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


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

Dear friends and readers,

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

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

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

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

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

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


Cynthia (Julie Waters) watching Ralph intently

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

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


Kaira has little sense of self-worth …

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

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

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

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


Sooni, three years older …

Season 2, Episode 3: White Gods

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


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

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

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

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


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

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


Ian relaxed, dressing comfortably for heat and work …

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


Ralph comforting Alice

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

Ellen

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

Dear Friends and readers,

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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Cynthia justifying herself to Ralph …


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

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

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

Ellen

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Julie Walters playing Cynthia Coffin, mistress of Ceremonies, hypocritically welcoming everyone to the club, her right-hand man, Kaiser (Indi Nadarajah) by her side

Noticeably: the kind of motifs, themes, and some character types you see in 19th century Anglo-Indian books and still in EM Forster and Paul Scott are not here (rape of white woman not central, but rather badly mistreated Indian women – murdered, imprisoned, no sneaky sly non-white characters but rather relentless white corrupt officials …) — a modern Anglo-Indian set of stories

Dear Friends,

Six years too late. How typical of me. I first watched the first Poldark series twenty years after it aired (1995 when I began to read Winston Graham’s books). Indian Summers aired for two years (or two seasons), ten episodes each from 2015-2016 when it was unfortunately cancelled, supposedly for not high enough ratings. Indian Summers is astonishingly even-handed: it is the first Anglo-Indian film to dramatize centrally the stories and characters of as many Indian characters (Parsi, Muslim, Hindu) as it dramatizes Anglo white (English, Scottish, American, some Australian, one Irish) characters. It candidly shows the cruelly unjust behavior of the white characters in front of us to the Indian ones. Jewel in the Crown, fine as it was, does not come near this. It’s superbly acted, fully realized production values (as this is put), beautifully written complex dialogue, on location (or near enough).

I’ve been watching and re-watching it for several months – I bought it when I began to prepare for the Anglo-Indian novels course I gave in two places this past spring 2022. I felt so sad when it came to an end and I realize that several threads were developing towards the second season, and (from the second feature at the end of that season before the series was cancelled), the series was supposed to be fifty episodes or five seasons, covering the period from 1932 to 1947: the first season was set in 1932, the second 1935, the third was going to show us the characters another three years later.

If it has a fault, it was that it introduced the character too slowly, allowing them only gradually to present their full selves and predicaments, the way we meet characters in complex novels, requiring that you re-watch to get the full and ironic significance of earlier episodes in the first season. Several of the Netflix commentaries include complaints and puzzlements because viewers did not understand what was happening until they reached later episodes and one must remember that at the time streaming, and having available all episodes at once to watch and re-watch as we do today was not common then.


Paul Rutman speaking of the Parsi family in the show

There are other problems in trying to write about it. Since it was cancelled after two years, and there are no books for a fan base to rally around, I have had a hard time finding out anything substantial about it. For example, I suspect it’s based on a novel sketched out by Rutman or several found by him (a kind of composite), but cannot prove it without some evidence. Here is a rare column on it: The thematic aim of the series is to lay bare the repressive policies and laws of the British gov’t that ruled India before Independence. This idea shapes and holds the several story lines together. Paul Rutman’s wife is from the sub-continent; he taught there in 1993; later he visited and lived there; after the topic was suggested to him, he read many many books (he cites histories and memoirs). He became convinced the relationship between the two umbrella cultures (there are more cultures in Indian than the upper class English/Scots and Parsi families the series centers on) is of vital importance for understanding Indian history and India and later 19th century UK and the UK until recently. He was drawn to the mood of nostalgia he found in these writings, and stories of people fighting for individual and group survival.

Too many years have gone by to retrieve it (sometimes the producers relent and a series is revived within 2-3 years), the only hope would be to do it again with different actors, and TV and film techniques and dramaturgies have moved on again. As with the Poldark seasons, and Foyle’s War (and other series I’ve written about here and on Austen reveries), I thought perhaps the best thing I could do to draw attention to it once again, for its own sake (watch for enjoyment and what you can learn about India) and to encourage other films of this type, is to retell the stories. The full complex depth, and empathy one can feel for the flawed central character of Cynthia Coffin, played magnificently by Julie Walters, takes two seasons to develop …

One becomes intensely involved with most of the characters, whether you love, identify, laugh at, cry for or hate them: a friend told me he hated the chief white male, Ralph Whelan (played by Henry Lloyd Hughes). I felt his Parsi counterpart, and subordinate, by the end brother-in-law, Aafrin Dalal (played by Nikesh Patel) was the series’ true hero.


The two men shaking hands when Whelan first hires and promotes Dalal to be his chief clerk and secretary (a general dogsbody for Whelan who is private secretary to the viceroy)

I can’t do it episode by episode since they are not self-contained (like the Foyle’s War ones and many of the Outlander episodes) and you only understand what you were watching in the first when you get to say the fourth (the second season this is no longer a problem and when new characters are introduced, they are somehow explained as much as they need to be right away).

The first season, Episodes 1-4. The first opens with a group of people seen on a train, all on their way to an Indian station near or in Simla, the summer retreat of the upper class British leaders. We see a half-caste child (part Indian, part white) whom other Indian children are throwing stones at, who seems homeless and ends up putting himself on the train track (thus inviting death). The train stops in time, and the child is rescued by a white missionary, Dougie Raworth (Craig Parkinson) and an Indian woman we later learn works for him in a school as a teacher, Leena Prasad (Amber Rose Reevah). They take him into the missionary school and think up a name for him: Lazarus is too obvious, and they chose Adam. What we learn by the fourth episode is this child is Ralph Whelan’s illegitimate son by a village girl whom he loved but never married, Jaya (Hasina Haque), now a homeless beggar, thrown out of her birth-place. On the train we meet Dougie’s racist wife, Sarah, a mean petty coarse nasty woman (Fiona Glascott), whose son rides next to her.

We also meet Alice Whelan (Jemima West) on her way “home” from England with her young baby son; we learn quickly she is fleeing a British husband, and seeking the love and protection of her brother: another key moment to this episode is when she climbs the stairs of the family mansion, Chotipool, and the two embrace. We are introduced to the racially segregated society of the club, with our first impression of Cynthia as the crude amoral, if hard-working, manager of the summer activities centered in the club building called the Royal Simla Club (“no Indians or dogs allowed,” says the sign).


The reasonable intelligent Dalal father (Roshan Seth), too much a compromiser though) and the mother (Lillette Dubey) whose world-view is narrow but passionate, a woman of integrity

This first episode also introduces us to the Dalal family before us — Parsi, pro-British, the most family-like conventional (warm) group of people for the first few episodes. Aafrin is shown as still under parents’ control and yet supports them. Aafrin thinks that he is in love with a Hindu girl, Sati (Elllora Torchia). He has a sister, Sooni Dalal (Aysha Kala) who in the series is the Indian romantic heroine, a sort of counterpart to Alice whose life has taken a bad turn by the time we meet her. Several of the young men in the series will fall in love with Sooni. Two older brilliant actors are the parents (see just above). An assassin following Whelan confronts him, with a gun, and in a scuffle shoots Aafrin in the chest; Aafrin would have died but that Ralph gets Cynthia to organize an ambulance and take Aafrin to the hospital. Aafrin and Alice’s love affair begins when she comes to the hospital to visit this man who saved her brother.


Sooni with Ian McCleod (Alexander Cobb), a Scotsman who gradually emerges as humane just man fighting for vindication of Ramu Sood (Alyy Khan), literally murdered by the British because he gets in their way as a landowner who thinks he has rights ….

The episode ends with Ralph having dinner on a porch at Chotipool, and carelessly, ruthlessly fucking Madeline Mathers (Olivia Grant), an American woman there to find a husband. Cynthia has enabled this relationship under the wrong impression the Matthews are rich, and when Cynthia finds out she relegates Madeleine’s crippled desperate and beloved brother, Eugene (Edward Hogg) to a room where he contracts typhus and dies (at the end of the first season). Madeleine’s character develops relative to Ralph and Cynthia’s story the way Sarah’s does Dougie and Leena’s (who share outlooks, goals, and love one another) so they remain secondary if complex important characters.

Of Episodes 2 through 4, it’s enough to say the action and scenes develop the characters we have been introduced to, with new ones adding on. The political realities and some of the characters’ secrets are gradually revealed; the literal circumstances of their lives and nuances in characters thickened. For example, we meet Ian’s maternal uncle, Armitage (I can’t find a first name), played by Richard McCabe, a drunken, overtly bigoted owner of a tea plantation, whom Ian has come out to help; the plantation is doing so badly and so much in debt to Sood that we see Sood take it over in the season, much to the uncle’s rage; the uncle attacks Sood when Sood asks him for money owed, and Armitage dies of a heart attack brought on by his own alcoholism and violence. Eventually Ian is excluded from the club when he protests the hideous treatment of Sood (who is even accused of attacking Armitage when it was the other way around), and, together with Sooni, joins protest demonstrations on Sood’s behalf after Sood is hung. In the second episode there are climaxes in the hospital and over Adam running away; we see Jaya and realize she is following Ralph and, from his POV and that of loyal Indian servant, Bhupi (Ash Nair), endangering Ralph’s reputation and career, his standing.

In the third episode, Sooni involves herself in a radical, revolutionary demonstration supporting an Indian woman’s speech (Nalini Ayer) and ends up in prison; the theme of the speech is that the idea that something is better than nothing is worse than no enfranchisement at all. Sergeant Rowntree recommends beating the people taken into prison. Alice visits the Raworth school which lacks all sorts of essentials and becomes friendly with Leena. Aafrin learns to ride horse so as to join in on the British way of life (what Ralph wants); Indians in suits watching are intimidated by Ralph standing next them; Ralph invites Aafrin into the club (!) for drinks. Raworth is all abjection in front of the endlessly gardening obnoxious Sarah who does not want the son, Matthew, to go to her husband’s school or a “ghastly” fair at the club (because they are low ranked people); she takes advantage of her husband by put-on crying about how she lives so far away from everything (I realize some viewers would sympathize with her).


The Viceroy is the center of all parties, with Cynthia the endless jolly entertainment (it’s an act)

In the fourth episode, we meet the Viceroy, Lord Willingdon (Patrick Malahide) who is not in himself a bad man, but goes along with all that the UK gov’t deems necessary to dominate and extract as much profit as possible from India and the Indians. He has a sour sense of humor: Am I the only one here without a martyr complex left over from 1857 (he asks)? There’s a mixed race (but all upper class) dinner party with everyone all dressed up: Aafrin explains his family came from Persia centuries ago; Eugene claims the Mathers family got out of the stock market before the crash.


Ralph as Louis XIV and Madeleine as Marie Antoinette — it is not uncommon among the super-rich for people to dress themselves extravagantly as royals of the past (in NYC at the turn of the century robber barons and their families did this)

Episode 5: Ralph’s engagement party to Madeleine where they dress up as Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette. A number of threads are now also developing minor characters and side stories, some of them epitomizing, some interesting in themselves. I emphasize how Cynthia in this episode emerges as a basically murderer — she is spreading as truth the idea that Ramu Sood killed Armitage; she is threatening McCleod with banishment from the club if he works for Sood (who tells McCleod he wants him for his name and as a decent manager); she has discovered the Mathers are broke (she will steathily attempt to undermine and destroy Ralph’s engagement); Ralph says he is not sure he loves Madeleine. We see he has a mother-son relationship with Cynthia; in the second season we learn both are badly in debt, with Ralph much more deeply in.


Ralph (Henry Lloyd Hughes) and Cynthia (Julie Walters) in an unguarded moment, confiding …

Leena is a Cinderella who finally puts on a dress to go to the ball (a party at the club to which she as a teacher at Raworth’s school can come) but retreats because she truly loves Raworth and does not want to distress him. His awful wife, Sarah, has discovered Alice is married, and by threatening to expose her bullies Alice continually: we see how susceptible Alice is to cruelty. The club secretary, Ronnie Keene (Rick Warden) is a sycophant who has shown that nothing is beneath him is in the later episodes of this season attracted to Sarah and she to him.


Leena Prasad (Amber Rose Revah) at the school — in season 2, she is sent to prison for 9 years after a proposed new viceroy sexually harasses her and Ralph’s son, Adam, fiercely loyal to her set him on fire ….

Ralph manages to get an untouchable accepted into the club assembly — Ralph is a complicated ambiguous character whose larger political vision includes an aim of integration with the Indians since he personally regards India as his home (his family has been there for generations — this did happen) and does not want the British to give up central power over India. He is trying for a India bill which he thinks might lead to unification through nationalism (not to divide the religious groups); what stands in his way among other things are the 600 princely states (and the story of these will be embodied in the second season).


Alice and Aafrin later in the first season, very much drawn to one another

Dalal’s father suddenly seems to allow Aafrin to love Sati — he is far more reasonable than the Dalal wife-mother whom Sooni has not yet broken from — I am wondering how much he suspects Aafrin is attracted to Alice and this is a ploy to stave the Alice affair off — and an open English and non-Indian connection. The episode ends with Aafrin and Alice kissing in the gardens (party going wild now), while Bhupi kicks out the nervy Jaya and Adam (trailing around after Ralph). Sati we know destroyed a letter which Aafrin gave her to give to Sooni to get rid of evidence in the Dalal home that Aafrin sometimes works with Indian rebels in ways that undermine Ralph.


This summer house in Penang, Malaysia was filmed as the British Hill station in Simla (see a slideshow of all the houses & places used)

To be continued …

Ellen

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Nearly the last shot of the show: Sam (Honeysuckle Weeks) and Foyle (Michael Kitchen) beginning to say goodbye, to end their professional relationship

Dear friends and readers,

It has come time for me to write my last blog for now on this magnificent series (see the lst 2 seasons; Seasons 3 & 4; and Seasons 5 & 6). In real time this wonderful project of summarizing, understanding and evaluating episodes has lasted five months. I would feel very sad were I not sure I shall re-watch the whole once again soon, and all the features too.

As I began 7:1 “High Castle,” I felt that the classic or central formula for Foyle, that he is the good man, the constant in an often bad world was no longer the paradigm; he was being forced to compromise too much. I put it down to the change in genre. Series 1-6 was (I’m following Andrew Marr’s brilliant distinguishing) the detective story where it was a pattern of finding out what happened criminally usually by a detached sleuth (here we had three, for beyond Sam and Foyle, Sergeant Paul Milner (Anthony Howell). While there was a use of M15 and M16 and some spy elements in 1-6, they were secondary, not centrally structurally; in Series 7-8 Foyle has been commandeered into working for the spy agencies himself, yes as a police officer, but taking on behaviors and assumptions that belong to the spy genre.


Hilda Piece (Ellie Haddington) becomes a central character; she often lies, is devious (personally ambitious), protects hideous people

Thus the episodes for 7 & 8 are the result of initiations and complicities with harmful evil (even) conduct) on the justification that ends justifies means — just what Foyle had been rejecting for 6 different sets of adventures. To put it simply, Foyle is asked to do something where he is lied to about what he is finding things out for — it is just so deceitful or dishonorable. They do not avoid nationalism, the way the first six seasons miraculously often managed to; there is knee-jerk anti-communism now and again. But these are, as it were, minor excresences, because Foyle is either able to remained uninvolved or himself undermine just those parts of the assignments that are so pernicious (and are, for example, in much of LeCarr anathema endured). Time and again Foyle also either refuses to enact harmful deeds or exposes them. Further, the stories themselves of these last two series are further or wider ranging in political and philosophical matter than were the first four seasons, touching on more troubling issues, with the programs sometimes giving a more truthful or accurate explanation for political events and history (for example, the founding of Israel).

I also realized I had not mentioned (though I was aware of this, how could one not be) that one paradigm at the center of all the seasons was that of the evolving father-daughter relationship between Sam and Foyle! Here they are when they first meet: how much younger Honeysuckle Weeks looks in Season 1:


Foyle confounded when confronted by Sam who has been told she is to work for Mr Foyle


Sam irresistibly round-faced (signifying youth), fresh, buoyant, all hope when they first meet — she can hardly wait to fulfill her job; she is the spot of sunshine in the series, all heart …

Anthony Horowitz keeps repeating that part of the steadying foundation for the series are conventional or classic values: and what we have is a girl with a boy’s name, dressing boyishly, seeking approval from a male authority figure, learning from him, imitating him. Foyle is to her someone stable, reasonable, offering her place where she can act in the world (as opposed to her vicar father who wanted her to come home and stay there). Foyle is her ally; provides her with important work, a role model, who, together with Milner (someone crippled by the war whom Foyle rescues too, but not as a parent, rather almost a rival), makes her part of a team. She intuits constructive feedback and over the course of the first 6 seasons she is learning, often on her own initiative, and, with her woman’s intuition and ethic of caring, she helps him solve cases and provide compassion and care for those they meet. An interesting difference in these last two seasons, is how Weeks is dressed differently: far more mannish; how much older and leaner she is made to look. She is now married to Adam Wainright who does not try to dominate and keep her to himself, allows her space and time. She transfers the skills she became so expert at with Foyle to help Adam in his career.


Above Sam has made friends with both the young women who becomes a victim, and a young woman who we find is complicit with thief — she is shepherding them to a dance for fun (6:2, “Killing Time”)

This is a man’s program — so female friendships develop between Sam and another young woman her age she can identify with now and again but are not central to the development of the character. That is much more often found in women’s writing and films. Further most of the time the girls are seen in relationship to the men they are with. Not always. But the first two seasons had many young men finding themselves, good and flawed, as sub-stories; this was still true of seasons 3 & 4. The girl’s and women’s stories are only glimpsed, to the side until Seasons 5 & 6 when the themes of home-coming, of women’s war work, and aftermath come to the fore. Throughout Horowitz is remarkably free of misogyny — maybe the influence of his wife, Jill Green, whom he says he worked closely with, and was the producer or one of the producers throughout. And while Foyle has an important relationship with his son, Andrew (Julian Ovenden), it is not developed in the intimate thorough way it is with Sam — and we feel saddened for him when it’s clear she is moving out of his life to become a mother, wife, and partner to Adam, Labor MP. They have been at the core of all the series.


Here they are mid-career (5:2, “Broken Souls”)

As in the case of Seasons 5 & 6, I won’t put the summaries in chronological order as the immediate moment no longer matters so much; it’s the general era of the new “cold” war Horowitz is dramatizing, critiquing, exposing. I know I am short-changing Sam’s relationship with Adam (now played by Daniel Weyman) this way as their courtship, young love, earliest marriage and now facing the world as a family is evolved over time. So too Foyle with other new recurring characters, for example, Arthur Valentine (Tim McMullan) who Foyle at first regards with suspicion as an amoral man who obeys orders regardless, but learns is to be trusted; like Hilda Pierce, Valentine means well, and unlike her, does not lie or seem complicit with the worst people (he has a lower rank), and importantly, we learn, is a homosexual whom Foyle treats with respect and loyalty.


Valentine confiding in Foyle (8:3, “Elise”)

One of the deeper pleasures of these series is the recurring character; some stay the same, but the major ones evolve, and are ambiguous. Foyle’s last near love (he experiences a few across the series), Elizabeth Addis (Hermione Guilford) first appears (we discover) in season 8 as a member of the M15 there to watch and report back on Foyle; he thinks they are developing a relationship for real; she changes and wants to be friends, perhaps lovers. The last moment of the series leaves ambiguous whether after Foyle discovers how she was using him, he could find it in himself to trust her again and have some company in life …

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Season 7, Episode 1, “The Eternity Ring:”

So I returned to Foyle’s War tonight, and found this episode & season very different in mood, feel and the kind of people Foyle gets involved with from the six previous: Dated August 1946.


The group of scientists waiting to see the denotating of the test atomic bomb

It opens night-time, 2 sets of trucks, New Mexico, July 16th, 1946, with a group of scientists, among them, Dr Michael Fraser (ands in for John Von Neuman – Stephen Boxer) and Dr Max Hoffman (Klaus Fuchs who was involved with the Soviets – Ken Bones) watching from a remarkably close shed the detonating of the first atomic bomb
We then have another opening scene, again the dead of night, a Mr Gorin (Dylan Charles) taking secret documents from some huge building, there is another man spying on him. He may be doing that for Fraser, or maybe the pro-Soviet Chambers.

A darker focus on Foyle’s face (Michael Kitchen is 3 years older and looks it). We see him getting off a plane, he has been to the US for a year and is coming home; he meets an ordinary ex-flyer, Frank Shaw (Joe Duttine), coming home for the first time in 6 years. He was a POW in Japan, had malaria, is dreading coming home to Ruthie (Jennifer Hennessey) and his son, now 16 and home-coming is rocky. They were bombed out of Hastings, His son works as a bartender to all hours, and his wife works She does not want to give up her job. Later in the episode when he turns up to be rehired as a police man he is sneered at and dismissed as useless.

Foyle has to leave Shaw because he is immediately (in effect) arrested and taken to a National Security secret service place and intensely pressured into becoming a policeman investigating “an eternity ring” of (dire tones) communists. References are made to the suicide of Howard Paige, the whole ambience is one of hostility and coercion, a fat faced sneering Arthur Valentine (Tim McMullan) and team seemingly headed by Hilda Pierce (Ellie Haddington) where they move to a chief, William Chambers (Nicholas Jones). He is blackmailed into joining them at MI5 by a photo of Sam apparently giving secret papers to a soviet agent outside the Victorian theater.

After several insidious twists and turns it emerges that the Eternity Ring is a complete fiction, the photo was a fake, putting Sam photographed outside the theater where she had been seeing Henry V with a man superimposed. Miss Pierce suspected Chambers was a mole and she was tricking him into revealing himself; he escapes to Russia, and she gets his job. Along the way they bully, lie, destroy people. He is told there is a new war, with the Soviets, the name Stalin is used as a talisman for evil that need not be explained. Sam to them is guilty by association; she married a politician, and she and Adam lived at Sevenoaks where there were communists – for 3 months. Just the sort of association that led to blacklisting in the US

Foyle is drawn into the same unscrupulous behavior investigating people. He seeks out Sam without telling her what he suspects; she happens to be working for Dr Fraser and his wife, Helen (Kate Duchene), sick (actually unknown to her dying of cancer from exposure to radiation), where he is invited to dinner. She’s one of the rare characters in this episode (like Sam, or Foyle) who shows genuine capacity for being cordial to others and wanting to help them – because she’s a woman? Doesn’t have to take things so seriously? Ouch. Foyle also meets Hoffman.


Sam and Adam in one of their happy — spontanenous feel — moments at home …

He goes to lunch with Sam and discovers she is not happy even if now happily married to Adam Wainright (semi-warm moments there when they succeed in this or that; we see they are struggling to get food through rationing, living in a poorer area). Wainright played by different actor (Daniel Weyman replaces Max Brown – they look alike): 3 real years have gone by. We are told she is herself a pro-Churchill person (“we ought to give him a chance” now the war is over?) but since Adam was invited to join labor, she has to support them (the National Health and other things aimed at are brought up with tones of disbelief); she does not seem to mind since Adam genuinely wants to do good. She and he need the money she makes, but the next thing that happens is she is fired. Why? She is accused of being in cahoots with Foyle who Fraser now thinks has come to spy on him. This is not done out of principle we learn by the end of the episode.

Sam is indignant and seeks out Foyle and very different from their earlier relationship she demands to know how he could have targeted her this way. He tells of the photo or shows it to her and she says that never happened. She calms down and two agree to investigate together as they used to. This is the first semi-warm moment in the episode apart from the Shaws first encounter together. Their investigation leads them to one of the places these anonymous spies we see were holing out, a room contaminated with radiation out of a thermos (It’s suggested). This is a room where a Fraser operative has been. Both she and Foyle are captured by a swat team and treated as criminals themselves. When it’s finally seen they are not, they have to be de-contaminated making her late for an appt with a labor committee Adam is trying to persuade to let him run for office in a hitherto Tory area.

The interview goes badly because Adam’s wife is not there. Again the whole attitude of mind has nothing to do with ideology – men running for office need wives by their side. Glenvil Harris is apparently Adam’s mentor? (Jeremy Swift). Sam comes late, dressed oddly but paradoxically makes a good impression because she is truthteller – this is one of several moments in the episode, unusual, where the episode of unconvincing. It is a parallel of Foyle having to get past the suspicions of him by those he is supposedly working for. Another place is when Foyle suggests to Fraser he tell MI5 what he’s been up to and Fraser basically agrees he should with the implication he will. Of course he won’t—they’d laugh at his idea of a brotherhood of scientists and feeling that the Russians are not bad people, just have some bad political leaders.
Shaw is getting into bad fights with his wife; his son insults him for having been away for so long; the wife’s mother tells him this is not his home (it was hers) and to get out Shaw follows the young man to a “gentleman’s club” we had earlier seen Valentine sneak into. It turns out this is a club for gay men and Shaw becomes incensed and beats Valentine up as Valentine comes out and sneers at him. Shaw of course hates homosexuals automatically. He thinks his son is doing a unworthy job in every way. He is taken into custody and we see Ruthie show up and forgive him by hugging him and taking him back to where they are living. Another semi-warm moment.

We see Hoffman suspected; we see him pass information to someone, but only at the end of the episode does Foyle accuse Fraser (apparently) rightly of sharing information with the Soviets (or “others”) He says he is doing this to prevent an atomic war holocaust, so the playing field is leveled for all combatants. We see Fraser and Hoffman go into the Arnwell Atomic Research center where Fraser takes a specimen of U233 – and only later realize this is what they were doing. This is an episode which takes at least 3 watchings.

The fundamental problem with this episode and the whole season and next is Foyle is presented as disliking these spies and their operation but is drawn into joining them. At the end of the episode when we see him at long last heading back to Hastings, Hilda comes by and lures, pressures him into her limousine, and tries to persuade him to work for MI5 (and her). He caves in too quickly: she promises to do what she can for Frank, it appears Sam can be hired as his driver again (so replication of the companion relationship, two people, older man, daughter-like girl, working together). But if he is out of sympathy with much of their thinking, how can he join? He is reminded by Hilda he wanted to join the Security group early in the war, and asked if he is really going to spend his life fishing and nothing else.
It appears this is the only place he can go to now – the world has changed not for the better. So what was he war for? And look at the weapon for the next war …
Spy stories are quite different from mysteries: they are nationalistic, about loyalty and betrayal not just to whom the people work for but to one another so amoral. It is much harder for Foyle to be our secure moral compass in this world – he is said to have hounded Paige to his death – he denies it the verb. There’s a 4 minute introduction to these two new seasons by Anthony Horowitz: he apparently feels the older world mystery is not suited to serious presentations of issues in our world today – only spy stories will do. Foyle’s 1st season was done in 2000; it’s now 2013.

Series 8: Episode 1: “High castle”


Foyle entering Monowitz Slave Labor Camp

Series 8 tells a story which allows the extrapolation out to the hideous capitalist enterprise I.G. Farben, investigation of whom necessitates Foyle’s visit to the slave labor camp of Monowitz. What Foyle unravels is the collusion of the UK and US govts who permitted “businessmen” who of course (I write this ironically) care more about profits to be made by selling gas and now other radioactive products to Nazi Germany which enabled them to fuel their planes and carry bombs that killed millions of people. There is a veil connecting these Nazis and US businessmen to the present Soviet Union in order to satisfy the propaganda still so alive in 2010, but it’s just a distraction to please the US backers.

We see Michael Kitchen filmed in what’s left of these fantastically cruel ugly places. The horrific conditions these slave Jews lived in are made emphatic by talk.
The episode opens with petty thieves/thugs trying to steal the 2000 pounds of whiskey said to be aboard a ship and one of them discovering this fuel is so much poison that he dies of it. This whiskey is bottled as High Castle.
The big businessmen exhibit not the least remorse. Horowitz in the feature that goes with this acknowledges a complaint by US viewers that the US guys seem mostly to be bad guys – in fact Horowitz’s target is capitalism and arms manufacturers, which to be sure where heavily US men.
The Nurembourg trials are going on and we learn that beyond the very top people, the Nazi s who profited so much from the war got off with light sentences. The UK M15 care only about information they can get from these moral horrors. Two of them are killed but our sympathies are kept from arousing for them in their utterly selfish hard mean dense personalities.

Its context Is also the forced coercion of women back to no jobs after the WW2 when men came home and asked for their jobs back. Adam is now a labor MP asked by one of his constituents to help her keep her job. She has been offered a job on a production line for half the pay; the returning man is profoundly physically maimed. Her union is run by men; all the MPs are men. They say it’s women’s job now to have babies. Sam is herself pregnant but not ready to spend all her time at home in the nursery Adam is preparing for her. How awful are jobs as companions to and readers for those who despise you.

Across this episode we meet a number of women who are tyrannized over by men or utterly dependent on them: from the wife of the US murderer running Global American Oil (Standard), to the wife of the scholar who went to Germany to bring back a bribe of diamonds to pay for her medical care in the US for a cancer. Sam is treated in the rudest way by this American’s Nazi-sympathizing old man. At the close when Sam has been rescued by Valentine (Tim McMullan as this closet homosexual is gradually shown to be a decent man) she apologizes to Adam for not caring enough for the potential baby; she said she had no right to endanger herself. She does uncover vital information which enables Foyle to stop these businessmen from continuing their practices to dealing with the Saudi Arabians and Soviet Union, not to omit the Shah of Iran (it supports this man to buy and sell oil with him for armaments). Adam apologizes back because he was trying to help a young woman whom he found he could do nothing for (the very unions are all male) and himself pressuring Sam to stay ‘home.” What’s important beyond the characters and story we care so much about (Sam) is we see this larger deeply exploitation of and bullying/threat of women context.

A terrifying Soviet spy named Leskov does a great deal of the killing. He is never caught.

Foyle’s son has now vanished – that is a loss. I can see we are expected to realize he Is attracted to and himself an attraction for a lone older women, Elizabeth Addis, who works in university and for MI5 (as a casual plant they can call upon) – the smidgen of loyalty felt to a good person seems to me not to go far enough.
I hope I left nothing out that mattered. This season I am driven not to tell the particulars of each story but their larger meaning against the backdrop of the dregs of WW2 and the “cold war. Jokes by a new regular at the Nuremberg trials to Foyle how he is still bothering himself with bodies in libraries stabbed in the back. At least three of these German ex-officials in Hitler’s Germany are murdered in the way of Agatha Christie deaths.

Series 8: Episode 2: “Trespass”


Sam with the desperately poor father and his seriously sick son

I found Trespass remarkable in its candor over the way Israel was being created in 1946/7 – analysing the events in such a way as we can see the origins of the situation today. Some of the matter takes us right back to the 2nd episode of the 1st season about Nazism in British society and among British politicians. Trespass opens with the bombing of the King David Hotel In 1946 by the Jewish terrorist Stern gang (with others). Foyle’s woman friend from the previous episode, Prof Addis, is supervising a class where Daniel Woolf a student is explaining the Balfour proposal was not intended to create a Jewish state but perpetuate British control of that area in the middle east which was a key to reach India, to do trade over oil, to use the Suez canal. What happens during the course of the 90 minutes is we slowly (very slowly) discover the British foreign secretary is playing a double game, and himself sending off bombs to ships to stop Jews from crossing to Palestine; and using MI5 as a clever disguise. A conference is to be held for Arabs and Jews to try to come to a solution, and both the local gov’t and MP (Adam Wainright) to prevent this conference from exploding in violence, which has been precipitated by one of these fascist groups (still around, still anti-semitic after all these years of hideous war & slave labor and extermination camps), which we are shown attract people who are poor and so tired and disappointed after the war is over as their lives are not improved at all. The labor gov’t is still working on producing the National health, and housing and still rationing food.

One set of characters is there to show us how desperate life was: a man with a boy who is very ill cannot get him any care because he lacks the money to pay for a doctor or hospital help; he is tempted to join the Nazi group that night and leaves his son with a kindly aging Polish couple. They are blown up by this Nazi group’s march and his son rescued from death by police. Sam secures for him a doctor’s help with his son.

The most interesting sub-story is that of the young woman who calls herself Lea Fischer and comes to stay with a Jewish family on the excuse she is going to go to a college course. In fact she has come because her father, Jewish, was killed when British brutal soldiers burst on their home in Palestine. She is part of a terrorist group who want to blow up the National Conference because they see it as not favoring Jews. She spends a day with this couple’s son, he grows to trust her and he thinks they are in love; what she does is sneak in a bomb to his equipment as a sound engineer for the conference. He is almost blown to bits – only prevented by Foyle and Sam and M15 discovering this aim at the last moment. She is play by a wonderful actress I recognized from Indian Summers – there too a understandably angry victim who in IS does not take revenge but sacrifices herself and ends up in jail for 9 years. One actress and another actor I recognized as having parts in Outlander! In similar roles archetypally speaking.


Amber Rose Revah as “Lee Fischer”

Again Sam and Adam are not having enough time together. At the very end of the episode we discover that Dr Addis did not find a room for Foyle to enable him to escape the far from friendly spying on him his colleagues and the disguised ruthless people do but for herself to keep an eye on him for the sake of thse colleagues. Again Hilda Pierce is the person who behaves in this distinctly untrustworthy manner. Hilda Pierce’s amorality washes over Dr Addis as Foyle realizes Addis’s friendship for him is part of the spy racket. She is feeling bad about this but she does not stop.

This one is so complicated – what is shown us are the origins of the realities of our colonialist and war-ridden world today. Several of the actors who are in MI5 who we started with and distrusted rightly are now turning into understandable men of compromised integrity.

To read about Season 7, Episodes 2, “The Cage,” and 3, “Sunflowers,” and Series 8, Episodes 3, “Elise.” All in comments.


Sam must leave this career and cross over to her husband …

Ellen

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Michael Kitchen, The French Drop (aired 2004)

Evils that befall the world are not nearly so often caused by bad men as they are by good men who are silent when an opinion must be voiced —

Dear Friends and readers,

Our second of a proposed 4 blogs on Foyle’s War: two years have passed since the first season was aired, and 10 months in the series or war chronology since the series began (May 1940). Eight episodes have gone by and with our ninth (February 1941), a new tone sets in, darker, more tired, and Foyle becomes more involved with a Secret Intelligence Agency whose ways of dealing with war are potentially deadly for all involved, and Hilda Pierce (Ellie Haddington) not only returns for the second time, she has a large role in the stories.


Hilda Pierce and James Wintringham (Samuel West) conferring, spy-like, apart …

This first disk of the third set (or season) has a half-hour film on how they worked hard to show us a spitfire shot to the ground, a man pulled out while on fire, and as he is dragged away, the plane explode. It took several stunt men, strongly controlled fire but there, somehow the plane is not blown up. We learn how few spitfires are left and also how proud the people are to be working with them as the left-overs of how Britain managed to keep Hitler from invading. The Companion book by Rod Green (described in my previous blog) has much information on other particulars of this episode. Horowitz tells of how his scripts are really done justice to, partly because the director is his wife. We watch two different scenes, one of Foyle and his son, the other of Sam and the son bidding adieu – done a couple of times. This material also comes from later episodes in the third set, Enemy Fire set in a hospital where they are caring for badly burnt and later when Andrew has become PTSD and also exhausted and wants to stop the spitfire business because he knows he will lose his life and does get to leave. My sense in watching this is that the third season reached a real height in the series because everyone working together for a valued set of stories.

A comparison of the first two with these second two seasons shows the stories growing darker, more pessimistic, mostly because the ways of winning the war are making the people behave in atrocious (increasingly amoral and immoral) ways. Actors on behalf of the military (with some exceptions) especially are losing their sense of what values they are fighting for. The stories show the first signs of shifting from detective to spy stories (which often show a slide into nationalism, superfluous violence, and fascism).

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Season 3, Episode 1: The French Drop, February 1941. Each time we begin with a strong dramatic incident: here it is a young man, seemingly French, dropped into enemy territory (Germany) so as to spy, blown up immediately. Usual paratext of intriguing music and turning away face.

Again Foyle is trying to be transferred from policing (absurd to be catching murderers) and goes to Sir Giles Messenger (Ronald Pickup) for help. It seems it may be possible; as Sam drives him away, she protests she and Milner need him. Messenger angry at Col James Wintringham (Samuel West) about this loss of life Winringham’s agency sustaining – the implication is the agency is incompetence – and wants to take from Wintringham’s unit the (mysterious) war work sent him at Hill House, where he and a special executive operations woman, Hilda Pierce (Ellie Haddington who first appeared in War Games), have a team. Meanwhile in a bookshop their son, William Messenger seems to have blown himself up. Boy’s mother grief-stricken. Chasing down this son’s background, they find he was estranged from Sir Giles, living seedy lodgings with a caricature of a landlady who supplies a suicide note and watch –- he died because of a thwarted love affair (ah yes). They meet the girl – all melancholy – story she tells is inconsistent, Milner discovers. Trail leads them back to Hill House where nearby Sam’s uncle, Aubrey Stewart, a vicar lives and works. Foyle not only gains entry into the Hill House, but Wintringham invites him to stay: Wintringham seems to be showing off. Sam lives nearby, maybe with uncle.

Paul Milner (Anthony Howell), becoming more desperate having to deal with cynical black market crooks, tells Samantha (Sam) Stewart (Honeysuckle Weekes) he is thinking of transferring

and now Sam supplies the lighter, more affecionate-heart hopeful notes by way of her relationship with a local vicar, her uncle Aubrey Stewart (Timothy Carlton Cumberbatch)

Foyle uncovers absurd and ridiculous sabotage training, as well as attitudes countenancing murder, teaching them how to endure (and perform) torture. Interesting group of men (Raymond Coulthard among them), one an ex-criminal Foyle had put in prison we see trying to sniper shoot Foyle. Colorful characters everywhere, intelligent witty dialogue. It emerges the vicar has seen an unnamed bald man who is connected to bombing murder; Sam spots this bald man and follows him, and finds he and other go to a phone booth where phone not working. Eventually she discovers it’s a place to leave notes which uncover the truth of the bombing. Another young man died recently and was buried (air raid?). Bombing going on, including glimpses of delayed action bombs, people with gas masks.

Foyle discovers that the landlady is Wintringham’s secretary; the whole story of Messenger made up: he was homosexual (in the closet). It was he who was dumped in Germany and died (with which the program began). The body found in the bombing was the recently dead young man’s corpse replanted there –- no corpse in the tomb. There’s a moleat Hill House telling Giles Messenger about what’s happening: he pretends to be French. Foyle re-arrests the sniper-happy ex-criminal (after he has tried to kill both Foyle and Sam by ruining the wheel of her car). Foyle could tell Sir Giles the truth about his son –- he might be more proud of him, but Hilda Pierce convinces Foyle not to tell so that these operations he himself disapproves of morally can go on as they aide the war effort. He loses his chance at joining naval security because Messenger takes out frustration on him.

I’ve unraveled the experience of the plot – it’s more interesting in the criss-cross way things emerge. There is a depiction of the culture of this more rural area and these young men.


In the hospital staff put on funny skits where they make fun of themselves

Episode 2: Enemy Fire, February 1941. This is a wonderful episode. Much that happens is sad and several threads (characters’ ultimate fates) remain very much unresolved, but all that just made it richer because we also saw how many of the characters meant so well and are good and doing good insofar as they can. It’s an uplifting episode — as if we needed this at this point.

The story is centered on a hospital for burnt people, severely wounded that way, and as it begins we see a very fancy castle-like structure, Digby Manor, is requisitioned and the Sir Michael (Michael Wood) who owns the castle, has been put into a cottage (big building really) on his own estate. We see him adjusting with difficulty and his housekeeper, Mrs Roecastle (Alexandra Moen). All this is based on real strides made in medicine at the time which were experimentally and humanely used in such hospitals. Bill Paterson plays the dedicated original doctor-surgeon Patrick Jamieson. We see saved men wretchedly deformed.


Andrew Foyle’s (Julian Ovenden)’s very great upset as he finds he was nearly severely burnt because of a man’s seeming carelessness

A wife-beating thug, Gordon Drake, works at the airfield nearby and is lazy and doesn’t do all the safety measures you must to keep the man in the spitfires alive enough to keep the Germans on the other side of the channel. We see Andrew Foyle berate him and his great anger because he is in danger — could be badly burnt. Drake visits a young wife who is bored with her surgeon husband, Dr Wren (whom we learn saved Paul Milner); the wife attracted to this lout. It’s apparent she is not the only woman –- this kind of thing has more than a tinge of misogyny. We are back to the pattern of the first series: vile men (at the heart of fascism and evil) and good men with such potential being hurt. A strange man tells Wren about these visits; his name is Preston and he also tells Foyle and Milner.

The hospital is being sabotaged – it’s thought by Sir Michael at a distance – perhaps paying Drake, perhaps the housekeeper.

What happens is Andrew is not given the next mission(his superior officer sees that he is exhausted) and Andrew’s friend, Greville Woods, goes, and (has been built up for) the spitfire blows up and he is almost burnt to death because Drake again did not make sure the glass to open the cockpit worked –- Drake also probably make the plane go on fire, meaning to burn Andrew to death. Greville taken to the hospital (after the spectacular stunt we are told about on one of the features) and his girlfriend needs to be shamed into seeing him and staying with him. He turns out not to be blinded.

Entertainments are put on and a couple of nights later one is done – music hall stuff which is thematically relevant and piquant – we and Foyle see Wren sneak out for a few moments.

Next we learn Drake is dead; his wife relieved but she did not do it. Wren blamed even though his wife and Milner think he couldn’t murder someone. Turns out Wren did hit Drake’s head hard but it was Preston who came by and drowned the man in a nearby street fountain. Preston turns out to be Mrs Drake’s brother, Pip, trying to protect her.

Foyle has also figured out who did the sabotage: the housekeeper; he gets her to confess by accusing Sir Michael – who then tells Foyle how bitterly he feels about himself since when he was exhausted (like Andrew) he shot himself in the leg. His batman, Drake’s father saw, in later years told his son and now Gordon Drake was blackmailing Sir Michael, demanding hush money.

It’s an episode about mental disability as well as physical. Mental for which the men are not blamed and yet the episode maintains Sir Michael has been a hollow man. The parallel here is Foyle’s son who cannot any longer bear risking his life in a spitfire and watching others die

The real ending is penultimate and then the last; Andrew has fled to Sam’s house, and Sam is hiding him there over night; when the commanding officer comes to tell Foyle his son is in danger of deserting, Sam (offstage) confesses to Foyle where Andrew is. Foyle retrieves Andrew, takes him to a pub and Andrew resolves to return. There are other scenes between them – over chess for example.

Closing touching adieus between Andrew and his father and then Andrew and Sam. Quietly acted. Beautifully. We see the spitfire with Andrew in it flying off. The commanding officer transferred him. There is deep feeling over this spitfire for it was such planes with men giving up their lives that helped prevent Hitler invading England.

Episode 3: They fought in the fields, April 1941. I had to watch this twice and the second time very slowly, and now I don’t know why I found it so hard to understand. There are two parallel stories going on, and they are intertwined. In the one Germans are coming over-head in airplanes bombing people. This way of conducting war is primary today (witness Ukraine). Soldiers murdering civilians, destroying their worlds. The episode as usual begins with a sort of “hook:” a man lands and dies. As we go through this story we discover that nearby is a place for interrogating spies, they are taken there, and it’s run by a Major Cornwall (James Wilby) who resents any interference and will not cooperate with Foyle — whom Cornwall insults

Nearby there is a farm or farms on which are working Land Army girls, Rose Henshall and Joan Dillon — very dirty hard work for little pay, but important for Britain to feed itself. There another death occurs, a murder of what seemed to me an old man, the farmer, Hugh Jackson. Of course it’s called suicide but soon it’s clear it’s a murder (this is another repeated motif in the series). The episode reminded me of the previous (Enemy Fire) where it’s the human interest of the story and situation (there bad burns, a hospital opened to deal with these) that holds us, not so much about corrupt people making money off the war.


The girls very hard at work — we do see they get ample food

I found it somewhat problematic. It opens with land-girls understandably resentful of the more middle class Foyle, Milner and Sam — I am supposed to believe they and the farmer’s son, Tom (Joe Armstrong) are won over by the goodness of Sam and generosity of Foyle. Lifelong marginalization (especially one of the girls committed some crime) doesn’t go away like that. How the farmer very old now became the lover of the other girl who is now pregnant didn’t persuade me and I was even less persuaded by how happy she is at the end to live on that farm with the farmer’s son and his bride (the other girl).

In the background is Hugh Jackson’s wife who was tired of Jackson and tried to run off — but he murdered her first and put her in a grave he drinks liquor over every night. Jackson was killed because he saw some of the shenanigan’s the Germans were up to as they tried to kill their own pilots who were imprisoned and could tell about German radar.

The murdered wife has her parallel in Barbara Hicks, a woman there to investigate wood (?), who is also bitter when Foyle first met her — she hates men because of bad experience but is also supposed won over by Foyle’s goodness. It’s too quick again, but there are some touching scenes where they refer delicately to their different pasts — and Foyle’s loss of his wife (one of the episodes begins with his annual visit to her grave).


They are so courteous to one another ….

Suddenly too Major Cornwall is sorry; he had meant well, it seems, his interrogation techniques do not include torture but also don’t protect his prisoners from one another. The Germans as a culture or group are represented as not paying fair essentially. So some unusual hostile nationalism, not surprising were we to regard these characters as in 1941 February. Well done, good performances, but it does not hold together because of this desire for an upbeat ending and rewards for the land-girls as well romance for Foyle.

Episode 4: A War of Nerves, June 1941. This one does not strain for anything — no need — it goes into the terrible increased and ever more complicated ways of bombing, the use of delayed bombs especially. And it returns to central characters cheating and making money off the war. June 1941 — the Blitz eased, but the delayed bombing tactic has spread; at the end of the episode we hear that Germany has invaded Russia and that (a coming slaughter we know) is cause to feel hope as the English gov’t is now allied with Russia. At the same time other places are starting to fall like Crete. The comment (hope) it’ll be over by next Christmas by Sam is made ironic by Foyle


Peter Capaldi unfairly treated

Two threads: one interesting, a kind of back-handed defense of communism, socialism, workers — Foyle is told he must investigate Raymond Carter (Peter Capaldi), a communist and socialist leader, find out things about him so the gov’t can arrest him. Foyle quickly finds nothing and does nothing. By the end of the hour we discover Foyle’s superior, Commissioner Rose (Colin Redgrave) ordering this is not only deeply anti-labor but angry because his daughter is planning to marry the the man — he can’t stand the idea.

The stronger thorough content is about a pair of men running a factory where they embezzle gov’t money by pretending their work force is much bigger than it is. They treat their workers badly and we see an attempt at (an illegal it’s pointed out) strike. Into this come the squad of bomb disposers, with the truth emphasized how little trained such people were, how dangerous and nerve-wracking the task. One of them “loses” it in a bar and starts a fight with his gun; he turns out to be moral, in fact balks at keeping the huge amount of money they find stashed near where a delayed bomb landed. His girlfriend is a welder in a factory whom Sam befriends. And we have another more thuggish crook and his wife who is also a welder.

The best parts are this attention to what life was like during the war …. and Foyle as moral center with Sam as the good heart center ….

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To read about Season 4, Episodes 1-4, see comments, Episode 1, Invasion, April 1942; Episode 2, Bad Blood, August 1942; Episode 3, Bleak Midwinter, December 1942; and Episode 4, Casualties of War, March 1943.


A passing moment from The Bleak Midwinter

Of great interest in all these disks, starting with the 2nd through the fourth are the various features telling the literal ways the film-makers made the episodes, about the costumes, the attitudes of mind of the people acting, the historical background. There is also much written information to click on.

Ellen

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Michael Kitchen as Christopher Foyle

Friends and readers,

I began watching Foyle’s War around my birthday this past November by renting DVDs from Netflix. I had been told how “wonderful” it is time and again, and stubbornly had resisted — why I don’t quite know. I did not realize how these are in structures and basic tropes formulaic (including comic helper-maid, and endings where the villains often just confess when confronted by the truth) murder mystery stories. Good thing for I might never have tried them. Well, it took only the first three episodes to persuade me here was a series that transcended this popular genre, not just superbly well done, but having a complicated moral center in them individually and as a group that offered insights and warnings into the politics of our own time, especially the growth of fascism and uncontrolled capitalism. I loved the character of Foyle, what a relief as he held onto his moral compass (as good as E.M. Forster in What I Believe); this group of traits in the hero has often been cited as the programs’ highest important achievement. The core beauty. I became so fond of Sam and respectful of Milner. I could see they could solace me in my lonely evenings (the way other of my favorite British serials seen over and over).

So I had to have the whole series, be able to watch more than one episode at a time, be able to see features about how it was made, and bought the 8 season set, complete (I was promised) with features and a pamphlets. When the tall box came, and I re-began, I also began to see that I needed these features and more to understand what I was seeing: the pamphlet that came with the 8 sets (=seasons) was a help, all the various wikipedia articles I could click on, and Rod Green’s The Real History Behind Foyle’s War. What this box is is a vast film-novel of moral stories conveying the extraordinary true history of World War Two as it was experienced in Britain.

More than reading and watching, to try to grasp each episode I needed to write notes on them one at a time to appreciate all that was interwoven in. There are often four stories or threads in an episode, not counting the development of the personalities and conveying of the history of our three very sympathetic protagonists: you see Michael Kitchen as Detective Chief Inspector Foyle above in an unusually softly smiling moment:  I just love the way he swings his body and his head and then asks, “Why is that?”  Just below is Honeysuckle Weeks, Foyle’s improbable driver, as she appears appealingly as a young women (not much older than 20 to start with, if that old) in the earliest seasons — why Foyle never learned to drive we are not told:

Her heart shows her the morally right thing to do and to feel. A bit further down, Anthony Howell as Paul Milner, Foyle’s Deputy Sergeant, this photo giving us a glimpse below the usually guarded stern face to see a kindly wholesome sensitive man who cannot fathom himself killing anyone.

With each of them, less is more as a style of acting.

I’ve been wondering to myself what I can add to all that has already been said without going on too long — for what I am best at is explanatory details with moralizing inferences as framework. It can be fun to be reminded of what we so enjoyed, to, as it were, relive what’s in our memories, but in the case of complicated mystery stories, with never an empty moment, it would be easy to fall into too much of a good thing. Better just to watch the TV episodes? Well, there are some ideas or patterns that one might miss, strikingly repeated stances that hold the hours together as we watch the behavior of our three protagonists interact against ever-worsening counter war techniques and protect or aid the human behavior that makes life worth living. The question is repeatedly asked: what are we fighting this war for if we consent to behave as badly as our fascist hate-filled or ruthless enemies are doing. Again and again Foyle, together with Sam and Paul as his two team-members, resist the amoral and the immoral – it is, though, he alone who articulates the actuating ideas behind the decisions and actions we see the three make. We learn about their “private” lives too. Throughout the first through fourth seasons in most of the episodes Foyle dominates almost every scene, he seems to make things happen, knit them together. This is not true across the later seasons.

This blog presents you with few notes for the 1st season and 2nd season (looking at patterns especially), and then building on what we find, I’ll write another similar blog for the 3rd and 4th. The episodes move month by month until we get to season five where we fast forward a whole year. So we get a feeling for the different phases of the war, the different emotional temperature of everyone involved.

But first an overview: at season 5, the series changes. It is said that the series was suddenly cancelled after Season 5 because Simon Shaps felt like it (that’s about as much reason for this as one is given), “causing” Anthony Horowitz to discard a series of scripts going in the same pace for Season 6. This makes no sense, and feels like hurt angry spite: I imagine Shaps complaining about some aspect of the series: maybe it’s anti-capitalist stance? (Businessmen are generally very badly behaved in this series.) So I will write separately about Season 5 and 6, which are also cut back to 3 episodes each.

Then because it was so liked, so respected, it was given yet another two series, again with only 3 episodes (it might have been the expense) — but now our characters are in a different, and actually (it turns out) deadlier era when it comes to police and gov’t spy agency behavior (the problems themselves infected by knee-jerk anti-communism and an implicit nationalism it eschewed until Season 7). That is, we shift from the subgenre type of mystery which Andrew Marr describes as sleuths, to the subgenre, spy stories. And so I will again write a separate blog for these last two (where we lose Milner).

I will try to avoid concrete retellings of stories as these are amply covered in wikipedia. And not name all the superb actors across the years as they too are usually named, unless something or someone seems to me so outstanding

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Season 1: Episode 1: The German Woman, May 1940. In this episode we are watching the formation of the team: Foyle cannot convince his superiors to let him switch from domestic policing to being a member of the war effort, and partly to keep him comfortable, he is given a driver, Sam Stewart; a young man he knew previously has been very badly wounded, lost his leg, Paul Milner, and Foyle manipulates Milner out of an angry depression and despair about having but one leg by showing how he can make his talents useful. We meet Foyle’s son, Andrew (to my ears a very British name), see their close relationship and Foyle fish.


Julian Overdone as Andrew fishing with his face: look carefully and you’ll see a look of impatience on the young man’s face

Julian Overdone is a recurring important character, but not as central to the story structures of solving the mystery (sometimes he is part of the problem that led to the murder). He is growing up, with a little help from his Dad. We learn of Foyle’s wife’s death from lovely watercolor landscapes on his wall. Kitchen dominated the 100 minutes in ways he stops doing by the 6th season and I found the episode more satisfying because of this: his firm strong morality. The murderer (a sexual cad, predator after women’s money) is despicable, especially, but at least one of the victims (the rich German woman whose fortune the murderer was seeking) and their families are humanly flawed too. The episode is against knee-jerk hatred of Germans as Germans. A scholarly German man is thrown in prison with his wife; she dies of a heart attack before Foyle can put an eend to this injustice. An innocent girl is bombed to death, and then her reputation made to suffer until Foyle discovers and exposes what happened. Here the murderer himself asserts that his important war work makes it absurd to accuse, jail and then possibly execute him. This first iteration of this idea is as unconvincing to Foyle as it will be in the 8th year, 27th episode. Here he is in charge and has the power to make his accusation stick.

Not only how young is Sam but how uneager Foyle for having her around and begins teaching her not to pick up cant; how much he is responsible for bringing Paul Milner back to effective useful life … The episode is notable for having performances by Robert Hardy, Edward Fox, James McAvoy

Episode 2: The White Feather, May 1940 still. A pattern: In most of the episodes of these four seasons, after the initial setting forth and some interludes to feed us information Foyle does not see, he is brought forward. In these first four, Foyle shows himself very emotionally engaged even if the evidence is limited to bodily gestures, facial expressions, and the very occasional outburst of stern moral truth. At one point thinking of his son, he puts his head down.

The White Feather combines the reality of nazism and fascism, juxtaposing a particularly foul kind of anti-semitism in the UK, with Dunkirk. So the whole emotional temperature of that happening as felt on the coast where small boats are setting off to rescue people is felt. There is a trio of concerned fathers: the weak man with the domineering nasty (and willing to terrify others to her will) upper class anti-semitic wife and his (in effect) neglected and angry son (a young Tobias Menzies – stealing the scenes he’s in); the old fashioned working class fisherman and his son who is involved with a young girl, an ex-servant in the anti-semitic hotel, who finds himself arrested.


Tobias Menzies as Stanley Ellis

Another pattern: in both episodes is once Foyle knows for sure the person arrested for the crime didn’t do something that resulted in serious injury or death to someone else, or didn’t have malign motives, was bullied, tricked, deluded, he frees that person. That’s important. He is a cop and I find myself thinking were this a Black man (and I believe there is a episode about race prejudice), Foyle would not be casually putting such a person away for life.

The ending at Dunkirk, and arresting the lead Nazi (Charles Dance knows how to do evil): you are made to feel why this war is worth it. Both have beautiful photography of this semi-rural part of England.

Episode 3: A Lesson in Murder. June 1940. An total snob, cruel upper class judge at the center. He coolly murders, blows to bits an 11 year old evacuee whom his daughter (not understanding quite the amount of evil her father could do) volunteered to take in a evacuee. The poor boy has terrible time all the while desperately missed by his father. Foyle’s long time friend, an Italian man (Alan Corduner), a good person, dies at the end because when Italy declares war on England, because a mob comes and set fire to, blows up his restaurant. His son, very like the young man who became involved with the servant in The White Feather, is being pressured by a bad young man, a semi-crook type — whom Sam is rude to. A scene of coffin making (a hidden factory) has its effect.


The Italian man’s restaurant set on fire because the mob has heard Italy has entered the war: he dies upstairs (this is the episode’s penultimate scene)

There is a theme of good young men thrown away or hurt badly in these episodes. This includes Foyle’s son (flying spitfires); the twisted young man that Menzies plays (capable of being so much better). James McAvoy played the role in episode 1: he was engaged to the young girl whom the murderer smeared to cover his tracks. This is part of the fathers and sons, for a familiar actor (John Shrapnel, played Creon, Achilles) is a high class man who bribed the ugly murderer to give his son a conscientious objector status. The episode opens with another young man, genuinely ant-war, being denied status and then in prison mocked, beat up, humiliated, hanging himself. David Tennant is his best friend, who turns up to be with the wife and is suspected of murdering the ugly judge. His wife did it — she was right to she says. Of course Paul Milner is such another, with a wife who has no loyalty towards him, is in fact turned off because he has lost his leg; thus he was tempted by the fascist Charles Dance; at the end of The White Feather, Foyle scolds him intensely for disloyalty — and stupidity.

Episode 4: Eagle Day, August to September 1940. Eagle Day is about sexual harassment of women. It’s not called that but the story at the center is of a Miss Lucy Smith who throws herself under a train because an intelligence agency boss (a bully, amoral, horrible man) seduces, impregnates and then rejects her. Unknown to him, Foyle’s son is assigned to the place and once her friend tells him ever so little the boss and his accomplice are determined to get rid of Andrew – this is slightly improbable but it enables Horowitz to show how easy it was/is to get up a case against an innocent man who say once was part of the communist party, how easy to stash incriminating papers in his locker and under “secrecy” orders of war (deeply anti-democrat) ruin his life – put him in prison.

Instead of now where the girl would have to sue, we see parents who want to protect the daughter’s virginity. No sign of her having any right to an independent life or sexual liberation, but they are indignant or worried. This leads to Lucy’s father murdering two men –- and as with the ugly bully in A Lesson in Murder, the murderer shows no regret and says he did the right thing. Sam’s father come to fetch her home is the ultimate embodiment of such an attitude. He decides she’s safe and doing useful work not that she has the right to an independent life. Another pattern: the first and third episode show young women badly bullied by their fathers — having no agency — my feeling is this is criticized as the result of individuals; the pattern itself accepted, no subtext against it. Sam’s father turns up because he and her mother have become convinced she should return to their village. Being in Hastings was too dangerous and what was she really contributing to the war effort anyway? Despite her being a grown woman, because she wasn’t married, her parents assumed they could still control her life and she felt she had abide by their decision. Her only chance was if Foyle would intercede for her. So it takes a man’s help for her to live the life she has chosen.

Woven in is a story of theft from a museum where the thief (Anton Lesser playing this role) uses the export of art objects to places where they will be hidden to fetch some off for himself. Paul Milner is important in discovering this as is Sam’s father who before he became a vicar studied art.

The opening sequence of this episode shows a woman coming home from work a little later than usual to find her house bombed, her husband nowhere to be seen:


Woman whose house has been bombed — there are countless such tiny episodes which are usually linked to the central threads but also there to show how people experiencing this war

Why August 1940? a month later the bombs begin to drop on civilians. This is presented a sort of sardonic comedy where Foyle’s son tries to save him and his father from these by hiding in a bunch of bundles which turn out to have highly inflammable stuff in them. Young Foyle is a young man who is daredevil in a plane but not too good at protecting himself. This last one ends up with all four in the car Sam has driven up with Milner just in time to fetch the two Foyles away to safety.

To read about Season 2, Episodes 1-4, see comments: Episode 1, Fifty Ships: September 1940; Episode 2: Among the few: September 1940; Episode 3, War Games: October 1940; Episode 4, The Funk Hole: October 1940.


From The Funk Hole, Caroline Harker as Jane Hardiman protecting a beloved dog, whom Phoebe Nicholls as Amanda Reese, novelist, disdains: a tiny thread referring to how many thousands of pets were killed by their owners at the beginning of the war; Mrs Hardiman’s crime is to buy adequate dog food on the black market

To read about Seasons 3-4, see companion blog to this (perhaps next week because another syllabus blog must come inbetween).

Ellen

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I don’t always make a blog from the books we read but I felt I ought to in the this case. It would be remiss not to — especially
since it is loaded with divisive concepts …

Friends and fellow readers,

It was in October of this past year, that a group of us on TrollopeandHisContemporaries@grous.io began to read the whole of Hugo’s massive novel as translated, introduced and massively annotated by Christine Donougher. We’ve just finished this week. During this time at least one person also read Graham Robb’s massive biography of Hugo, I returned to Bellos’s Novel of the Century, Victor Brombert’s Hugo and the Visionary Novel, and, with a couple of other people, re-watched Andrew Davie’s magnificent film adaptation, as well as the film version of the world-famous musical.

Myself I had seen Eric Schaeffer’s stage version twice (once in London), and concert presentation years before, and for good measure this time re-watched twice Simon Schama’s The Romantics and Us, whose second hour is mostly given over to Hugo as finally, or at the time of the writing of this book, radical revolutionary in his thought.


Mass protest scene from 2012 film

Given how the matter of all this material speaks so home to us today, I can’t see myself not making a blog about it, though I sincerely doubt I have anything new to add to all that has been said and written – and drawn and sung and danced too. One can say with the usual semi-pompous language, the book is an extraordinary prose narrative — a combination of history, political and philosophical thought, fantastic visions, with novel framework and larger than life presences we can call characters to carry us through. And the French is visceral poetry. Full of contradictions, not to omit much muddle.

But this does not put into language that what is so crucial is how it captures the misery, thwarted aspirations, and fleeting joy in grief of millions of desperately poor, imprisoned, ravaged people, most often seen today in the form of endlessly punished refugees. Jean Valjean is Leonard Peltier, Fantine is exploited, derided, and raped woman hidden in plain sight who when she fights back becomes an outcast Christina Casey Ford (she who accused Kavanaugh and ridiculed ended outcast) without funds or friends. Mabeuf our adjunct lecturer scholar. The vast disquisitions about Waterloo, and morphing of gov’ts rarely even addressing a country’s needs, and when it tries, quickly reversed by those who cannot bear to lose a stitch of power or authority. Each type, the good priest, the barbaric cop, the base criminal and his wife, the orphan child, selfless nun, street prostitute — they stand before us.

It seems to me important to say — and maybe another reason I write this blog — that you cannot rely on any of the movies (there have been several, and I’ve tried a couple beyond Davies’) or the musical or (worse yet) the recent popular film of the musical (2012, directed by Tom Hooper), to convey the spirit or meaning of the book to you. Everything is done that can be by way of setting and choices of scenes to turn Hugo’s book into a seeming Catholic religious parable where God’s mysteries are beautiful in his churches and good people there (a reductive travesty). The movies are apolitical, with personal love the key to people’s happiness.  Nothing could be further from the feel and mood of Hugo’s book despite so often the good people being a church functionary.

Of course in the film musical you are worked up to revolutionary-like fervor and cumulatively end crying at the deaths of these good well-meaning people. And there is tragic catharsis: I found myself beginning to cry at Marius’s song too: the words “There’s a grief that can’t be spoken/There’s a pain that goes on and on” felt directly a propos. Empty chairs: that’s a phrase found in an old Civil War song (union side). And the book’s true heroine, Fantine (according to my way of thinking but not the book where Hugo chose a shallow conventional hero and mindless version of the heroine) is taking its true hero off with her to where (like Lear) he will no longer be wracked on this world’s fiery wheel of searing loneliness, and find rest. In Hugo’s book the emphasis is not personal and its significance more like what is found in a Camus novel like La Peste.


Lily Collins as Fantine after the mountebank has done with her, gathering material for dolls


Hair also needed for wigs – and teeth?

I here single out Davies’ film for making modern secular humane sense, with attention to the pathos of several of the characters (reinventing or changing some, like Courfeyreau). Davies’ script shows how despicable are others (Fantine’s seducer, the thug Madame Thenardier, however brutalized by her husband), and terrifying (Ron Cook as the mountebank who scissirs off Fantine’s hair and yanks out her teeth to leave her looking memorably ghastly). He tightens up the story, makes some realistic turns for the story, makes far more sense of Javert as a character (homoerotic, and thus obsessed with Jean Valjean), as well as filling out and making consistent the other characters in ways that bring out the egalitarian strains in the book. The only film adaptation of a classic that comes up to the presentation of the relentless killing of ordinary people practiced by the militia of the state that we see in the Paris streets in Davies’s Les Miserables here is Davies’ own Dr Zhivago.

I don’t feel that Davies quite captures the sinister and chaotic reality of a senseless unjust society and downright evil in law and deepest thought patterns (punish, isolate) of Hugo’s book: in Davies’ Dr Zhivago he has the totalitarian state as run by seething madmen whom ordinary people are terrified by. Dr Zhivago differs from most of  Davies’ work where there is a Trollopian or Dickensian (Victorian?) comic-realistic vision of the world.  Hugo’s world is tragic and exaggerated so in feel with the beautiful French fantastic.  Both project in their different mediums, Hugo with his story, Davies with the considerable apparatus of film adaptations today, the prisons, trials, hierarchical social gatherings, servitudes, what good and powerless people have to contend with. Both are short of the kind of thing we must turn to Primo Levi to find presented consistently (in If this be Man).  Nonetheless because of Davies’ skill in characterization (dialogue, instructions for gestures, collaboration with Tom Hooper, the director), when you finish Davies’ film you will have understood the underlying politics and source of some of the passions of Hugo’s work better.


Hugh Jackman’s lonely face as the dying scene begins


An unusual moment for Madame Thenardier: Helena Bonham Carter bringing out a flatness Olivia Coleman never attempts (and is not in Hugo either)

As for the musical: as presented (no matter where, stage or film), the book script and songs assume we know the story. Hardly anything is explained. It’s arguable nothing need be explicated clearly, except I appreciated what the composers and lyric writers were doing now: it was one long symphony or piece of music which had interruptions for a little dialogue but basically one long song I’ll call it; it changes mood and character voice but it seemed to me consistently a expressionist reaction to Les Miserables basic concept: here are the wretched of the earth, mixed in with cruel senseless authority figures and rules which have nothing to do with these wretched people. At any rate do not help them but seek to control and to punish. Sometimes a voice of kindness is singing, sometimes profound loneliness. The driving rhythms are a build up of rage, passion kept caged and finally reaching some height as the people climb the barricades.

The out-of-whack piece, brought back more than once, “Master of the House,” is a subversive and mindless mocking contrast, with one of the lines referring to Voltaire — as music and song it seemed to say the Voltairian Candide vision might be seethingly hilarious, a release but no use at all to suffering people.  Costumes and settings are imitative of Marat/Sade (that wild grotesque burlesque protest piece of so long ago), intermixed with Dickensian tropes so Gavroche in the film musical is an adorable Artful Dodger cut down.


Reece Yates (2012 Davies’ film) escapes both the cuteness of the Hollywoodized Artful Dodger and Hugo’s own (to me) unfortunate way of not taking the boy quite seriously

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It is so much easier to write about a movie or stage musical than one of the grand novels of the 19th century. To say I loved the long supposed digression (but the book is more digression than it is story) on language and slang won’t do.


Donald Sumpter as Mabeuf (still prosperous, in front of the church with his volumes, 2018 film)

But in order not to go on for too long, we shall have to limit ourselves tonight for exemplary detail to the ending of Hugo’s Part 4, Book 8, Chapter 7, where Mabeuf, once a lowly functionary in a church, is living in a hovel, and due to conditions out of his control, finds he can no longer pay the ridiculous rent for such a place with what he once did.  He is driven to sell his precious collection of books. He refuses to take a gift of money left for him (he would not steal a loaf of break presumably) and takes it to a bank. The last place that needs it. The cry of anguish from his heart matches the cry of Marius’s mean ancien regime grandfather when he cannot threaten Marius into loyalty, much less love in just the previous chapter. At core there is stark grief in the old man’s unwillingness to open up to his grandson or inability, and in the destitute idealist.

This does happen. Charlotte Smith in the early 19th century had to sell all her books to keep herself and family afloat. It was a terrible bitter experience for her – she didn’t quite sell them all, but those which fetched a good sum. Ever after she couldn’t write the same books. I’ve a male friend who lost his tenure, and came to DC and tried to live and get a job and couldn’t and was finally driven to sell his books in order to pay up his rent, move back home (horrible place – deep south, utter Trump country) — but then he was okay for he had a small job there and place to live with his family , a family which the high-minded Marius would have rejected and, as he does in the book (improbably) make his way (to use a very Trollopian phrase).

Looking at the book from a distance, it is very controlled. The story is minimal but it has enough twists and turns and new archetypal characters to take us through several related climaxes while moving along a trajectory of imprisonment, desperation.  I refer to JVJ’s encounter with M. Bienvenu, the priest at the opening of the book whose transformative goodness to him finds a parallel in Jean Valjean’s transformative forgiveness or lack of vengeance to Javert.   Then luck and cleverness enable JVJ to build a business and take care of a whole community, Montfermeil. He is elected Mayor despite not wanting to call attention to himself. While the slender plot-design unravels – Javert finds him after he has rescued Cosette and secured a hovel room for them both.  Like the Zorro he is, he escapes with her (using a rope pulling her up a wall he climbed up himself)  into a convent, and finding a grateful friend, stays for 18 years. And so it goes. He and Cosette leave so she can enter the world, have a chance to see it, and the spite of an old woman once again precludes their quiet retired but unconventional life. Now and again we stop for long meditations, disquisitions on war, society, language, the right type of wedding …


Dominic West as Jean Valjean reading with the little Cosette before they are forced to flee and end up in the convent

Our Jean Valjean is all heroes. Today I have been reading Christa Wolf’s Cassandra, where the one good man in the whole of Troy and among the Greeks is Aeneas, with whom Cassandra falls in love. She plays a part like Dido’s, and he must desert her out of a sense of duty (pius Aeneas), to care for his people. Well this reminds me of Jean Valjean’s behavior towards the people of Montfermeil as mayor: he thinks about them when he is about to give himself up because he can’t face allowing another person to be taken for him and put in jail. Like Foyle (in the justly respected World War II British ITV mystery series), JVJ decides that the greater general hoped-for good (that when such a good mayor leaves, all the prosperity might fall apart) does not substitute for doing a clearly concrete moral act: you must not use someone else. So he gives himself in and must escape again before he can rescue Cosette, and Fantine dies without having seen her child, in Hugo’s book believing herself forever damned.

I think that Hugo does want us to remember Aeneas carrying his father on his back during the siege of Troy and saving his life when JVJ carries Marius on his back through a sewer, almost drowns with him in filthy quicksand. But when Jean Valjean pulls himself and Marius up and comes to the locked door, who is there? Thenardier asking for money. A sardonic joke subtextually.

True heroism is caring, strength to do the truly moral thing, though the world’s consequences show how you cannot escape hurting someone. Amid all Hugo’s investment in heroic maleness, Les Miserables is as anti-war as it is anti- the capitalist spirit. Thenardier let us recall in the book ends a slave-trader in the US.

Ellen

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From a BBC Ghost Stories series: opening still from M.R. James, “The Stalls of Barchester Cathedral” (1971)

Gentle readers and friends,

I got the idea to read for Christmas a few non-traditional sequels to Anthony Trollope’s work one day at a Trollope Zoom meeting when Christopher Briscoe presented his imaginary history of Barchester (scroll down, it’s there). I had heard that Joanna Trollope’s The Choir was another early Trollopian original story (using her legal, not the pseudonym, Caroline Harvey), where the cathedral itself was central.

I had so enjoyed Joanna Trollope’s The Rector’s Wife a sympathetic modern version of the story of Mrs Crawley from The Last Chronicle of Barset, and the film adaptation with a favorite actress, Lindsay Duncan, well I didn’t quite rush out, but went to my computer to buy the book, and soon I was acquiring the DVDs to the serial (Region 2) and an audio reading of the complete book by Nadia May. I now vow to read some later books by J. Trollope, not sequels to a 19th century vision, but about 21s century social and other issues (her Other People’s Children, for example, about adoption)

I also pulled out from its shelf with Henry James books, a book Jim used to read aloud to me from: a beautifully produced (art paper) and illustrated (by Rosalind Caldecott) Ghost Stories of M.R. James, and read a few. All intended for Christmas, to evoke the time and the unknowable natural world through the uncanny. One alluded to Anthony Trollope.

And I’ve now seen two versions of The Stalls of Barchester Cathedral, one done as a group of actors listening to one man playing James reading aloud to them and/or telling the whole story in a setting that looks like James’s rooms in Cambridge at Christmas, and one acted quietly well with Clive Swift as Rev Haynes (Swift was Bishop Proudie in the 1983 BBC Barchester Chronicles).


Rev Haynes confiding his tale to his friend played by Peter Vaughn


Sally Ashworth (our heroine, Cathryn Harrison) eating companionably with her friend & father-in-law, Frank (again Peter Vaughn) from the BBC The Choir, Episode 1.

As you can see a cathedral and its atmosphere (stone gargoyles) are never far from overt consciousness in these books & films

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As with The Rectors’ Wife, The Choir is an original novel in its own right, which at the same time creates characters and events reminiscent, even closely of Anthony Trollope, especially the church politics of the Barsetshire series. What makes it inimitably Trollopian in feel and art is an intertwined cast of closely-associated characters who when they should be working together, compete against one another to achieve intensely desired private goals (of love, friendship, personal fulfillment of talents and tastes), which will create a social world they must all share (they cannot escape) and each would love to dominate or control in some way.

It fits Elaine Showalter’s study of academic politics, Faculty Towers, which she claims got their start in Barchester Towers, just as Mr Slope interviews Mr Harding for a job he already has. In the case of The Choir, it is the cathedral which is discovered to be crumbling (from damp and neglect) when, out of vanity, Dean Hugh Cavendish (played by Edward Fox), decides to install modern aesthetic lighting arrangements for atmosphere. A great deal of money is needed.


Choir practice

Just then, Frank Ashworth (Peter Vaughn), a long-time labor activist, a socialist, decides the gardens of the cathedral close are going to waste because they intimidate the average citizen, and proposed to buy a beautiful 18th century house the head master, and a canon of the cathedral, Alexander Troy (David Walker) has lived with his wife, Felicity (Jane Asher), just now run away. Frank also wants to reorganize the boys’ choir his own grandson, Henry (Anthony Way) sings in, as he says it is as presently recruited for elitist. And as part of his personal life, he has a good friendship with his daughter-in-law; his wife long ago left him, and his son, Alan, Sally Ashworth (Cathryn Harrison)’s husband is unable to establish or keep up genuine relationships with other people. Alan works in Saudi Arabia. He has been in flight since his mother left his father; the book suggests some empathy is needed, but not the film. In the serial, he is your philandering hypocrite.

From the BBC film serial adaptation of Joanna Trollope’s The Choir: opening still where through the tops of the Cathedral (it’s Gloucester) we glimpse Nicholas Elliot returning to the sanctuary of his choir years (1995)

I will not be party to a scheme that wears an altruistic mask to cover a heart of envy (JTrollope’s The Choir p 69; repeated in Episode 2 of Ian Curteis’ film script) — remember John Bold in ATrollope’s The Warden, gentle reader

The kindly bishop, Robert Young (John Standing) accuses Frank of concocting these reformist schemes because Frank envies the people who get to dwell in such beautiful places and make such rarefied beauty; his scheme will end up destroying what he says he wants others to share. In the event, when city council takes over the headmaster’s house, it does not become the beautiful community center Frank said he was envisioning. As with Anthony Trollope’s The Warden, where the break-up of the church’s unjust use of a 14th century will does not lead to the old men getting a just allowance, so the Dean’s house becomes a hollow shell of offices for people doing supposedly socially-good jobs they have no belief in for real. The beauty of the house now obscured.

Out of obscure envies and resentments of his own, and an absolute determination to be in charge, Dean Cavendish (the Archbishop Grantley character) decides the church can do without its much admired choir of boys singing sublimely, something which means a great deal to Troy. So too another group of characters, beyond Henry:  the organist, Leo Beckford (played particularly well by Nicholas Farrell), Sally (Cathryn Harrison), Henry’s mother whose husband (Alan, see above) lives thousands of miles away from her so he can be free and unfaithful. Sally seeks solace in her son’s achievements and a bookstore she works in. A central storyline dramatizes how Sally and Leo fall in love.

Alexander Troy, the headmaster and canon’s wife, Felicity, has “gone off again” as the novel opens: like Anna Bouverie (yes Flaubert’s heroine alluded to), the rector’s wife, Felicity had much to bear, and finds herself thwarted of usefulness she can value.


Felicity Troy (Jane Asher) spreading posters about (later in the novel, see below)

Reader, there are other complications. Nicholas Farrell (Oliver Milburn), an old boy grown up and now homeless, has returned to the cathedral world, and is given employment by Ianthe Cavendish (Claire Cox), lusting after Leo (who is cold to her).  Ianthe has invested in a record company, run by Mike (Peter de Jersey, the only black person in the cast) who is capable of making money out of music.

It’s worth saying (and important to this depiction of modern British middle class people) that for a number of the characters their love of music, and working at their roles in it is sincere: Leo Beckford, the most striking; Alexander Troy (who defends the choir at the cost of losing his house), Nicholas Farrell (once upon a time and still), Henry, the young boy, and Mike too.

The Cavendish family (parents and children) are the most directly Trollopian elements in the book: Joanna has in mind Archbishop Grantley as the archetype under Dean Cavendish: the same strong materialism, ability to dominate, strong self-esteem, ruthlessness; his wife, Bridget (Richenda Carey) is a Mrs Proudie softened; their children as obnoxious as most of the Grantley children. Joanna has a less than favorable take on the male Grantley figure whom many Trollope fans profess to like (they identify!).

Our sweet Bishop Young harks back to the Bishop in The Warden, only here we see the cowardliness, or reluctance to fight where he should. As in The Rector’s Wife, to me surprisingly, The Choir is seriously examining the place of Christian (meaning unselfish, charitable, pro-community and mystic) beliefs and acts among the characters.


Henry with a cardboard cat, after Sally has left him temporarily, taking with her Mozart, their cat (Joanna Trollope is delightful the way she describes pets’ behavior in her books)

I found myself following intensely how everything played out, with favorite characters experiencing hard blows, really felt and on-going losses, and yet or also support, kindness and courtesy, and help so that they gradually carve or find out a niche in which they can make some happiness for themselves. This sentiment: we have to make our happiness is stated explicitly.  It represents a way of viewing what the characters are doing at the close of The Rector’s Wife.   The idea enables Joanna Trollope to dramatize a modern version of a typically qualified Anthony Trollope ending.

Joanna Trollope is a deft writer who can include so much action and thought in her tightly interwoven threads. She gets a lot in for 261 page book. This one has many allusions to quite a number of my favorite and less well known or not particularly popular or super-respected books that I just like, e.g., Joan Lindsay’s Picnic at Hanging Rock, the Merchant-Ivory films from E.M. Forster, and much beautiful music cited and then in the film heard (Bach, Britten, Vaughn Williams)

The film is faithful in its realization of Trollope’s characters, and it makes superb use of Gloucester and Worcester Cathedral (the two churches filmed), and Cheltenham (for the town).  Curteis dialogue is superb (often taken straight from the book).  The serial is particularly strong in the final episode where we experience a temporary resolution and movement for a hopeful time to come, carrying forward love and burdens.

Those who present themselves as hurting worse are the Dean and his wife, though he got his way in everything he said he wanted (including firing those who bucked him); she is only momentarily crushed as we see a bitterness underneath her part of her nature. This is not a feminist tale in the way The Rector’s Wife is, and Bridget’s thwarted ambition with no high rank is part of what makes her so eager to vex others.

The reunion and touching coming together of Alexander and Felicity and then their shared fight the Dean for their house appealed deeply to me. I value my house. He was lost without her:

A traditional sequel you see fills out a story that Trollope told (like John Wirenius’s Phineas at Bay, which picks up the Palliser novels from the end of The Duke’s Children; M. R. James did not do this for Barchester Towers, but tells dark tale of a man whose ambition took him into realm where he was out of his depth. I linked in the story-line and an interpretation, this too of church politics, spinster sisters and servants (above) so here let me just provide you with the movie itself — no longer available to buy or to see on Netflix or Amazon prime.

M.R. James is a much darker writer than A or J Trollope, and at his best disquieting (that link takes you to “Canon Alberic’s Scrapbook,” after reading which I had to find Jim and sit near him for a while).

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I meant to have written this for “Twelfth Night,” but did not meet my goal by a day. No matter, January 6th will for some time to come not be connected by most in the US to the solstice holidays, but to a criminally-led attempt to take over the US through violence as country via some fragile pretense of legality in order to set in place a White supremacist and fascist dictator state, with all the horrors we’ve seen attached to that in its wake.  Remember 1943 ought to be a rallying cry.


Dean Cavendish (Edward Fox) making a deal with an unscrupulous politician in order to get his way

Ellen

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Cherry Blossoms (Elmar Wepper as Rudi Angermeier, and Aya Irizuki [de] as Yu)

“What I love most about this book, as about all of Downie’s nonfiction works about France, is the way the reader is brought intimately into the adventure of his discoveries as he performs his intrepid research. We are spared, of course, the many hours of reading in dusty libraries he has done for us. But when he sets out into the Paris of today in search of its ghosts of yesteryear, he takes us along with him. We are there with him as he interviews the archivist at the Victor Hugo Museum, and the director of the Arsenal Library–a gathering place for such Romantic age luminaries as Dumas, Liszt, de Musset, Delacroix, Balzac, and Gautier—a place which, Downie tells us, “hasn’t changed much since the 1820s.” We are there with him as he sneaks up back stairways and into private courtyards in his furtive attempts to connect with Romantic heroes of the past, to look out the same windows they looked out of, gaze upon the same courtyards they would have seen. We are there with him in those rare moments when he is able to commune with those spirits of the past” (Janet Hulstrand)

The impermanence of life is at the core of Cherry Blossoms, an exquisite German film directed by Doris Dorrie (How to Cook Your Life). A wonderful sequence in the story takes place during the cherry blossom season at the beginning of spring in Japan. Hanami is celebrated for about ten days as families, friends, and visitors gather under trees while their pink and white flowers are in full bloom. The cherry blossom is seen as a symbol of beauty, awakening, and the transience of life … (Frederick and Mary Ann Brussat)

Dear friends and readers,

Summer is slowly turning into autumn, and I’ve written only once of this year’s summer reading and movies: David Nicholls’s Us, book & film, probably because I’ve only read and seen one I’d so characterize, and now as the days begin to shorten more quickly, I feel I’ve been remiss, partly because my spirits have been again rejuvenated by a movie and a book.


The audio book

First, the book, which will require my speaking first of David Downie as I encountered him in his earlier Paris to the Pyrenees last spring, and providing contexts with other books, and French movies. I took a course at Politics and Prose (the DC bookstore) called A Literary Tour of France, it was somewhat disappointing as the teacher refused to discuss any serious topics (!), and seemed to live in dread of offending people in the classroom, but she did offer two books, with real merit, the equivalent of Steve Coogan and Bill Brydon’s first and second Trip movies, the one where they drive around Derbyshire, into the Lake District ending at Bolton Abbey before returning to London, and the second a journey through Italy, from Rome past Pompeii to Naples.


Somewhere in the West Riding — an idyllic dream vision of what I remember of the rare walks Jim and I took out into the Yorkshire moors

Travel books encompass books about people making a home usually in what is to me a “foreign” country; they can be the encyclopedia type Trollope favored in Australia and New Zealand, the let’s analyze this country, his North America, or his jolly When the Mastiffs Went to Iceland (the nearest he got to popular travel books). I think the genre is invented in the 18th century where the idea of truly telling the truth of what you are seeing, of cultures being different, of trying to discover history this way began with Johnson and Bowell’s twin tours; a second variant is Susannah Moodie’s 30 Years in the Bush, a classic first Canadian book, about how she settled into the countryside to become Canadian.

Jeffrey Greene’s French Spirits: A House, A Village, and A Love Affair in Burgundy, was assigned first, and begins well, but David Downie’s Paris to the Pyrenees sustains the type. Greene’s French Spirits is similarly replete with intelligent insight into places, objects, people. He and his partner are marrying and decide to buy and renovate as a place to live an ancient church: they have plenty of money, live upper class educated lives (whose values Greene never questions, the source of the money never told): Greene is trying to capture his sense of what life against history is, French culture in history, and uses these “odd people” in the countryside to bring this out. Greene’s book is light and half-way through falls off when he goes into these chapters (to me tasteless) on his wedding but it is picturesque and evocative of middle France. He and his wife renovated a presbytery to make it into a home: the history of the building and the real problems of trying to renovate such a structure are absorbing, teach one about buildings.

Downie’s Paris to the Pyrenees is a sort of sceptic’s pilgrimage across that part France and down to the Pyrenees. He’s more somber in spirit, and the character he comes across made less eccentric at the same time more locally embodied. He has rejected much that Greene is content to accept: the materialism, hierarchies, fashion-laden admiration for what reeks of rank, monetary success. Downie is exploring his own mind (quietly, not that openly), his past, and the past of the countryside he and his wife are walking through. One needs courage and a partner to do what they are doing — — just walking following an old route and not sure whether they will find an inn in a given place, or the kind of food and drink they might require. They are doing their journey in an entirely non-commercial way.

Gradually his book turns into a more political polemic attached to French history (eons back) and the recent political events (1871 and the French occupation in WW2, Algeria, modern emergence of fascism). An emerging theme is how much is left across the French countryside of WW2. We saw that in Calais and Brittany. Downie describes so much left of the Resistance (and Nazis’ atrocities) and so criss–crosses for me A French Village (and Come What May). It’s a pilgrimage, in which the French landscape seems to contain almost no one, they have to find taverns and even once stay in someone’s home, take chances, depend on themselves and other people. It put me in mind of Anne Radcliffe’s gothics at their spiritual landscape best. Colleen’s Paris (a blog reviewer) captures the book very well, telling you the details of the story too. Downie’s book is more genuinely worked out than Greene’s.

Both are a long distance from VS Naipaul’s masterpiece, The Enigma of Arrival (Salmon Rushdie finds it too sad), but they move in this direction of deep meditation in a landscape about the history of the place through what’s physically left there and what we can know (and in Naipaul’s case) dream deeply and re-create to make of himself (to the person) embedded in this foreign landscape — through his memories too. For Naipaul it’s the landscape around Stonehenge, as a strong antidote to the culture he was born in and has rejected. Karen Langley in her Kaggsy’s Ramblings writes of a lighter gay variant, Hugo Charteris’s Marching with April (introduced beautifully by Frederic Raphael), the writer and his family determine to leave London and takes root in an ancient place, the Highlands (out of his background) and attempt to build a new life: this time the Highlands. It will come after Downie’s Paris Paris, is lower on onw my night-table’a pile.

To be honest, I’m only half-way through Paris, Paris but I’m just loving it. One problem with many travel books is they fail to convey a deep sense of what it feels like to be in the place — Downie has this ability. Each area of Paris the reader is taken to, is fitted into a larger coherent picture of the city, and then itself explored visually, physically, and mentally. The photographs are beautifully done (black-and-white) and epitomize a mood, the kinds of history that occurred in the place and/or what is there now, the people he sees. I’ve been to Paris three times now, once long ago for 6 weeks on my own in a cold winter, and twice with Jim and Izzy, 2 weeks around Christmas time and the New Year (2000), and the following summer. I am learning more, getting a better feel of the place than I’ve ever done and think if I could go back how much more I’d benefit. Each chapter is a little Eleanor Clarke, Rome and a Villa. Each one forms a walking tour; you are exploring with him. A shorter review by Kirkus. Janet Hulstrand says rightly there is so much here of history, literature, art, that it’s almost impossible to capture in a couple of paragraphs, but I believe she comes near and regales us with the details evocatively.

Downie himself, talking in France, about the book. He begins slowly, and has trouble getting into contact with the audience but as he goes on he’s extraordinary: the romanticism of Paris is the result of its negativity, that it make each visitor invisible, and conveys amid its austere life suffering, time past, darker passions contained.

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Hannelore Elsner as Nadja Uhi, with either one of the film’s younger actresses or perhaps the director? or costume maker?

I had confided in a friend how much I was again missing Jim this summer, and my friend recommended to me a 2008 German film, Cherry Blossoms, about an older man whose wife dies suddenly. I looked up the reviews and found most reviews to be vitriolically hostile or indifferent. For the record, I watched The Toyko Story and found it to be frozen, creepy, too long, too still, absurdly over-rated. The only parallels are the angry children and the deaths.

Cherry Blossoms opens with Nadja, the wife (a wonderful German actress, Hannelore Elsner) listening to doctor’s tell her that Rudi, her husband has not got long to live. She cries silently; they tell her to take him on a trip and she says he hates adventures. He follows the same narrow routine everyday of his life, including the sandwich she makes him for lunch. It would seem despite her staying home, being there for him all the time as he forges forth in the world, he stays within her sphere.

So no surprise when he follows her advice as she proposes a trip to visit their grown children in Berlin or some other German city (they live in a country town or suburb) and to the beach by a hotel. We see how much they do love one another, are dependent on one another, also glimpse the hostility to them of their grown children who slowly it’s revealed find their presence even so briefly an encumbrance, annoyance. Her favorite son lives far away in Tokyo — later we learn he moved there, that far to escape the domination of her quiet presence.

Quiet mood on a boardwalk; they move to the beach, by the shore, and suddenly she dies.

The film is half an hour in. The rest is Rudi’s very hard adjustment, then a chosen trip to Tokyo to see the son who fled them. At first he is bewildered and this son also hostile; they adjust to one another; he gets lost early on, but soon he is finding his way. Tokyo seemed to me as inhumane as I’ve thought it. The son says everyone works weekends, long days, all the time. They live in small boxes in high look-alike buildings, where everything looks the same. Their talk reveals that indeed the wife had always had this inexplicable desire to visit Japan, had wanted to be a Japanese stylized dancer. We have seen photos of her when young so dancing.

He has brought with him his wife’s clothes, at first he puts them on the bed beside him to sleep (what he started at home) but then he puts them on under his coat. He sees and then introduces himself to a street performer, Yu, an 18 year old girl who turns out to be homeless. She does a dance where she appears to get into contact with the dead; she says she is with her mother this way. She wears white make-up on her face — as the aborigine did in Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith as a sign he was willing to die, to let the whites murder him rather than flee them some more. He and she bond, form a friendship, she says she is an orphan and he suddenly cuts loose from this son (who has said he moved to Tokyo to get away from his mother who he loved so much but was overwhelming).

He takes the girl to Mount Fuji which his wife dreamed of going to. She dreamed of being a dancer, of going to Japan. He feels very badly that he stood in her way. We do see how middle class people in Japan take holidays: in a vast hotel-like structure where they live semi-communally — all eat in the same vast room. He and Yu are failing to see the Mount as each day it is so cloudy; and one morning he gets up very early and sees the mount: a vision. He hurries back, dresses in a Japanese dancing costume for a man that he has brought, and returns to the shore. As he dances, we see a hand reach his, and his wife is there, visible, similarly dressed. They dance intensely together. The camera moves away to Yu, just waking up. She discovers Rudi is gone, a couple of hours go by and he does not return. Now she too goes to the shore and finds him dead, laying by the shore. There follows a Japanese style funeral with his son and Yu presiding over his ashes in an urn, and then another funeral in Germany. The film ends quietly with the camera returning to the girl who has returned to the park to dance for money and to reach her mother. There is a dedication at the movie’s close, apparently by Dorrie remembering someone who perhaps died.

I use the phrase very moving so often, so let me say very very touching. Here is a review by Frederick and MaryAnn Brussat which begins to do the film justice. It’s beautifully tastefully filmed, written, the music just perfect, everything, tactful, controlled. I found it uplifting.

I do have one (many) regrets from my marriage: I never went to the shore or the beach with Jim enough. I knew how he burnt, and I’d get bored. Now I wish I had gone every summer with him — we’d go when we went to England to the Chitterings beach, once we went to Brighton. This summer I didn’t get to the shore at all. It is a three hour drive from my house to reach a public beach.

So these are the summer books and movies I have experienced this season of 2021; Nicolls at mid-summer and these at journey’s end.

Ellen

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Mally (Veronica Quilligan) and Jess, her donkey (1973 Malachi’s Cove, Penrith Film)

Dear friends and readers,

I am delighted to be able to say I gave a third successful on-line talk about an Anthony Trollope story to a group of people who have been meeting every two weeks since March 2020 online to discuss Anthony Trollope and his writings (sponsored by the London Trollope Society); that is, since self-quarantining for the COVID pandemic began. In June as a way of transitioning from Framley Parsonage (the fourth Barsetshire novel), I introduced Trollope’s Last Chronicle of Barset by comparing it to Joanna Trollope’s The Rector’s Wife (the first written 1866, the second 1991). Then about five months ago (March 2021) I gave a talk on Dr Thorne as the book by Trollope I first read and one I remain especially fond of. This time, last Monday, I spoke about one of his short stories, “Malachi’s Cove.” The group is still enthusiastic — we are having fun — still going strong, with plans for a another of Trollope’s novels, The American Senator, to begin September 5th.

My paper talk on this story and a comparison of it to its film adaptation by Henry Herbert (1973, Penrith film company) is another paper that comes out of a blog I wrote. But it has a larger context as my subtitle suggests.


John Everett Millais, “Waiting at the Railway Station,” from Good Words

For a long time now I’ve known that Trollope’s short stories are not sufficiently appreciated, mostly because they remain unread even by his more devoted readership. I taught these as a group to college students way back in the early 1990s when I realized that they were a good length to assign students, were written in clear, entertaining, often comic but sometimes tragic ways, and could and did interest college-age students: among other things, they are travel stories (Trollope gathered them more than one as “Tales of All Countries”) and about colonialism. The students were more open-minded towards these old tales than I expected, at first more so than the people on a listserv I was moderating at the time, perhaps because they came to Trollope with no expectations whatsoever — most of them never having heard of Anthony Trollope before. Then a few years later (1997) to the other adults on a listserv I was moderating, I again proposed reading and discussing all the stories; after a while it went over so well that I was able to put on my website a record of what we said and thought. We liked them sufficiently that years later we went through a selection of the stories once again (“The Spotted Dog,” “Why Frau Frohman Raised her Prices,” “Journey to Panama” among these. Each Christmas we still read a couple of the Christmas tales (for example, “Christmas at Thompson Hall”).


John Everett Millais, “Christmas Story-Telling,” “Christmas Supplement,” London News, 20 December 1862

Malachi’s Cove represents one of masterpieces of the genre that Trollope wrote — which I name in my paper.

So, now Dominic Edwards, our fearless moderator and leader (and Chairman of the Trollope Society) this summer proposed for August we as a group read a few of the short stories — as a kind of break from the longer works. (We had just finished The Way We Live Now.) He chose “An Unprotected Female at the Pyramids” and “A Ride Across Palestine” (sometimes called “The Banks of the Jordan”). I know I showed a lot of enthusiasm about the stories, and he asked me would I present a talk on “Malachi’s Cove” to start us off. It emerged that in fact the place on the London Trollope Society website where you can find all sorts of information about “Malachi’s Cove” (story, characters, publication date) is one of the most popular spots on the site. I was happy to do a talk.

In brief, I first showed that Trollope’s tale is a violent mood piece presented as a parable: we experience a persuasive glimpse of two people surviving together through “a hard and perilous trade” (460) in Cornwall: the girl rakes seaweed from the cliffs and rocks on the edge of the Atlantic Ocean where it washes up on the shore, to sell it for fertilizer. She makes it seems just enough to stave off destitution for herself and her grandfather who appears to have custody of her. Then I take the reader through the film adaptation, which I also think superb, and demonstrate how the Penrith film (the name of the company) develops from Trollope’s matter a haunting coming-of-age film (a familiar movie subgenre), an atmospheric Cornish story of intense loss, grief, anger and providential renewal.

So, here as before, is a link to the video on the website, which Dominic kindly accompanied by setting forth talk itself beautifully, “Malachi’s Cove: An Edge Tale: On behalf of Trollope’s Short stories.”. And as before I transfer the video from the Trollope Society site here for your convenience and to have it as part of my blog site:

You can also read the text at academia.edu


Malachi’s Cove, the opening far shot: Mally and Jess as specks by the shore

There is, as any regular reader of this blog will know, another context: I am enormously interested in films, especially adaptations of books. I love them personally and have published papers on them professionally and here on my website and blogs. So my paper values the film as much as it does the story.


Malachi’s Cove, the Vicar (John Barrett) talking with Mally in the graveyard by her dead parents’ gravestone

Ellen

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