Archive for the ‘film studies’ Category

Bronze Age Tomb in Cornwall

Launceston Gaol, early modern to 19th century prison …

A Syllabus

For a Study Group at the Oscher LifeLong Learning Institute at George Mason University
Seven sessions: Wednesdays, 11:50 to 1:15 pm, Tallwood, 4210 Roberts Road
Dates: Sept 30th to November 11th
Dr Ellen Moody

Description of Course

In this course we’ll read Winston Graham’s Ross Poldark and Demelza, the first two of a twelve novel series, and we’ll watch and compare episodes from the first and second Poldark TV mini-series (1974-7, 2015-present). The first two Poldarks are brilliantly realized regional romances, part of a set of four (the other two, Jeremy Poldark and Warleggan) excellently researched historical novels dramatizing issues of concern to a war-torn world; the second trilogy (The Black Moon, The Four Swans, and The Angry Tide, written 1973-1977) dramatizes 1960 and 1970 feminist and political movements; and the second quartet and coda (The Stranger from the Sea, The Miller’s Dance, The Loving Cup, The Twisted Sword, and Bella, 1981-91, 2003), colonialism, war, parliamentary politics, and even animal rights. All though the prisms of the Cornish landscape, history, the industry of mining and business of smuggling, and medicine; and issues of law and (in)justice, poaching and gaming laws, courts and prisons, and class and marital customs, and European wars. The 1970 and the new 2015 series adapt and re-boot the books across 40 years. Graham wrote other historical fiction, one history and travel book (about Cornwall), and many mystery and psychological thrillers, for some of which he won prestigious awards; others were made into famous respected films which helped “make” the careers of the central actors (e.g., Sean Connery in Hitchcock’s Marni; Devid Hemmings in Till and Bluestone’s Walking Stick). We  will treat the novels as serious historical fiction and compare and discuss the films

Robin Ellis as Ross Poldark, leaving fair, Angharad Rees as Demelza climbing up

Clive Francis as a sympathetic troubled Francis Poldark

Required texts: Graham, Winston. Ross Poldark: A Novel of Cornwall, 1783-1787 and Demelza: A Novel of Cornwall, 1788-1790. They are available in the US in two different editions: NY: Sourcebooks, 2009/10 (RP is 330 pages, D is 374) or NY: PanMacmillan, 2008 (RP is 472 pages, and D is 422).

Click on map to make larger: the imagined map of Poldark country is placed on top of the real Cornwall

Format: Study group meetings will be a mix of informal lecture and group discussion.

Sept 23: No class as I am unable to be there, but read ahead for the first class, RP, Bk 1, Chs 1-9.
Sept 30: In class: Winston Graham, life & career; what is historical fiction and/or film? Read for next time RP, Bk 1, Chs 10-18, Bk 2, Chs 1-4.
Oct 7: Ross Poldark. For next time read RP, Bk 2, Chs 5-8, Bk 3, Chs 1-8; read also NMoody, “Poldark Country and National Culture.”
Oct 14: Ross Poldark; the class watches a clip from 1975 Poldark, Part 3. For next time finish RP, Bk 3, Chs 9-10; and read Demelza, Bk 1, Chs 1-13
Oct 21: Ross Poldark and Demelza. the class watches a clip from 2015 Poldark, Part 4. Read for next time, Demela, Bk 1, Ch 14-15; Bk 2, Chs 1-12; read also RMoseley, “‘It’s a wild country … passionate and strange.”
Oct 28: Demelza. Read for next time, Demelza, Bk 2, Chs 13-11, Bk 4, Ch 1
Nov 4: Demelza. For next time finish Demelza, Bk 4, Chs 2-11. Read EMoody, “I have the right to choose my own life.”
Nov 11: Demelza. The class watches brief clips from 1975 and 2015 Poldarks Parts & 8 back-to-back.

Aidan Turner as Ross sitting among, part of the working mining men

Eleanor Tomlinson as Demelza, walking and playing with her dog, Garrick

Recommended books (articles sent by attachment):

Graham, Winston .Poldark’s Cornwall. Oxford: Bodley Head, 1983.
————— Poldark, Novels of Cornwall, 1783-1820. London: Panmacmillan, 1924-2003.
—————. Memoirs of a Private Man. London: Panmacmillan, 2003
Hay Douglas, Peter Linebaugh, E. P. Thompson, et alia. Albion’s Fatal Tree: Crime and Society in 18th century England. NY: Pantheon, 1975.
Marsden, Philip. Rising Ground. London: Granta, 2014.
Moody, Nickianne. “Poldark Country and National Culture,” from Cornwall: The Cultural construction of a Place.
Moody, Ellen. “‘I have the right to choose my own life:’ Liberty in the Poldark Novels,” on-line my website.
Moseley, Rachel. “‘It’s a Wild Country. Wild … Passionate … Strange’: Poldark and the Place-Image of Cornwall,” from Visual Culture in Britain.
Poldark. Dr Christopher Barry, Paul Annett. Writers. Jack Pullman, Paul Wheeler. Perf. Robin Ellis and Angharad Rees, Jill Townsend, Ralph Bates, Paul Curran, Norma Steader, Richard Morahan. BBC/1975-76, 1977-78.
Poldark. Drs. Wm MacGregor, Edward Bazalgette, Writer Debbie Horsfield. Perf. Aidan Turner, Eleanor Tomlinson, Kyle Soller, Ruby Bentall, Jack Farthing. BBC/ITV, 2015-
Porter, Roy and Dorothy. Patient’s Progress: Doctors and Doctoring in 18th century England. Stanford: StanfordUPress, 1989

Further on-line materials:

Authorized updated website on Graham, his life, novels, films.
The Poldark novels, and other fiction, non-fiction and films.
Winston Graham: lists of books, essays and other websites.

Winston Graham and Garrick, still a puppy, at Perranporth Beach

Godolphin House, Cornwall (used as Trenwith, Poldark family home, 1975-76)

Wheal Owles Mine, Penwith, St Just, Cornwall (fallen into desuetude, for far shots of Ross’s Wheal Leisure, 2015)


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I can’t resist putting this trailer on this blog for our coming “last” season of Downton Abbey:

Do we not all see and hear what we are in for? We’ll have the “last” premiere, and then the last second episode, the last time for this and the last time for that, with plangent music and retrospective nostalgia galore. This year we are asked to remember them with intense regret at their going before they even begin.

Oh for the original spirit and team of PBS’s Sesame Street: they’d have done a delicious parody.

It’d be hilarious were not that this absurdity brings tears to my eyes since I have loved these characters, allowed some of them when they appear to become deeply entwined inside my emotional life, pull at it acutely.

Shameless, shameless.

The extra we may look forward to are (I hope and prefer) good-natured video burlesques over this One More Time Through with Full Measure autumn. Or properly-justified and well-merited (I admit) snarky ones.

The September 20th date is for British TV. I suppose Poldark 2 will follow that. Please peruse (click on it!) a handy list of all my blogs on Poldark 1 (and Graham’s Ross Poldark, Demelza and the first eight episodes of the 1975-6 season) here — with another on wigs and hats. No need for nostalgia; the cast has signed on for 5 or 6 more years.


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PHOENIX  ein Film von CHRISTIAN PETZOLD mit  NINA HOSS und NINA KUNZENDORF .Die Geschichte einer Holocaust Ueberlebenden die mit neuer Intentität herausfinden will ob ihr Mann sie verraten hat. Story on a woman who has survived the Holocaust. Presumedly dead, she returns home under a new identity to find out if her husband betrayed her Phoenix. Il racontera l'histoire, après la Seconde Guerre Mondiale, d'une femme qui a survécu à l'Holocauste. Tout le monde la croit morte. Elle revient chez elle sous une nouvelle identité et découvre que son mari l'a trahie... ACHTUNG: Verwendung nur fuer redaktionelle Zwecke im Zusammenhang mit der Berichterstattung ueber diesen Film und mit Urheber-Nennung PHOENIX  ein Film von CHRISTIAN PETZOLD mit  NINA HOSS und RONALD ZEHRFELD.Die Geschichte einer Holocaust Ueberlebenden die mit neuer Intensität herausfinden will ob ihr Mann sie verraten hat. Story on a woman who has survived the Holocaust. Presumedly dead, she returns home under a new identity to find out if her husband betrayed her Phoenix. Il racontera l'histoire, après la Seconde Guerre Mondiale, d'une femme qui a survécu à l'Holocauste. Tout le monde la croit morte. Elle revient chez elle sous une nouvelle identité et découvre que son mari l'a trahie... ACHTUNG: Verwendung nur fuer redaktionelle Zwecke im Zusammenhang mit der Berichterstattung ueber diesen Film und mit Urheber-Nennung
Nelly (Nina Hoss) having returned to where she once lived finds a precious relic while Lene (Nina Kuzendorf) looks on

Dear friends and readers,

I hasten to write about this film to recommend it lest it leave movie-houses quickly. It seemed in no danger of this after its second week of screening at my local semi-art film theater (calls itself Cinema Arts Theater) as in the later afternoon on a weekday there were still some 20+ people in the auditorium; but as this theater has a substantial percentage of Jewish customers and it’s been billed as a holocaust film, a first intense interest is understandable. The title in English and one of its sources (1965 film, Return from the Ashes) offers a clearer idea of its slightly fantastic story content and theme.

Phoenix caught my attention because it stars Nina Hoss who starred in the powerful film adaptation by Max Faberbock of Marta Hiller’s A Woman in Berlin (about gang and individual ceaseless rapes in war); it is a another startling movie focusing on a woman that works like a fable and thus reminded me of another German film, The Wall (Marien Haushofen’s novel adapted by Julian Polsler). I do tell what I understand of the ending and a couple of central acts in order to give the feel of makes this movie valuable as an experience.


How she looks soon after the surgery

The first act is Nelly (Nina Hoss), is brought out of a concentration camp with her face just about totally ruined (smashed cheek bones, nose, horrible behind bandages) by Lene (Nina Kuzendorf) who works on the humanitarian tasks of “bringing” back into society the devastated human remnants of these camps. We are to believe an operation restores her just about wholly, that she cannot resist hunting for her long-lost husband, Johnny (Ronald Zehrfeld), and readily finds him in a Berlin nightclub. No one could be so restored as she is by the end.

Another holocaust story you might still say, or about German guilt but that does not capture its inner life. The characters are haunting, haunted people, and the way it’s filmed (in a bomb-devastated impoverished Berlin) suggests how intense is the human emotion to recapture one’s identity if it has been taken away, to take back and resume a past that seems to have been wiped out, utterly undermined forever. It is about Nelly’s refusal to give up a love and set of beliefs in the value of humanity because not only the person you loved but everyone else around you betrayed you.

Crossing the border

Nelly persists. After the initial getting past the check-point (some danger for the brutal soldiery only let Lene pass when she shows them Nelly’s damaged face), Nelly’s surgery and first recovery, she begins to wander the wasteland streets, and bars and clubs open all night. We see women dragged out of these places and beat up by men in the wastelands behind the taverns; some of them enact super-sexy numbers on stage (parodies of Marlene Dietrich), and we fear for Nelly. Johnny is one of the poorly paid waiters.


We are afraid of Johnny when she meets him, he is rough and domineering. Lene gets Nelly a gun and says if she can’t use it, just pulling it out might help. So it’s about the abuse of women in part, and the violence of men — the SS guards at the checkpoints are frightening, ready to kill or maim; to call the men in the film patriarchal doesn’t capture the steely feel of them.

There is an muted but intense grief suffused throughout the movie whose active dynamic comes from Nelly’s ceaseless quest (she says she cannot resist it) first to get her original face back through plastic surgery and then to find her husband. The first direct loss in the action of the film itself is Lene’s: Lene has brought her out; Lene has found a place for them to live they can afford, has arranged for the surgery, and now plants a new life for Nelly in Israel, but Nelly protests she is not a religious or even secular Jew — she was a German and is a German woman. Lene is not disinterested: the mannish way she dresses and her affection for Nelly suggests that Lene is a lesbian, and loves Nelly intensely. She feel after all she has done for Nelly, Nelly is not reciprocating in the way Lene has planned for her. Moreover, Nelly’s behavior suggests she forgives her husband, will allow herself to be used and dominated again. Lene asks, Are there not some acts that are unforgivable?

Lene tells Nelly after Nelly finds Johnny that Johnny betrayed her. He told the gestapo where she was. Nelly’s sense is that Johnny did this out of fear for himself, he was not active in it. Lene then tells Nelly that Johnny did get in touch with her to see if he could inherit the money she had from her years as a cabaret singer and from her family (there’s a fine mansion in his family now half-ruined). All this does is galvanize Nelly to pretend to be Esther, someone else who offers to imitate Nelly for Johnny, offers to enact the role so he can claim she is alive after all and both of them take the money. She puts on the clothes he buys for her and her old shoes which (miraculously?) fit her.

She seems to feel revulsion at her act of redressing as herself here

We see while he is willing to be courteous and on the surface kind to Nelly-Esther, he is also willing to do anything to Esther to make her look like Nelly, and as Esther gradually begins to look like Nelly he becomes confused and troubled but his emotions are not enough to deter him say from asking her to re-carve numbers on her arm so that she will look like she’s been in a concentration camp.

PHOENIX  ein Film von CHRISTIAN PETZOLD mit  NINA HOSS und RONALD ZEHRFELD.Die Geschichte einer Holocaust Ueberlebenden die mit neuer Intentität herausfinden will ob ihr Mann sie verraten hat. Story on a woman who has survived the Holocaust. Presumedly dead, she returns home under a new identity to find out if her husband betrayed her Phoenix. Il racontera l'histoire, après la Seconde Guerre Mondiale, d'une femme qui a survécu à l'Holocauste. Tout le monde la croit morte. Elle revient chez elle sous une nouvelle identité et découvre que son mari l'a trahie... ACHTUNG: Verwendung nur fuer redaktionelle Zwecke im Zusammenhang mit der Berichterstattung ueber diesen Film und mit Urheber-Nennung PHOENIX  ein Film von CHRISTIAN PETZOLD mit  NINA HOSS und RONALD ZEHRFELD.Die Geschichte einer Holocaust Ueberlebenden die mit neuer Intensität herausfinden will ob ihr Mann sie verraten hat. Story on a woman who has survived the Holocaust. Presumedly dead, she returns home under a new identity to find out if her husband betrayed her Phoenix. Il racontera l'histoire, après la Seconde Guerre Mondiale, d'une femme qui a survécu à l'Holocauste. Tout le monde la croit morte. Elle revient chez elle sous une nouvelle identité et découvre que son mari l'a trahie... ACHTUNG: Verwendung nur fuer redaktionelle Zwecke im Zusammenhang mit der Berichterstattung ueber diesen Film und mit Urheber-Nennung

The movie comes to a first climax when Nelly comes home for her usual reports to Lene (she does not desert Lene) and finds Lene has shot and killed herself. Lene is that desolated at Nelly’s behavior, made that desperate at Nelly’s abjection. Her last act just before was to leave Nelly documents: those which show Johnny actively betrayed her and a set of divorce papers where he divorced himself from her in order to have no ties or responsibility towards her. The suicide and these papers have a strong effect on Nelly; she seems almost to give up her project of pleasing Johnny, but she does not. She persists.

The culminating thing Johnny needs for Nelly-Esther (how he sees her) to do is get on a train and meet the members of their old community and friends; they must recognize her without him pointing her out. He tells Nelly who they are and what to say to them and what they will automatically say in response — their cant. They utter that cant. They all look like they are rejoicing, she hugs Johnny and all go to a room in the mansion. He sits at the piano for her to sing as a final proof. She begins awkwardly by the end she is singing Cole Porter’s Night and Day (a song played on and off through the movie) as melodiously and hauntingly as she once did. He looks at her and finally seems to recognize she is really Nelly and look remorseful or at her as a person. At this she stops singing, she looks around at these phony superficial people and slips out the door.

What has happened? it’s left ambiguously. In life Nelly was a singer, wife, chatelaine — it’s like she is no longer in life anymore even if she has her appearance back — and when Nelly has fooled everyone and it seems that Johnny will get the inherited money, she looks about her and walks away from them all. It’s as if this song is a final blow. But on whom?

Will she walk away? or stay around the corner for another turn of events and just live with these memories. If the emphasis is on how this is the return of ashes, then she will at least escape from these people, refuse to pretend to trust them and that all is the same. But if the emphasis is on persistence and the need for an identity, she will stay as she has no other choice she can stand. She did not want to make herself into a Jew she never was; she does not want a false identity.

The film comes to no conclusion what she should do. In a way it relates to all the movies of devastated worlds, people floating about anonymously, identifies destroyed, but it is more like Mr Holmes and I’ll Dream of You in that there is a community to return to, belong to — sort of. The difference is this community Nelly re-finds, betrayed her before: all of the people were willing to give her up to the Nazis as she was born a Jew lest they get in any kind of trouble. We are to ask what would this community do if the world turned upside down again and they had to give her up again. Would they hesitate?

From late in the movie when Johnny and Nelly take a photo together in front of her ex-mansion — the photo makes him look as vulnerable as she


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“There is much in the world which is monstrous” — Graham’s Ross on the beach, Demelza

“I am finding it very hard to live with myself” — Francis to Elizabeth, Christmas, Wheeler’s script, invented scene …

“Have a care for the law. Tis a cranky and twisty old thing. And you may flout it half a dozen times. But let it once come to grips with you, and you find it harder to be loose from than a great black squid.” — Captain MacNeil to Ross, Horsfield’s script, a darker variant on Graham’s utterance

Onthebeach1 (2)

Onthebeach1 (1)

On the beach carrying the burdens of life’s necessities, leading those who will come with him back (Aidan Turner as Ross Poldark, 2015)

Dear friends and readers,

So we are come to the end of this year’s first season: Poldark re-booted, 40 years on. Though I’ve not titled this blog to include Graham’s Demelza nor the 8th episode of the 1975 Poldark, as in all previous this is another comparative blog which assumes previous knowledge. Once again we have the old familiar pictures from the 1970s for those who loved them as I did. And once again, the distance as well as similarities between Ross Poldark and Demelza and the two disparate kinds of film art.

Our theme though is a bit different. I have been able to profit from watching one of Debbie Horsfield’s previous mini-series, the astonishing, riveting All the Small Things (directed by Metin Huysein, whose corpus includes the 1997 Tom Jones) and read about a couple of others. All the Small Things differs strongly in its dramaturgy from this new Poldark: Like Sex, Chips & Rock-n-roll, its scenes are not short, the characters use precise interesting complicated language, and its strength derives from what the characters say to one another. In neither is there this continual back-and-forth switching of montage and repetition of archetypes and simple ideas. This dramaturgy was therefore deliberate, and British ratings say it’s been widely watched. Thanks to Anibundel I’ve also been comparing costumes, hats, hairdos, wigs. If these be not costume drama, costume drama is nowhere to be found.

My suggestion tonight: while the 1970s film-makers were content to produce a sufficiently historically accurate and novelistic series reproducing the spirit of the original books (4 of them, post WW2 milieu), Horsfield’s cinematic archetypal approach is an attempt to make a new mythic matter. The 1975 films are Cornish regional romance, an adaptation of 4 historical fictions set carefully in the later 18th century, low-keyed enough for comedy. The 2015 films are not localized in the same way at all; they reach out to function the way recent films do, aware of themselves as in an intertexual film universe. This is not as hubristic as it may seem, as Graham says in the early 1970s when filming the first four books was broached to him, the idea was to make a British kind of Gone with the Wind, I half-regret to admit US mythic matter because so pro-Southern, so racist.

This is not to say that both don’t differ from the original book and try to appeal to the mainstream politics of the era. So in Demelza where it is acceptable and understood from centuries of custom, that the flotsam and jetsam of wreckage on a beach is fair game for the people living around both films takes into account this seems to our capitalist private-property obsessions crime of the first order. There was also a deep resentment against the excise tax, the imposed soldiers of the British army who were there to stop any reform movements lest they turn into a 1790s English style French revolution. In Graham’s Demelza Ross arouses Jud to waken the community, he is half-mad with grief and rage and needs to strike out against an implacable universe which has taken his child, his business, still threatens his wife, and he is gladdened to see the local people gain food and furniture for the coming year, and he participates, but he does not lead; he encourages, represses, orders where needed; only when a riot ensues when other groups of people come does he intervene to save the captain and his men and look to see if anyone needs saving on the ship.


Takingaction (2)

Takingaction (1)
Looking from on high over the beach, distraught (many close-ups), taking action, first a line to go into the ship and then stumbling on soldiers urging them back to Nampara (Robin Ellis as Ross Poldark, 1975)

Paul Wheeler departs from this by having Robin Ellis go to Jud to find help for the men on the ship, and only realize that scavenging will result when he looks into Jud’s eyes, and then exult; Ellis spends his night trying to stop the riot, and save people. We see the British soldiers as in an earlier corn riot killing the people. By contrast, Debbie Horsfield has Ross not only rouse Jud deliberately, but himself organize the scavenging so as to be deeply useful to all, alert throughout, a figure of controlled stern anger, taking on managerial functions; like Ellis and Graham’s Ross himself violent to stop others’ violence, as a last thought inviting the Captain and his men back to the house but if they do not trust him they need not come. We see the lead British soldier taking a bribe from Warleggan to lie about what Ross did on the beach.

The changes are telling. In 1975 we have a deeply psychological take on a man in distress and acting half-insanely, innocent of scavenging himself; in 2015 we have a hero caring for his people by scavenging with them. Wheeler’s is closer to the book where Ross means to allow others to scavenge, but then tries to stop the riot, but in neither film is there a willingness to dramatize one of Graham’s paradoxical themes: the self fighting society’s deep corruptions, refusing to be coopted except on its own definition of what is virtue.


Graham’s Demelza, the last quarter

Chapter 1: Verity’s letter to Demelza: her happiness and gratitude, Verity now has the life to live she wanted to and could. Family and business, politics and gender are utterly intertwined in the world (seen in Graham’s Forgotten Story and Cordelia. Demelza did it. Chapter 2: a bleak Christmas — at Nampara and Trenwith. Francis despairing, alcoholic, Elizabeth turning away. Demelza and Ross and Enys carrying on with carols; he going over books, ending company; the two struggling through to be decent to one another and restore relationship; she visits Sir Hugh Bodrugan, Ross’s angery: he will not ask for loan; he will see Pascoe.

Chapter 3: The desperate illness at Trenwith brings Choake and then Enys; Ross’s meeting with Tonkin and then George’s offer to buy him out at inn; narrator insists on spite as strong motive in George. So Demelza’s (to Ross and the Poldark family) loyalty to her gender and sister-friend has destroyed Ross’s company. As in Ross Poldark where Ross’s humane rescue of the child Demelza brought down the community on him, so her humane rescue allows others’s exploitation. Chapter 4: News of illness at Trenwith: another decision of hers, to be a nurse to Francis, Elizabeth and Geoffrey Charles, partly because she feels she took from them Verity — this will lead to her sickness, the death of Julia. This is interwoven with Ross and Sir John, Ross and Pascoe where Ross will not sell his mine.

Chapter 5 Ross to Pearce. Pearce lives with his sister; he will arrange 1000 pound loan if he can; Ross home to Demelza who tells Ross where she’s been and what done: at Trenwith with the dying helping to save them. His intense business for a year is useless and he is thrown back on farming. He refuses still to sell his shares to Warleggan and takes out a new loan to pay through Pearce — refusing to bend to the monopoly. It is his choice to do this (which will lead to smuggling in the next book), but it was Demelza’s interference interacting with the family that inadvertently led to the failure.

Chapter 6: New Year’s Day, 1790, a gale, snow flurries, Demelza takes to her bed; Enys: both wife and daughter have it. Chapter 7: Northerly gale for another 3 days: Demelza’s nightmares; her father’s crazed religion about being saved: she dreams of Ross saying “let him die in the mud;” memories of Keren and Mark, she calls to her dog, “He takes things so much to heart, Verity had said” (of Ross); choaking someone’s hand there (Enys). The cold, the thaw, the weather, Demelza wakes and Ross lies to her that she can see Julia in morning; Julia has died

Chapter 8: The burial of the child; Ross’s rage; Julia will be lonely in the cold, she hated wind. Now deep in Ross’s mind (as we went back and forth between them just before and after marriage in first book); the wreck reported, how he rouses the people, Grambler miners to come, Jud says she never saw Ross looking so much like his father

Chapter 9: A scene Ross remembered for years afterwards: the men on the beach, women taking needed food; he gets inside ship and sees hopelessness (Sanson’s body) the fires, the wreck happening, and more men streaming on. Rose’s mind half-crazed but he does join in, advising, encouraging, repressing, ordering. There is a second ship and the wreckage is more ambiguous; it seems with help the wreck might have been avoided. But Ross’s despair and then identifying with the working classes utterly does lead to the high conflagration food riot: unintended consequences (rather like Demelza’s act for Verity). Chapter 10: Drunken fights and mayhem on the beach; men of ship come and Ross there invites them back to his house although his wife has been sick. Ross: “much in the world is monstrous”.

(A sub plot-design is Ross’s perpetual kicking against the laws and customs of his world directly while Demelza works against them indirectly — both are pro-family, pro-friend. This is by the end seen to be attached to his male friendships and companions whom he is loyal to: lower class, Jim and Mark, then upper for bank loans, and then at the end Captain MacNeil who warns him he must not get caught disobeying the law nor push it too far. MacNeil chases down smugglers on the beach and at the same time, Mark Daniels so knows Ross has been instrumental in freeing Mark. MacNeil and Ross identify as ex-solder who fought in North America, but their allegiance is to in McNeil’scase the state and law (MacNeil on the twisty nature of the law which will swallow Ross); in the Ross’s to friends, love, family, principles.)

Chapter 11: Morning after; tranquil now: he had planned so much for Julia; normative life returning to him; she so thin and weak; he takes her to window to look out, she asks that he let her stay in the sun. Book ends quietly, wrap my shoulders, let me have the light a little longer please.

For a more detailed exposition with themes worked out see Demelza, A Cornish world mirroring our own.


1975, Episode 8: it’s been rearranged but just about all the original events and characters are there. The only loss is it ends more melodramatically than the book: the soldiers come to arrest Ross. A cliff-hanger and final anguish for Demelza (which is the way 2015 ends). As throughout the film opts for theatric while the mood is naturalistic, melodramatic romance, sudden action, or wry comedy. I’ve come to realize that Francis is made considerably more appealing by Wheeler’s script: Graham’s Francis is witty, but his open self-berating and guilt are from Wheeler; also his generosity of spirit now and again.

MacNeil (Donald Douglas) issues his warning …

Opens as a continuation of Episode 7. There we saw Ross helping Mark Daniels to escape from Cornwall and a murder charge from his own boat into the sea across to France, and running up the high cliff be shot at by MacNeil and his men. Episode 8 begins with him running down the hill and across the fields to Nampara. A delicious scene for someone totally on their side ensues. Ross runs into the house where Demelza awaits him at the window; she frantically pulls off his boots and he says since MacNeil has no evidence, MacNeil cannot jail him and he must go upstairs to bed. Jinny is there, quick with an alibi — he’s been in bed all night with “the headache.” There is a comic feel to the scene as all three know Ross, Demelza and Jinny are lying.

MacNeil bursts in and Demelza is there to greet him, with Ross upstairs and coming down in a robe. We see them outwit MacNeil while his eyes glitter and he issues a warning to Ross that the law will entangle him if he does not watch out. One visible motif of this episode is those stairs: Ross running up at the opening, coming down, from the last one Mark Daniels running past to the library; MacNeil coming in and out of the hall.

The Christmas scenes are ironic — they remind me of Trollope’s Christmas scenes as they show Christmas to be an extra fraught time (not the complacent joy of stereotypes). After Ross and Demelza first escape the clutches of MacNeil we switch to Demelza and Ross hosting Enys, Sir Hugh and Lady Brodugan — in book they are alone first Christmas Eve night and visit Brodrugan the next day and her desire to ask for loans is not enacted, just discussed. At first all seemed high cheer, until Demelza not being able to contain herself asks the knight and lady for a loan to help them out. They speedily leave and Ross is indignant at her.

Francis filled with self-loathing, the cool Elizabeth, the puzzled child

Switch to Trenwith and we see Elizabeth and Geoffrey Charles at table waiting for Francis. He comes to the table drunk, filled with self-hatred over his betrayal of the names of Ross’s contributors to George; Clive Francis again delivers a powerful performance, until he collapses. Elizabeth sends for Enys then at Nampara who returns with Demelza.

Ross’s first reaction to the news of Francis’s illness is indifference; Demelza’s determination to go over to Trenwith elicit an “I forbid it,” but when she insists this is family (the great sacred cow which is not invoked in Graham’s book) and says she will go anyway, relents.

The scene where Ross is driven from wanting to behave with high integrity, to moving again to try to outwit someone, this time it’s George he wants not to sell his property too. There is a self-destructiveness here we see.

Jill Townsend as an at first cool, regal Elizabeth

Elizabeth at first wants to turn Demelza out of the house for her low rank (and because Ross married her) but in her terrible need, allows Demelza in, and Francis in his terrible sickness sees and acknowledges. One night Elizabeth and Demelza sit and makes frends. Elizabeth confesses how she broke off her engagement with Ross, how she meant to marry for money and prestige and thought she could do without love (this reminds me closely the TV mini-series version of Trollope’s Lady Laura Kennedy by Simon Raven — made a year before this series). The scene is too inhibited in its mode of acting (as are a number of the scenes of this episode), but Graham’s material comes through enough and realization gives this film an intense edge of the books. Demelza saves Francis, wins over Francis and Elizabeth, only to return herself very sick.

Demelza sick unto death, Ross nursing

As she comes in Ross scoops her up and carries her up the stairs. She is very ill and the baby Julia catches it. Enys there throughout. As in the book, it’s the death of Julia and the destruction of Ross’s hope for a successful mining venture that intertwine behind his despair which precipitates his inciting the men to their violence. Film removes Jacobin arguments and moral preferences of book for friends, high ideals, independence, integrity.

The scene on the beach occurs. Very effective and unlike today done with no computers so literally for real in front of cameras, including ships brought in, really felt underproduced violence.


Ross brings home the crew and they return to their boat in the dawn. He hears her ill, goes up and find her hysterical over the empty cradle, down those stairs again to talk in front of the fire with captain and crew.

They are in the front room the next day or so dressed as from a funeral, her comments about the small coffin and the MacNeil’s entrance and arrest. In the book the funeral occurred first and Ross’s guilt over not providing food another motive for his wanting to see people fed.

Here they talk and in film she says now there is no Julia, he must be very bitter for he married her because she was pregnant with Julia. She stood in the way of his marrying Elizabeth. He loved Elizabeth when he married her. Of course this is not in the book as in the book he married her well before she got pregnant. He acknowledges this but says that was then and now he has learned to love her. He and she speak of their two years together since. It’s at this point the book Demelza ends with a beautiful dialogue between them (re-spoke here). Book does not emphasie rivalry between women at all; book interested in social and economic pressures


Eight, though, closes with MacNeil again rushing the house. This time Ross was not expecting to be arrested, and this time MacNeil has a warrant for his arrest. The episode ends with Demelza running out of the house crying frantically for Ross. A wild thrust.

Crying after him


Cont’d in comments: 2105 Episode 8; concluding remarks.


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What happens to a dream deferred? … Does it dry up/like a raisin in the sun? from Harlem, Langston Hughes

Dear friends and readers,

Last night I watched a YouTube of all of American Theater production of Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun with Danny Glover and Estelle Rolle. It is long (2 hours and 50 minutes) and to do it I stayed up to 1:45 am, but it was well worth it, yes. I recommend to all who come to my blog to watch it sometime in the next couple of days (or soon) too and then read on:

Elaine Pigeon, a listserv friend, who I’ve also met at a JASNA conference, who alerted us on WomenWriters at Yahoo to the production, wrote concisely:

While it’s main premise is an African American’s family’s desire to realize the American Dream and own their own house, Hansberry’s play touches on many issues that resonate today: racism, gender conflict, the fragility of masculinity, money, class issues, slavery, Africa and colonialism and more.

For some excellent essays and exegeses and commentary (one by Hansberry herself), see commments. I was deeply moved. I have read it before (just once) and seen it once but no longer remember that production. Now done rightly it seemed to me the equivalent in strength of Tennessee Williams’ Streetcar Named Desire and Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman. At mid-century in the US there were a number of plays exploding the realities of American culture, the “American experience” as PBS glibly calls one of its (good) series. Williams’ plays shows us what sex is like, its premises; Miller shows how class and money work, and here Hansberry, race. What was omitted (and still is) are the imperialist militarist facist politics of the gov’t; at mid-century the gov’t was merely oligarchical, it’s gone well beyond that now. It may be that this level of life is hard to dramatize in a play where we are most affected by intimate human stories; at any rate, the only medium it’s been is film as in Gavras-Costos’s Z (so one can have a nation- and city-wide landscape as what the action is embedded in). I suspect too that the strong Jewish component of American arts (especially the theater for funding) prevented this even then, as Israel already existed (its gov’t has done all it can to stop any treaty with Iran these last few weeks). Why don’t we have plays like this any more beyond the patriot act declaring presentations of the realities of continual-war global politics treason?

I’m not discounting earlier plays, e.g., Lilian Hellman’s plays on lesbianism and the politics of war (Watch on the Rhine, The Children’s Hour), Sam Shephard’s True West exposing the results of the macho male hegemony, but in the 1970s the impetus turned to the new independent film industry and for a while there were remarkable films. Arthur Miller talked and wrote about the turn to psychological -fantasy angles as a strong retreat and I believe he’s right. He also said that films were killing live theater and there’s a truth to that.

I was most impressed by how many things in that play are still so. Yes black people can now some of them get decent jobs, but many have none at all. Ta Nehisi-Coats’s essay on how for over a century the way local economics are structured and allowed to be practiced prevents black people from having accumulation of money is relevant. $10,000 from the father’s insurance policy and irreplaceable. The bombing and desctruction of a black person’s home who dared to move into a white neighborhood.

The most disquieting aspect of the continual police murders of black people at the rare of a couple of week is that they continue. The police were taken aback when the first videos of what they do began to surface. There were riots as genuine knowledge this is happening daily spread and we’ve seen a couple of inditement –a couple! just a couple and do not know what has happened since. But yesterday it surfaced a black man’s face was destroy while he was murdered. The police are now shameless and determined to continue. Sandra Bland is not a turning point, just a low that happens. Two years ago a woman terrified of the police’s response to her running her car into one of these cement barriers in DC was gunned down and murdered and the police congratulated. (Disabled people are nearly equally at risk; homeless people.) The massacre of 9 black people while in church followed by a demonstration of the Klu Klux Klan re-asserting its right to murder black people (with its swastikas, flags, in sheets, with red crosses) is a paradigm of the behavior: murder of blacks (immigrants), riots when an individual encounter manages to be publicized, and then the power reasserts itself.

There would today be guns in play as there are not in this 1959 play. I’ll tell all that in the south east Bronx preferred weapons were bats, razors and knives. But it is harder to kill with these weapons. I bring up where I grew up (from age 4 or so to age 10 1/2) to say as I watched I bonded utterly and entered into the anguished feeling of these thwarted people. The self-inflicted berating, the loss of self-esteem, the turning on one another (especially that), the wild mistakes (because you don’t know the middle class rules nor how to protect yourself or at least try) was what I saw in my home growing up, and that of relatives and people living round us.

The qualified happy ending of the play to have its full bite shows why sometimes it’s not just irrelevant but necessary to know the autobiography. Hansberry’s family moved into a white neighborhood, and the white home owners association went to court to have them thrown out on the grounds the white man in the play cited: people have a “right” to form what communities they want. WIkipedia article writes: The restrictive covenant was ruled contestable, though not inherently invalid.” Today we have gated communities everywhere and the leaders of these associations set the grounds for who”s allowed in.

I end on the reality too that Hansberry as she became more active was surveyed, harassed, probably hounded by US agencies — as today BlackLivesMatter is. This has not been reported in mainstream media. Never is. She died at 35 (!) of pancreatic cancer. I agree with James Baldwin that this hounding and the strain of being alive in the US at the time helped bring on that cancer and her very early death.

Elaine also included a worthwhile YouTube telling of Hansberry’s life: remember as you listen to the words (the play tells people “we are just as complicated” as they — meaning white people) that the popular TV show about black people in the US was Amos ‘n Andy:


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Mark Daniel (Martin Fisk) who has very different dreams from Keren (Sheila White)

Dwight Ennys (Richard Morant), the idealistic doctor come to study diseases and help Cornish miners, bandaging up Keren’s sprained ankle (1975 Poldark, Episode 5 written Paul Wheeler, directed by Paul Annett)

‘You must be new to the profession’ … [Clive Francis as France to Dr Ennys who says he cares not for money] … ‘it fare tears your heart” — Robin Ellis to anyone listening a quiet irony on the absurdity of the play they have all just witnessed] … (Paul Annett’s script, 1975 Poldark).

Dear friends and readers,

As in Episode 5, Horsfield’s mini-series turns to adapt the Graham’s second book, Demelza, I thought I’d remind people these comparative blogs assume the reader has read at least the first seven books; though I usually only refer to the first quartet, Ross Poldark, Demelza, Jeremy Poldark & Warleggean (1945-53), conceived of as a single continuous story, since the later trilogy, The Black Moon, The Four Swans, and The Angry Tide (1973-77), take the series in a somewhat new direction socially. At the outset I suggested how the twelfth and last book, Bella Poldark (2003) resolves the tragedy of The Angry Tide (the 7th book), and the opening estrangement of Ross and Elizabeth in the first (Ross Poldark); now if a coming event is contingent upon and shapes what happens earlier (as is common in good romans fleuves) I reserve the liberty to describe events in the second quartet, The Stranger from the Sea, The Miller’s Dance, The Loving Cup, The Twisted Sword (1981-90) if needed.

I specify the first seven as these were the books adapted in 1975-78 by the BBC in 29 episodes, over 3 years with a one-year hiatus, and I assume the reader has watched this earlier series. I offer no recaps, snarky or worshipful. So don’t read on, if you don’t want to know anything at all about the books beyond what is mis-, or accurately represented by this week of the present new series and know nothing and care less about the previous best-selling mini-series (see The First Season, Episodes 1-4 of the second).


Dr Ennys (Luke Norris), presented here (as he is not in the book) as a friend from America come by Ross’s invitation to care for the miners

Keren (Sabrina Bartlett) presented as a treacherous calculating slut from our first sight of her taking advantage of the

well-meaning, hard-working Mark (Matthew Wilson) — we don’t see much of each (2015 Poldark, scripted and created by Debbie Horsfield

I regret to have to say with the best will in the world to like this new mini-series, the fifth episode returns to banal repetitive mediocrity which has been interlarded in the first three episodes of the series, and reinforces characterizations of central Graham characters which make no sense of what is to come. The second is more obvious than the first, easier to state. The presentation of Francis in 1975 as a semi-tragic figure (Clive Francis had the part right, he also played in Joe Orton plays in the 1960s) and Elizabeth as angry at Ross, mercenary, selfish in the books and 1975 series leads into his death by drowning (so wasted, like a helpless dog in a pit, says Ross) and Ross’s enraged rape of her. Horsfield has scuttled all this entirely for the present Elizabeth (Heidi Reed) as an utterly pious mother, as the series opens come to tell Eleanor Tomlinson as Demelza (as if she needs telling as she is continually presented with a doll or live baby attached to her) how motherhood is central to a woman’s existence and men just don’t understand. This new Elizabeth is made into an insufferable upholder of patriarchy in the person of the (nasty, sordid, mean Charles in 2015) to whom Francis (Kyle Soller), says Elizabeth, standing worshipfully in front of Charles’s picture, cannot hold a candle. I, for one, felt great empathy when the new Francis’s strongest desire was to escape her, and cannot see how the series can adapt Warleggan except to change these central complex events or erase them.

As Elizabeth Heidi Reed’s most characteristic shots are of a woman reproaching a man; he in turn shoots spiteful comments at her continually

It takes time to discover how it is that with 58 minutes Horsfield omits (erases) most of what is riveting and important about central Othello romance of Demelza between Mark Daniels and Keren, the traveling actress, an apparent daughter of low status working class people, while in 1975 with a mere 48 (50 with the paratextual music at the close), Annett does more than includes what matter fully: as in Pullman’s rendition of the fair in Ross Poldark where we witness a St George and the Dragon play, Annett dramatizes a typical later 18th century sentimental tragedy, one which foreshadows what is to come, and is undercut by Jud (Paul Curren ever droll, ever mocking) and Ross himself (Ellis with an ability at irony says quietly “it fare tears your heart” — the best line and best delivered in all this material).

Ross telling Demelza the party is not one she can go to: only gentlemen, cards, business deals …. (and implied women)

Well, beyond the galloping across the screen of Aidan Turner or his stunt man on his horse (to be fair all these probably take no more than a minute and a half or so) Horsfield has many scenes in the mines: she opens there with men hard at work, sweating away, and she closes with the closing of Grambler, Francis’s mine and (as in all the episodes thus far) the figures of Ross and Demelza against the landscape (her option to be sure), with some unfortunate sentiment about from Ross about how much richer his life is for being poorer. Not to distract, Horsfield keeps presenting us with Demelza and Ross to the forefront in little vignettes of just this type, we see them in their relationship eating, walking, he returns from wherever he’s been (as if he worked an 8 hour day and she was at home with the baby) or in bed together. Now if in these scenes, we were to see their relationship developing or deepening, this would be content rich. That these add nothing because the language is without subtlety or repeats what we already now is central to the problem of the whole mini-series or is hopelessly sentimental (the old trope about a woman redeeming a man is repeated). The wedding of Mark and Keren repeats the motifs of Jim and Jinny Carter’s wedding. Horsfield’ screenplay is disappointing, making the same points or showing the same kinds of thematic scenes over and over again.

Demelza is a book about the heroine coming to adulthood, maturity, signalled by her having to cope with some decisions of hers that lead to disaster at the close of the book; to be fair, Annett glided over this material to focus on Ross’s rage and despair when Francis’s treachery, a reaction to his blaming the loss of Verity to Blamey to Ross; but if Horsfield choses to dwell on it, it’s up to her to characterize Demelza in an adult fashion. Her Demelza rises to sullenness, resentful of Ross’s decision to have her parents at the christening with his relatives, and frightened of Ross’s peremptory command that she leave Verity where she is, not interfere. The couple of of the 1975 couple (Angharad Rees equally intimated and unable to cope with the upper class) allow us to see a couple finding companionability and not much more, but then they don’t take up much time.

The mine scenes and Francis’s improbable gambling away of his mine on a single card game (in the book the mine is lost over a few years of gambling, drinking and yes spending time with prostitutes, not just one) are similarly repetitive and time-consuming. The point has been made that the whole society is structured to exploit the miner, that Ross is striving zealously trying to be succcessful against great odds (though Horsfield again in a dialogue between Jack Farthing as George and Ross again blames Ross for not cooperating more with the offered compromises as a productive thing for him to do, no matter how distasteful). Again we learn how Choak is this bad guy undermining all, mean-minded, profit-oriented, narrowly selfish, his doctoring techniques thus do not indict the profession at the time as a whole (which is implied in the book). In 1975 the Warleggans are bad guys, and their cousin, Sanson, a craven cheat, but they are made to stand for types of capitalist (Nicholas works within the law, George is brutal, ruthless, a liar, hires false witnesses).

The party scene in 2015

As I’ve suggested before, much less money has been spent filming on location, for music, and now we are expected to believe in a party with almost no one there. When Ross attends the sluicing of Francis’s money by Sanson, the only visible person to talk to is Margaret wearing Francis’s latest expensive gift. In all the party scenes in 1975 there were groups of actors intermingling, talking, epitomizing different themes, carrying forward different aspects of the stories and capturing the characters in intriguingly suggestive moments. In 1975 Clive Francis was the wit of the hour, teasing Ennys for his unexpected willingness as a doctor to work for little money (“You must be new to the profession”), coming to Ross’s meeting to start a smelting venture and objecting realistically (will they find copper? what is to be done about the banks); it costs a great deal to unwater a mine, to gouge out new tunnels, he is badly in debt already). Really the last thing he wants to think about in the book and 1975 episode is what Elizabeth is thinking (he is frustrated by her rude and sneering behavior at the christening as absurd and petty).

Jill Townsend as Elizabeth lighting into Clive Francis as Francis (1975 — the couple here anticipate what is to come …)

A lack of invention and psychological insight into this class-ridden era, low status females and male aristocratic types alike, are only part of what’s wrong here. Horsfield’s feminism emerges as to say the least limited when she presents Keren as simply a desperate slut, taking advantage of the naive Dr Ennys who doesn’t know quite what to do when she asks him to dance. The important scene in the book (and dramatized in 1975) is that Mark falls sleep on the wedding night and the pair do not have sex. Keren must lie down next to him with nothing to occupy her mind but her understandable deep disappointment a true hut built of stones and mud in 24 hours(that is what Mark tries for in order to own the land as freehold) facing the wrong way so that she is alone in darkness much of the time.


Ruby Bentall plays the Verity part as did Norma Streader: she cannot bear to know the same pain again; Richard Harrington is able to act the part of Blamey as a sensitive man as the actor before him did not (in 1975 he was socially awkward, unable to communicate with people easily)

Verity trying to explain to Blamey how it’s been for her (1975)

The only secondary story-line done any justice to and given added complexity is that of Verity and Blamey. We have several scenes in this one episode, two encounters where they are given talk that has content, less it must be admitted than in the book and 1975. These dialogues are strung out across a couple of episodes in 1975 so there is more time for development. As in 1975 the meeting in the haberdashery shop is seen against a food riot, and the refusal of Sanson Warleggan to bring the price of bread at all down. The kind of grating departures seen in previous episodes though appeared again: why have Demelza lie openly in front of us and pretend not to have taken notice of the riots. How does that help keep Ross off the trail of the new developing romance? In 1975 and in the book Demelza is given a short speech about how little it would have taken to satisfy the men’s demands.

Angharad Rees as Demelza looking at the destruction and deaths (1975)

Thematically in episode 5 of 2015 there was a strange cowardice given the abrupt didacticism of the anti-capitalist rhetoric of the show. In 1975 we see the British soldier beating the miners, maiming them badly with their swords, killing some people (with close-ups). None of that happens here. Horsfield stays clear away from the Enlightenment anti-religious hypocrisy themes of the book and 1975. In the book’s christening and in 1975 it’s clear Demelza’s parents are incensed because they were not invited to be with the upper class and they take this out by shouting how vile and sickening is the drinking, the women’s revealing clothes. In 2015 the source of the rhetoric, religion, with the Bible quoted is eliminated.


The crowded varied christening: in this shot Ross meets Ennys who explains something of himself, the two bankers, Pearce and Pascoe have just been discussing money and mining, Demelza is about to break in witn her anxieties ….

On just the 1975 episode 5: this film follows the story line more or less of Graham’s book, Demelza: we open with the childbirth, Demelza’s worry that Ross will be disappointed with a boy; he is not. We move to the christening intended to be on two days with Demelza’s lower class relatives on a second one, Demelza’s parents disrupt thee first day and create ugly spectacle (with some characters behaving well, including Ross and Francis) and others taking advantage; Ennys is introduced as a Cornishman who prefers not to practice in Cornwall. It may seem so surprising today (especially to Americans) to see this idealistic doctor, but this type is found in later 18th century novels and a number of 19th century ones (Lydgate in Middlemarch, Trollope’s Dr Thorne, Gaskell’s Mr Gibson, Martineau’s Deerbrook); the slow progress of science, what is the nature of the body tie into the progressivism of the politics of these and Graham’s book. Grateful to Verity’s behavior at the christening, Demelza begins her campaign to establish contact with Blamey on behalf of Verity.

There are two scenes of business dealing in Episode 5 of 1975: effective argument among the men characterizes them both

Ross starts his company of smelting with the bankers — hidden from Warleggan. We see workers trying to wrest bread and corn from the wealthy factors, being denied, a riot, and soldiers coming in and beating these people up mercilessly. Francis has to fire his workers and is afraid to buck Warleggan and is moving into a deeper depression yes because of the failure of his mine and his loss of position and power as the head of an ancient family.

The play scene: Jud to the left making undermining comment

Graham returns to again and again to troubled marital relationships, especially when one or the other of the pair is dissatisfied sexually. Elizabeth prefers her son to her husband, and is seduced by Warleggan’s monetary success and the gifts he brings her child. This the 1975 film brings out. Even today to show a wedding night is unusual: when in the book and in the 1975 film the girl, Karen, is led to marry the worker, Mark Daniels to escape the troop life she had been living (a glorious scene of Ross, Demelza having the neighborhood over to have a play done in their farmhouse by the way), he falls asleep that night. He’s exhausted from building the house and getting the land that way. we see she is finding sex with him unsatisfactory and how she is bored with him, how child-like he is. It’s another couple is presented as having fraught difficulties because of sexual life does not cohere to supposed norms — which are themselves shown to be unreal. I know the presentation is somewhat misogynistic because Karen is presented as by nature ungenerous, exploitative, cold, and she is making up to the young new doctor, Ennys too quickly, but the film and book show that her reaction to Mark’s density and the conditions and hours of her life is understandable. Ennys feels her attraction to him, but is at first trying to ignore it. Keren did have aspirations as we see Demelza has — and Demelza’s are satisfied. Demelza and Ross are not quite the gold standard couple because we have been given more than enough in the previous episodes to show that Ross is still deeply attached to Elizabeth. In this triangle we have a repeat of how sexual enthrallment, investment fails as a criteria for picking a mate and creates terrible miseries for people.


To say what may be said of Horsfield’s mini-series, the 2015 way of making the movie provides for montage and lyric sing-song rhythms across the sequences of images. It’s anachronistic to have Ross treat his workmen as his friends and work to build a hut alongside them; the 1975 distance that Ellis keeps between himself and Mark (as his employer) is much more accurate for then and probably now, but it does not hurt in our present environment to have a central costume drama for the BBC and PBS once again presenting deep sympathy for working people, and this folk sense of rhythm and presentation is part of it. It put me in mind of the way some people seem to see or read Hardy.

The invention of the neurotic and self-destructive Francis is interesting in itself as portraiture; the actor is good at this tough role. I empathize with him; the scene of Elizabeth finding some peace with her son is good too — the problem is what does one do with the storyline of Graham’s 3rd and 4th books.

Francis helplessly self-destructing

(2015, Horsfield’s most interesting couple)

The originality of Graham’s book reflected in the Annett-Wheeler 1975 treatment of Demelza is the insight that couples experience fraught difficulties because their sexual life does not cohere to supposed norms (that is partly what is now happening between Blamey and Verity), which are themselves shown to be unrealistic. They too present Francis and Elizabeth suggestively. By episode 5 too (noticed by Graham) the film-makers were thinking of the four books as a whole and making the outer story line and presentationsof the character fit the trajectory of the plot — so the tragic death and rape to come make deep sense, are meaningful.

Ross and Demelza as the fifth episode opens, trying to become a couple over this baby (1975, Annett’s script tracing the central spine of Graham’s Demelza)


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‘What the deuce is it to me?”‘ he interrupted impatiently: ‘you say that we go round the sun. if we went round the moon it would not make a pennyworth of difference to me or to my work.’– Sherlock Holmes, A Study in Scarlet


Dear friends and readers,

Mr Holmes has a couple of obstacles or problems to wide-spread acclaim. It is melancholy. Its themes include how to cope with aging and its losses, death, stigmatized class status (a no-no). For those brought up on the action-adventure of Robert Downey, Jude Law, Michael Strong and Rachel McAdams, it will not answer your expectations; for those still wedded to Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce (to say too little of the justified paranoia of WW2), it will make fun of the 1943 fanatical adherence to the deerstalker hunting cap and pipe (Holmes goes to a black-and-white simulacrum of such a movie and just cannot sit through it); it lacks the giddy pace and surrealism of the first 2 seasons of the BBC Cumberbatch and Freeman Sherlock concoctions; but to say it’s not Holmesian (as the New Yorker guru critic in residence, Anthony Lane means to insinuate) is just not so.

I concede fully that the perspective is post-modern (conventional thought and cant, especially about death and grief be damned), that there is something deliciously Jamesian (Henry) about it. Characters have deeply traumatic encounters on park benches while wearing impeccable hats.


Close-up of hat

They fail to understand one another, cannot bear one another’s emotions. It moves slowly, with shots that capture a poetry of stillness and costume drama in its green landscapes, seascapes, the sina qua non steam train rushing serpentine and noisily through. More than twice, though in one climactic instance it matters as someone is (reminding me of a Trollope scene in The Prime Minister) voluntarily smashed to smithereens.

But that it’s not Holmesian is unfair. Once you try to drill down to what could be the psychological or thematic or even political motive or moral explanation of at least two of its flashback and front story plots, you end up with ideas that will not bear any scrutiny. Convention defeats me here: I do not claim to be writing a consistently post-modern blog so allow me to explicate and show at least miminal story consistency.

There are three time frames: the present, 1947, Mr Holmes, aged 93, losing the last vestiges of memory from the past, living on the south coast of England, cared for by a housekeeper (natch) Mrs Munroe (Laura Linney) and her son, Roger (Milo Parker) who turns to Mr Holmes as father figure because his own father died in WW2: a bitter moment of memory has Linney as Mrs Munroe remembering how, like herself, her husband, was corroded by the stigmas of lower class status, and for his efforts to become a pilot in WW2, was blown to bits immediately (his mates, content to be menial mechanics all survived the war).



A story from thirty years ago is painstakingly put together (& dramatized as flashbacks) by Mr Holmes about Ann Kelmot (Hattie Morahan) who had two miscarriages or stillborn children, cannot accept this and whose grief is only moderated by lessons she eventually finds for the glass harp (Frances la Tour, the crook teacher), whose intensity bothers her husband to the point he cuts off her money-supply and refuses to set up stone monuments for the never-developed nor born children. It is not giving away the story to say she plots to kill her husband.

Holmes (McKellen) remembering (a difficult feat in the this story) Ann Kelmot (Hattie Morahan)

It’s not true though that there is no sense to this story. The moral is the husband was wrong; he should have allowed his wife to be deluded by the crook teacher — this reminded me of Woody Allen’s frequent defenses of fortune-tellers in many of his movies and there is a fortune-telling scene here.

The glass harp medium (Frances de la Tour, aka Mrs Western in the 1997 Tom Jones)

Another backstory told through interwoven flashbacks is set in Japan: Holmes has gone to Hiroshima (1946?) to obtain a promised solution of which is said to restore the memory, only to find himself confronted by a Japanese man who accuses Holmes of seducing his father away from him and his mother through the stories of Dr Watson (The Study in Scarlet is the culprit), all the while we know that Holmes now deplores Watson’s fictions a providing false gratifying endings and heroism, with many details so wrong they are embarrassing. Of course this story “falls to pieces in your hands” (as Lane says). Worse, the explanation is reactionary defense of “national” and family secrets, of absurd honor which one sacrifices one’s life for? What Conan Doyle story does not do something like this?


It is Holmes’s self-imposed mission in the film to retrieve: to retrieve the memory of who his Japanese man was (until near the end Holmes believes the man a liar, coward, and that he never met him — the man just deserted his family); to compensate for how inadequate, insensitive, absurd, selfish was his Jeremy Brett-like behavior to Anne Kelmot (the way this Kelmot thread is dramatized is closely reminiscent of the 1980s BBC Holmes movies), something which depends on memory and rewriting Watson’s story.

Much of this is done through the techniques of filmic epistolarity: voice-over with Holmes writing out new texts to replace Watson’s. Part of the fun of this is withholding. We do not see Mycroft (who explicates the Japanese story) until near the end of the film and it’s John Sessions (for me memorable as Henry Fielding, also in the 1997 Tom Jones); we do not see the bumbling inspector (played by Phil Davis, great in sinister, threatening roles in Dickensian film adaptations, now Jud in Poldark), until near the end. There is fun in recognizing these character actors from other costume dramas quietly semi-parodying the roles.


Indeed the uplift at the close is the same fantasy Dickens plays upon in A Christmas Carol. We are asked to believe that people can make up for what they did wrong in the past, find a new person like the one you so hurt now to do better by. We do come near searing calamity in the present, brought on by both Mrs Munroe and Mr Holmes. I can’t deny that sometimes people (as characters) are lucky. The film is as Dickensian as it is Jamesian.

Hattie Morahan was once again “emotionally aflame” — Lane talks of her in A Doll’s House in BAM, but she was astonishing in Duchess of Malfi and I still watch her as Elinor refusing solace. I felt bad for Laura Linney(unbeatable in Love Actually, unforgettable in Hyde Park on the Hudson) that she was given the howling role. I found myself crying at the close because I couldn’t believe in the self-reproach and better behavior of our principal trio: Mr Holmes and Mrs Munroe, to say nothing of the maturation of Roger.

If I had anything to object to in this film it was that both Ian McKellen (too many great films and plays to begin to cite) and Laura Linney could have been given much more deeply nuanced moments. She is literally kept behind bars, looking out from windows:


The film-makers were chary about releasing stills of McKellen showing the ravages of old age in the film, as he falls, eats, puts down stones for those who have gone before him. There was a pandering to the sub-genre of old man-and-hopeful worshipping-boy

OTOH, the beautiful loving feeling at the close of the film was authentic. Doyle’s ever-cool, ever witty, impatient Sherlock is now taking the risk of giving of himself; entering into loving relationships directly. Mr Holmes will leave the property to Mrs Monro and her boy when he dies. We see Mrs Munro and Roger in the garden working together and we see them walk off hand-in-hand too. The boy is now respectful of his mother under an eye of approval by Mr Holmes. He is 94, and we last seem him putting down stones (as Ann Kelmot did) for each of his friends now gone to the earth. He bows before them murmuring a lullaby. McKellen himself is very old now. It is a summer movie because through Jeffrey Hatcher’s marvelous screenplay McKellan as Mr Holmes is believable and comforts you.


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