swirling waters around the rocks

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1975: The hour ends with him on top of a cliff fiercely looking down as the music rolls. The motifs of the Cornish seacoast and rocks and surging waters are part of a subgenre of Cornish movies. There has been more money spent on music and locations that persuade us we are in Cornwall in 1975. I was stirred by Robin Ellis’s ability to convey complex thoughts and depths. He is cinematically equated with the sea surging against the rocks, hurling itself. He comes home to find he has been thought dead and people didn’t really mind: his mine property taken over; his bethrothed refuses to break her engagement; his farmhouse a mess. He fights intensely at each turn and at each turn his way is made harder. His one great and faithful friend is Pearce, the banker-father, who secures some money for him. I loved how Ellis as Ross spoke and acted truthfully at each turn: he saves his cousin, Francis from drowning: he explains his hesitation by saying he forgot Francis can’t swim, but also it would have been in his interest to let Francis drown. The opening paratexts and music are haunting.

Both films have good actors and much has been done to re-create the 18th century worlds. The difference is the earlier one allows the characters to come forward much more individually with their presences felt; they are not figures in a landscape; the way films were made were to conceive of actors on a stage; in 1975 the actors interacted directly and have more length given each encounter and are more rounded as we meet them (a good example of this is Ross’s meeting with Ginny and the Martins in 1975); thus we feel their presence and their significance much more. Pullman’s screenplay is better: the language is really more particular bringing out the issues and feelings of the people much more adequately with more insight into the nature of their responses to one another and their environment. I miss Paul Curran as Jud — he was just so utterly believable, mean and yet comic; the good nature of Mary Wimbush as Prudie.

2015: since Horsfield chose to bring Demelza in early and include in the first episode material that takes half the 1975 second episode there is much less time in the first 2015 episode to develop the scenes, even if 2015 has 8 more minutes. there is too much garden opulence around Elizabeth Chynoweth: the Chynoweths are as broke or near genteel poverty as the Poldarks; only the Warleggans are doing well. Phil Davis is an utterly believable Jud but less appealing; the new Prudie is grossly sexualized (Jud seems ever to be having sex with her off-stage). This series lacks the comedy of 1975; it is darker dramatic romance. The best scenes as scenes are those closest to the book of which there are a number, e.g., between Ross and Elizabeth where he breaks out in exasperation. There though mostly is a reliance on sheer pictorial projection; we are given the backstory of Ross’s time in Virginia and his young love for a young Elizabeth as pantomime in a prologue; the camera makes love to Demelza’s hidden wordless moods:

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Playing with her dog

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Feeling better about being alive despite the putdowns and sordid jealous threats of the Paynters

The politics are not progressive (not pro-American revolution as in 1975), but darkly suspicious of all powerful people, Ross is seen as feeling the equal and friends of his men (Jim Carter, Zacky Martin, Mark Daniels), eating and drinking with them. Turner conceives him as forceful, self-contained as a survival technique. This series mirrors the scepticism of today in Britain.

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The wide calm seascape is preferred (and a crossroads where a gibbet for hanging someone is placed)

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2015 ends on Ross and Demelza riding by the mine — he looks up to it as what he may hope to support himself and his servants, tenants by

Next week, Episodes 2 compared.

Ellen

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Olivia de Haviland as Catherine driven wild by the implacable Ralph Richardson as Dr Sloper (Wm Wyler’s The Heiress, 1949)

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As Dr Sloper, Albert Finney grim, determined to put a stop to Townsend’s courtship of his daughter, with Jennifer Leigh as a seeming sullen puzzled Catherine (Agnieska Holland’s Washington Square, 1997)

Dear friends and readers,

Over the past 10 weeks or so, a few of us on Trollope19thCStudies read and discussed Henry James’s Washington Square (1881) and then Anthony Trollope’s Sir Harry Hotspur of Humblewaite (1871) as remarkably parallel texts. While what proof there exists for a source for James’s chilling novella suggests he drew upon an anecdote he heard over dinner, people who have read both texts (and know how James faithfully followed Trollope’s career, reading novel after novel as they came out) have repeatedly drawn such useful insights from the comparison, it’s hard to give up the intuition that James remembered and rewrote Trollope. At least three of us also watched one or both of the admired film adaptations of James’s novella, and suggested readings of one or both of the novels out of these films. I can in the space available for a readable blog only suggest some of what we wrote.

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As Catherine Morland, Olivia de Havilland climbs the stairs to her room (a hard equivalent of Catherine “picking up her morsel of fancy-work, had seated herself with it again — for life, as it were” — ending of book & film)

We began with Washington Square. James’s story may be read as a parody and exposure of the way heterosexual romance and marriage are conducted in upper class society of his era, but the power of the paradigm emerges from his breaking all taboos by giving us a father who hates his daughter for not being wittily clever when she’d replaced her mother (we are not sure she was these things) because her mother died in giving birth to her. She makes him cringe that she’s his. In the way of families at the time Sloper has taken his penniless widowed sister, Mrs Pennimman in, but sees her simply as an idiot, not someone who can do Catherine harm because of her own selfish exploitation of everyone around her. Both women are naive but Catherine’s comes from her goodness of character and innocence. Morris Townsend is capable of appreciating Catherine’s sensitivity and intelligence, but he also wants her money. Among the many disquieting elements in the book is how James mocks Catherine too; she is an intensely poignant figure, cowed by her father’s long derision of her, unable to actively fight him.

The metaphor of drowning kittens is what the doctor is doing to Catherine at the same time as we are given enough ironies and flat statements in the rough scene between Dr Sloper and Morris Townsend to get the point that Townsend does want to marry Catherine for her money. For the reader who persists in believing in companionate marriage and that Townsend who appears to recognize how vulnerable and soft Catherine is will be kind to her, Mrs Almond’s comment, which embedded in these ironies, is to be taken straight (it takes a great deal of tact to read James even at this early stage) that she feels sorry for Catherine pings back to Townsend’s, don’t you care that she will be miserable for life. At the close of Chapter 11 he says he likes to inspire “a salutary terror” in her.

We have the problem of separating the narrator from Dr Sloper: the free indirect discourse does not make clear all the time whether it’s Dr Sloper’s thoughts that show such contempt of women or the narrator’s. When I go over it, I find again and again the nasty reflections are Dr Sloper’s. The narrator will say “poor Catherine” at least. The narrator says that Mrs Penniman is “perfectly unprepared to play” the part of explaining what’s happening. We might say Dr Slope is doing the right thing to check out Townsend by interviewing his sister, Mrs Montgomery, but the whole feel of the chapter is insinuating: he wants bad news; he does not want to hear anything good, and anything he hears he turns it to the worst. Why is Mrs Montgomery so reluctant to speak. She could have defended her brother at the assaulting words and does not. Why not? The words “salutary terror” the Dr uses of his relationship with his daughter lingered in my mind. He sees Catherine from the worst side. Whatever she does, he turns it to her discredit. She is patient and seems obedient, so he reflects “his daughter was not a woman of great spirit.” “Paternity is not an exciting vocation.” One feels he wanted scenes, wanted her to flee – -and thus be hurt. He’s an expert at rejection. He makes her feel terrible. Ironically in Morris’s dialogue with Mrs Penniman he resembles the doctor – curt, skeptical, and (for the reader caring for Catherine) singularly unsentimental. He is as grated upon by her as Dr Slope.

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Maggie Smith as Mrs Penniman interfering destructively in Catherine’s thoughts, and relationship with Townsend (Holland’s film)

While in Europe, the Doctor lets his rage come out. Catherine is justly frightened of him. She cannot quite believe he would kill her, but he could and lie about it. He does admit just a little that he is prepared to hurt her badly; “I am not a good man.” He is warning her. When they get home, we see her reaction was to move another step. When he derided her desire to be honest and not stay under his roof while seeing Townsend, she grew angry and knew he was abusing her and that gave her strength to distance herself from him. She tells her aunt this year has changed her “feelings about her father.” She feels she owes him nothing now because of how he has treated her.

Dr Sloper’s sister, Mrs Almond, sees Sloper’s continued enjoyment of Catherine’s misery. He’s a very intelligent subtle Mrs Norris (from Austen’s MP), subtly abusive. He gets a kick out of saying things like; “We must try and polish up Catherine.” He thinks her a dense dullard not capable of polishing — he’s sneering. The savage irony of the book is Townsend resembles Sloper in his scorn of people. Catherine is a tragic heroine. There is no one around worth her, no one around who could reciprocate on his level of love or strength — for we shall see she is strong. Not to act, but to hold out. Holding out counts. Anger becomes a healthy emotion here, and it carries Catherine through.

Then the doctor pulls it out to the nth degree: he accuses her of waiting for his death. She is going to wait and ask Townsend to wait in the hope her father will change his views. This makes him accuse her of wanting his death. She goes sick and faint with this. There is nothing in Catherine or Townsend’s behavior for that matter to substantiate this accusation. It’s not done to stop her marrying Townsend; it’s done to hurt her – to accuse her of the foul feelings he has. And he keeps this accusation up. What is a girl like her who we’ve seen is so moral to say in reply? she finally sees he despises her.

When she finally leaves the room – after he mocks her for saying that she ought not to have a farthing of his money by echoing that with “you won’t,” we are told “he was sorry for her … but he was so sure he was right.” He does not admit to himself he hates her. Of course not: he is amused; “By jove. .. I believe she will stick … I believe she will stick.” Is this a way to talk about her intense and complete abject anguish? He is looking at her as if she was some horse he was betting on and enjoying its suffering.

After Catherine spends a “dreadful night” (and it is dreadful even if she can get up and control herself in front of her father), Mrs Penniman meets with the doctor and he tells her not to do as she had been doing, which is not to practically help but and not to give any emotional support. If she does either, he reminds her of “the penalty” for “high treason.” I don’t think she is the quite the fool the doctor thinks: she says that her brother is “killing” Catherine. Sloper though is into control and possession.

How will Catherine fare if she does marry Townsend. We worry for her — he does not inspire enough confidence. Both her aunts say she is strong, but what if he is a total liar, and once married would betray and hurt her

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Ben Chaplin as Townsend irritated by Mrs Penniman’s hypocritical sentimental pretenses — to him she is a jackass (Holland film)

We begin to see Townsend is not worthy Catherine. The chapters at this point leave me shaking. When Catherine tells her father she should not live under his roof (very pious and James as narrator finds her absurd (I see this in my edition in Chapter 22, p 118, the paragraph beginning “These reflexions,” especially the line: “this was close reasoning — James finds her hilarious …); when Catherine tells her father this, he accuses her of bad taste. He disbelieves she really thinks that.

Catherine does not end in an invisible prison; she ends seeing what’s in front of her for real. And then (my view) she does like Millie at the close of the Wings of the Dove — for those who’ve read it. I don’t mean she dies — she does not die (her father has told her she won’t die of this …. ). ? It’s like watching a specimen in a fish bowl writhing. It’s as dark as Daisy Miller (written around the same time, also a novella) whose actual death is caused by the careless sinister minds of those around her.

I see the ending as Catherine ending up in a unlived life, turning her face to the wall because she cannot bear what she has been made to see. This is Milly in The Wings of the Dove, the hero in The Ambassadors, in The American, in “The Beast in the Jungle.” She will do a little good with the money she has. Death has at least freed of the corrosive father and she may live without someone near her who despises her. I had hoped for that for her and she got it without having to leave her home and cope with Townsend for the rest of her life instead.

The two film adaptations

The Heiress

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Rare moment of pleasure in one another (Montgomery Cliff as Townsend)

There are great actors here in this film. Wyler directed both Ralph Richardson and Olivia de Havilland to act or become as half-mad people. Richardson’s eyes are half-wild once he is told that Catherine has engaged herself to Townsend. The only way Wyler could understand such a flash of anger and years of hatred and punishment is that the man was not right — and like the other movie, much is made of the death of the wife in childbed and his bitter disappointment at the difference. Miriam Hopkins is Mrs Penniman (and as with Holland with Maggie Smith playing the part), Mrs Penniman has intelligence (James’s character doesn’t). Maybe it’s unreal to make her so gratingly fatuous — except that Bogdanovich pulled that for for similar character in Daisy Miller and Chloris Leachman did that black comedy to a “T.” Catherine begins in such innocence and vulnerabilty I felt intense pain as I waited for her father to come down hard. Haviland plays the part as an adoring sweet girl. It’s was heart-breaking. And then she seems to crack, also goes mad, more obviously.

Wyler couldn’t face that Catherine just caves in — the audience might think her weak (I suggest above I don’t and I hope explained why). Wyler knew we should not have a semi-happy ending, so he has Catherine become deeply angry after Townsend does not show up to take her away to marry him. She goes into a cold rage of hatred for her father herself. And the ending is her refusing to show the father any affection after the scene where she says he despises and dislikes me.” She stays outside the house when he dies — the scene of his demanding her promise again is there, and fuels this hatred. When Townsend returns she plays a trick on him: says she will be ready at midnight; he comes and she won’t let him in. She goes upstairs in grim triumph of cold hatred and anger. The mood is grim for the last ten minutes, dreadfully grim. Haviland pulls it off — she was in Snake Pit around that time where she played a woman put in asylum and gone mad because of this.

Wyler does not get the humor or mockery of the text (neither does Holland)– Bogdanovich did make Daisy Miller as a pathetic heroine also ditzy and we laugh at her at least in the first half of the movie.

This is a remarkable and bold movie for the time — the black-and-white is used to make a nightmare of the house in the second half, not gothic, realistic. One of these Victorian mansions that is a prison — rather like Cukor managed in Gaslight. The angles are remarkable. At the first half of the movie we see Catherine full face, soft focus; in the second half Haviland hard nose is caught again and again; she looks bigger and stronger in the cased-in dresses she wears. She is on guard the way I saw it — but to say she is angry and getting back is to lose the tragedy. A beautiful soul is still there is the poignancy of the piece.

Holland’s Washington Square

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An interlude of quiet understanding between Townsend and Catherine

A disappointment. It’s more than that both the father and Townsend were softened, and Mrs Penniman made smarter and more decent (so the portrait softened too), and that the essential attacks and mockery of the original were lost. It might be asserted, How can movies do this? It’s very much against the grain to present characters from an ironic point of view in the film media: it somehow invites intense identifications, strong emotionalism, and is realistic, but it can be done. I’ve seen in the 1972 Emma and in a 1972 Golden Bowl where it was achieved through the use of a brilliantly ironic narrator (Cyril Cusak as also the husband of Fanny Assingham). Bogdanovich’s Daisy Miller shows how the characters contrive to destroy Daisy — but then the ending is tragic and as long as you keep to it the point is made; Jane Campion’s Portrait of a Lady is not ironic, but she exposes James’s fallacies (like it’s good to have all these suitors persecuting you), and is truer to the instincts of James’s story — with Isabel ending with a sadist she is subject to, and Touchett a closet gay or someone unwilling to risk sex but wanting to himself control Isabel, vicariously live thorugh her which is a form of preying. I’ve seen two Turn of the Screws, one by Nick Dear which seemed to me absolutely true to James’s text, and he other by Sandy Welch showed up James’s text as lending itself to misogyny at least.

Dr Sloper (Albert Finney) is still a bully and cruel egoist, but he does not hate Catherine nor is he scornful or derisive; rather he’s possessive; his idea is for her years from now to mary an older man (like himself you see), and sit by him and knit or read — because she is too ugly and stupid to attract an attractive one. What’s wrong is Holland could not get herself to realize the ugly emotions involved. In both movies (as in the book) Townsend is sexually attracted enough and at first finds Catharine’s goodness sweet. We do see Townsend’s frustration at being caught between the father-daughter struggle in this movie, but the emphasis in the movie is on her obstinacy which is not made central to her strength. Holland is no sympathetic to Catharine and in an opening scene makes fun of Leigh as awkward. Holland does make the scene between father and daughter on the mountain scary and you really do feel and she does too Dr Sloper tempted to throw Catharine off.

Townsend simply both wants Catherine and her money. He says, Is that so bad? He does have a business; he is not preying on his sister (in James it’s not clear he’s doing that), and like the James story, basically he grows tired of waiting, feels he can’t take this relationship between the father and daughter and wants out. Maggie Smith is Mrs Penniman and while she does spoil the relationship of Townsend and Catherine while the two are away for a year, she has a lot of Mrs Almond in her.

Catherine (Jennifer Leigh) does have the devastating moment where she realizes her father despises her. When he suggests she will do best to marry years from now an older man, she pushes back and describes how she sees the years of his coming home to her all eager and love — that he was destroying her bit by bit by the way he’d greet her and live with her sarcastically. They do have the dialogue where she says she should not stay with him as she is disobedient and he lashes out with strong sarcasm that this is the final bad taste. She as a creature seems to him altogether in bad taste at that moment — here the movie does edge towards the text.

Courtship and marriage are validated. Catherine has a cousin who marries and is ever so happy, endlessly pregnant and towards the end of the movie Catherine is gaining satisfactin from caring for them too. Courtship and marriage as such are fine – as Townsend shouts, what is so wrong with wanting sex and money? is not that what all want? The framing of the movie is Sloper’s loss of his wife at the birth of Catherine so obviously he has been made so mean (this is implied) because he didn’t have this happy marriage. In the text we really are not told what the marriage was like, only that it grated on Sloper to have his abilities as a doctor shown up.

Apparently the studio was still unhappy about the ending which shows Catharine making do with having a school and bringing love to other children’s lives and finding fulfillment in her cousin’s children. They wanted Catherine and Townsend to marry and be seen as happy. Holland does not do that; it would be to make no sense of the story at all. Not that the ending of James’s story does not imply that social life is what a person must have and enter into to be happy, but James’s story shows it to be hell because of typical human nature’s selfishness, stupidity, predatory aspects — and Catherine needed something better to cope and survive for real. She’s not a saint but she far finer than all around her.

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The wealthy father and daughter walking in a park (Holland film)

We then went on to read Sir Harry Hotspur of Humblethwaite and discovered it has the same paradigm and some of the same themes and outcomes. Sir Harry himself is imagined as a chivalric ideal male: there is irony as Trollope as narrator tells us Sir Harry spent his life as a grand seigneur in his great house spending money in order to be a central linchpin for the good of his community and by extension England. A respectable moral man, and married an obedient (conventional) wife 20 years younger than him. As the novel begins, a great tragedy: his only son, the heir dies, and the next heir is this — right away we are told — ne’er do well, Sir George Hotspur. Sir Harry has a daughter now 20.

Sir Harry then discovers “too late” what a bad prospect for heir, for the community, for his daughter, Sir George is: gambler, wastrel, idler, but even worse things …. When I read it first I did imagine a mistress, maybe illegitimate children (which is what Gwendolen discovers Grandcourt has). Why too late? he invited him to stay and he is immensely likeable as company, witty, handsome, plausible and it seems perhaps Emily has fallen for this. Not clear — she denies this to her mother and a new candidate, 10 years older than her is to come for Christmas. It’s made clear Sir Harry loves Emily: “he respected his daughter …” He is really concerned over the property as he has made her complete heiress of the property but Sir George will be legitimate head of the family. Her mother is in the position of Aunt Penniman, but very well meaning, not vain jackass

Chapter 3 ended Part 2 in the original instalment publication and it’s a deeply picturesque description of Humblethwaite. It reminds me of Ullathorne only much more so and not at all mocked. It’s Trollope’s adherence to this dream of an ancient seigneurial contented hierarchical world, rooted in Tudor times. Lord Alfred comes to court Emily and there’s nothing wrong with him — he fits in perfectly; he would have made a good husband. The point is made he wants her money and estate, but he would have taken her to London, given her a good life. We are told he did not somehow set her on fire — no erotic enthrallment

(Cont’d in comments). Chapters 7-11; Chapters 16-20; Chapters 22-finis.

Ellen

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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 personating Cromwell, 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:

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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. We see Jane Seymour’s presence and Katharine’s death through Cromwell’s observation from afar and visits, as if we must have some sign of these 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:

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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 George 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) so 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 funding together again) 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.

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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 Mantel’s books’ dialogues and monologues suggesting Henry’s intense resentment at how Anne once kept him at bay and then once having given in, delighted him in bed by transgressive sex. In Mantel’s book we see Henry’s rigid pieties come out to condemn her as someone who must’ve been whorish before she met him. In the mini-series the accent is again on how frightened people colluded in believing what they in their gut felt to be false:

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. It’s a nice touch how Cromwell must flatter the king’s literary aspirations. In Bolt’s A Man for All Seasons, Paul Scofield as More pretends not to flatter Robert Shaw as musician and composer in order to flatter him the more delicately.

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.

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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.

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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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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:

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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:

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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

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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,

bedroomscene

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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