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secondshepherds
Mak (Ryan Sellers) and Gill (Tonya Beckman)

Mak (to his wife and the 3 visiting shepherds looking for their lost sheep: Ye have run in the mire, and are wet yet;
I shall make you a fire, if ye will sit.
A nurse would I hire [to groaning wife]. Think ye on yet?
Well quit is my hire — my dream, this is it —
A season.
I have bairns, if ye knew,
Well more than enew;
But we must drink as we brew,
And that is but reason …

Gentle readers,

You still have three days or evenings to get there. Are you down in the dumps and obeying the social conventions to appear all gaiety and cheer? If you can’t catch the theater (live too far away?), not to despair, from photos I gather this production has been done elsewhere so it can move again. Of course I can’t guarantee this inventive staging and lovely music of The Second Shepherd’s Play, as directed by Mary Hall Surface and Robert Eisenstein (music director) now playing at the Folger in DC will do it. Indeed, the reviewer for the DC Theater scene seemed strangely half-apologetic (“though this will not appeal to all tastes” — what, pray tell, does?), so clearly the “magic” he so praised is rare, and the high spirited “originality” another reviewer attributed to the experience (also worrying about the depiction of women as well as something overdone in sentiment), may come across as tepid to our 21st century aggressively explosive film and art experienced taste, but I felt what was so good about it was its quiet human feeling.

Second Shepherd's Play
Shepherds, sheep and musicians

What the anonymous cycle play has been known for since it has been revived from the Townley manuscript of 15th century plays (in which it is found) is how it mixes the ordinary vexed feelings of put-upon serfs (giving full play to their complaints about their lives), farcical comedy and (at the close) with sublime religious feeling. David Siegel provides the story-outline turn for turn. In the program notes I counted 23 songs and dances.

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From an illuminated (with pictures) manuscript

To be all scholarly the author is known or recognized as “the Wakefield master” — who lived in Wakefield (to which I used to go taking at least 4 buses from Leeds in the later 1960s). He wrote the First Shepherd’s Play, and four other “pageants” (this one is sometimes called a pageant because of the ending in a creche scene): The Murder of Abel, Noah and His Sons (probably a comedy), Herod the Great and The Buffeting, as adapted by the great poet-translator, Tony Harrison as one of the Yorkshire Mystery plays, a powerful play where we watch a group of Roman soldiers prosaically nail said Jesus Christ to a huge cross and hoist it up. You can read The Second Shepherd’s Play as well as other plays by this Wakefield Master in an old Everyman paperback edited by A.C. Crawley (Everyman and Medieval Miracle Plays, Dutton, 1959).

I’ve seen it twice. I remembered a film of the Monty Python group doing this story of a hungry shepherd and his wife stealing a sheep and hilariously trying to pass it off as a newborn baby in the wife’s cradle: Dudley Moore was in it and he somehow made the idea he was “biding” in the fields peacefully deliciously absurd. Upon reading the program notes, Izzy told me she and I had seen it before: 2007, and with Jim, but when they’d done, she said it was very different from that earlier version, and this one “much better.” For a start it was longer, something over two hours with intermission.

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Over the mountain to home Mak goes

What was different was the intermingling of song and dance and puppetry. The one large puppet was the sheep, and he (or she) was done with sticks and reminded me of the way a cat will respond to its beloved staff-friends. Its head was all nudge. At different junctures, for example, after Mak ferrets away the sheep while the three trusting shepherds lie asleep, there is a quick set up of a temporary arch and two puppets representing Mak and the sheep are seen traversing hills and valleys to get back to Gill at home spinning. When the shepherds discover that the baby in the cradle is a sheep and elect to toss Mak in a blanket, a large blanket is suddenly there with a puppet tossed up and down. The three shepherds, Coll, the most articulate (Louis E Davis), Daw (Megan Graves, she was a young Juliet in a Romeo and Juliet play I saw at the Folger a few years ago), and Gib (Matthew R. Wilson) are turned into puppets traversing the snow. This is the kind of thing done in the recent Sense and Sensibility: really taking advantage of the live performance aspect of play-making. There is a rolling machine turned and turned to make high winds of a tempest, and the actors twirl ribbons across the stage to make a storm. You could not do this in a film.

I like Renaissance music very much, and as at previous concerts for the last few years, there were guest artists: particularly felicitious is Brian Kay on the lute, performing love music in a melancholy moving way. Daniel Meyers plays various instruments but I remember best what looked like a Renaissance flute; and of course Eisenstein. The ending in the coming of the angel to tell Mary she is carry the “god-head” — a dea ex machina from the balcony sung by an opera soprano (Emily Noel, who sang two other individual songs)

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and the music from the mass (“Gloria in excelsis deo”) was prepared for at the opening of Act II. The play was held off while we had a small concert of very touching music both appropriate to the season and on peculiarly Renaissance instruments (I can’t name them). For me that was the highest moment of the play. Songs familiar (Greensleeves, the Coventry Carol, rounds like Blowe thy horne, hunter) are threaded in along with less familiar and unfamiliar pieces. The titles of the whole lot are reprinted in the program notes.

The underlying feel — desperately needed for more than 2 hours is a group of people who are trying for a peaceful life where they “turn all to good.” (As I say, there’s a 1970s film somewhere of Monty Python finding this very funny — lucky them.)

Third shepherd to Mak & Gill: For this trespass
We will neither ban ne flite,
Fight nor chide ….

As luck would have it, this week I got my bi-annual copy of the Sidney Journal (34:2 2016) and will wonders never cease (?). Two new sonnets by Philip Sidney have been found (!). To me they sound like him. I like these lines in the first (yes plucked out of context, and re-contextualized):

In humble sorte contented yet am I,
Though in dispaire I dye without regard

I also got my yearly Christmas card from Arthur F. Kinney, a great Renaissance scholar who sends Christmas cards each year to each and every person who contributed an essay to English Literary Renaissance (he must have quite a mailing list by this time — I published but one paper, on a sonnet sequence by Anne Cecil in the early 1990s), and this year he chose to reprint and slightly modernize passages from Milton’s “On the morning of Christ’s Nativity,” and I quote these

No War, or Battles sound
Was Heard the World around,
The idle Spear and Shield were high up hung,
The hooked Chariot stood,
Unstain’d with hostile blood,
The Trumpet spake not to the armed throng …

These lines could be slotted into this play.

The experience brought back memories of when I was an undergraduate just beginning to major in English and read The Second Shepherd’s Play in an Norton Anthology (as well as the great 15th century tragedy, Everyman) and thought how all this is abolished for English majors and certainly for everyone else in most American colleges. I remembered watching the National Theater production of the Yorkshire Mysteries one Christmas for a couple of marvelous hours with Izzy and Laura (then 7 and 14); we would replay it on a video cassette we had taped it onto, and even made two to have a back-up. How joyous and funny the whole thing was. Both cassettes now unplayable.

Somewhere in me too I have never gotten over Christmas at Dingley Dell (Dickens’s Pickwick Papers Christmas) – when I was young my father read aloud to me — so yearn for some re-enactment in that direction. It is, since Jim’s death, not quite out of the question as Izzy and I try for one another. The best way for me is low expectations and minimal joining in (as what is available to a person like me is — or perhaps you too gentle reader). I decorated as far as I could; I send out cards; Izzy and I are going to three events. I was thinking this morning appreciate the use of music reaching out (as in the Folger Consort group) and stay with that, don’t seek anything more.

Jim was something of a musician (read music, would play scores of opera for piano on our piano spinet) and used to say the Folger Consort group was too determinedly scholarly and authentic, and the pre-Renaissance stuff was done dully. Then it was just four aging white men. Two of these people are gone, and now the group hires all sorts of people and are truly creative in their approach, and regularly dare to move well into the 17th century.

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Jacob Van Ruisdael (1629-82), Winter Landscape

Ellen

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Tamara Mumford, Pilgrim, also called the Traveler

Friends and readers,

On Saturday Izzy and I saw, listened to, a strangely still opera: Kaija Saariagho’s L’Amour de Loin (Love from Afar), libretto by Amin Maalouf (see review in the New York Times by Anthony Tommasini).

There is hardly any action in the 3 hour opera-story. Jaufre Rudel, Prince of Blaye (sung and acted by Eric Owens), a troubadour now grown old, once a poet-singer accompanying the 12th century crusades, now residing in Aquitaine, ailing, in a deeply depressed state, dreams of an ideal woman with whom he can experience fulfilled love. A pilgrim or (as called in the French word Englished traveler) seems to sail/happen by and tells Jaufre the woman he has conjured up exists. Jaufre sets off to meet her.

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Meanwhile Clemence, a countess of Tripoli, in this production dressed to align her with a mermaid (fish-y scale-y dress with a sort of parting at the bottom as if for fins, braided hair) is by magic or some other force aware of or longing for, this coming love. The same pilgrim sails/happens by to tell her Jaufre is writing of her in an ethralled way. This gives her a concrete person to dream of. She is conflicted: sometimes eager, young, and sometimes wary. When Jaufre arrives, he is dying. If this illness is physical we are not told, only that he has dreaded the meeting, experienced such anguish of anxiety, he is near death.

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They meet, and while they declare their passion, he also says that he is afraid of life and also of dying. From the intensity of this conflict he enacts a kind of self-suicide. Se weeps that some external force is to blame, then that she is. At the last she decides she will retire from the world to a convent.

The stage when the lights are not on consists of seried rows of benches. When a computerized light show is on against the dark, we see wavering lines suggesting the sea along which everyone moves. The light moves from emerald green, to glooming yellow and white, to blood red, to deep blues. Everyone includes two choruses, one of men who dialogue with Jaufre, and one of women who dialogue with Clemence, who function rather like Sophocles’ or Greek choruses. The lower bodies of these figures are never seen; they seem like controlled slaves who exist for the sake of the numinous central presences. Opera is a deeply conservative form and this allegory is that here — the mood lacks the irony of Samuel Beckett’s figures caught in cans.

What is the audience to make of this? I might as well say up-front I thought the computerized technology overdone and because you can do a thing (make the stage into something near art film) doesn’t mean you should. I have recently heard music very like that of Saariaho: atonal, dissonant, each line differing form the other, many idiosycratic sounds, yet somehow peaceful, idyllic, a troubled pastoral. All three principals sang beautifully, especially fine was the Pilgrim. Until the second act, though, the lines in this opera were archetypal in content, utterly generalized. Set to Charlotte Smith’s complex poetry, the lines had thoughtful meaning to express. Similarly, Detlev Ganert’s music seemed set to a text of complicated many issue-d despair.

In the second half, though, we did get meaning, e.g., from the words Juafre spoke, the sensitive troubadour has been traumatized by life itself (so violent, so contradictory to him) and (once again) prefers death. He also yearns for compensatory beauty in return for the horrors he’s seen and done while “in the orient,” citing place names from Middle Eastern countries which played a part in the crusades or are mentioned in the chronicles written by men about their experiences in the crusades or Constantinople.

You can, and I would be inclined also to see the opera as an exploration of levels of depression and despair. The afflicted person tries to throw off by maintaining a belief in an impossible goodness, kindness, love. Jaufre suspects he is deluding himself; his dream cannot be realized. It is only real from afar. That’s why he does not want to experience this love close up. When he does see her, overcome by her beauty after all, he nonetheless is already near death. It’s too late to make a change.

Some further art context would be the Arthurian corpus. Voigt did refer to the lovers as a Tristan and Isolde at one point in her intermission talk. The depiction of the lovers was strikingly like my memories of a specific text, an 1890s fin-de-siecle French rendition of Trisan and Iseult by Joseph Bedier. Mark doesn’t have much of a role in Bedier. Bedier may be read in a beautiful English translation by Hillaire Belloc. The deeply reactionary meaning caught up in this enthrallment by sex was explicated in once famous book by Denis de Rougement: Love in the Western World, except Bedier is not into Christian apologetics: rather all in life seeks erotic ecstacy. From Celtic twilights of melancholy to the sublime transcendance of Wagner, it’s a perverse worship of self-annihilation, melting away into sensual pleasure to an extreme of self-destruction and death. For my taste there was too much squirming eroticism, or (alternatively) naive idealism of the ripe virginal maiden in all this:

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While the opera also takes its resonance from texts by Tennyson, Sara Teasdale (a poem from Guinevere) and movies like Bresson’s Lancelot, Eric Rohmer’s Parzival, perhaps Boorman’s Excalibur (a Hollywoodized version); there is a counterforce, warrior-like memories at least caught up in place names and very occasional action. The cities chosen by the pair of creators include Antioch, the old world around the Mediterranean leading to Jerusalem. Though our troubadour seems to have never fought, he and the Pilgrim are sombre with the knowledge of something intransigent, wary of something “out there” which all seek to elude. Jaufre is also the wounded fisher-king, exiled or taken along as suffering figure at wars. The male figure who carries within him the evils and wretchedness of the world, and dies of this: I thought of Amyntas as dramatized in Wolfram von Eschenbach’s Parzival.

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I was much moved by the second half; there was far more psychological content in the words; death seemed to me portrayed to some extent realistically: as a drawn out agonized process. Tides of grief wash over everyone. The intense rejection of anything close up by the troubadour. The huge iron contraption seemed to me perfect for some construction site, an over-the-top exhibit of angularity and abstraction and computer light show was now less in evidence. The three principles were at the bottom of the benches and and camera focused on them in various levels of close-up. It would have been too abrupt, too sudden, too somehow melodramatic to end abruptly with Jaufre’s death, so there was a lingering strongly controlled slow fade-away.

Can we place this in a more immediate and political context — in my experience operas written more recently (where I’ve seen a few at Castleton Festival in Virginia) are meant to resonate with today’s culture. An FB friend of mine, Tom Dillingham, caught

an interesting William Blake sighting’ or reference … During the intermission … Deborah Voigt interviewed the great Placido Domingo about his having taken on the role of Nabucco in Verdi’s opera of that name. Domingo commented on the complexity of the character and said that his name is also Nebuchadnezzar, and then mentioned that William Blake “the greatest of painters in England” (that’s close, anyway, to what he said) had portrayed Nebuchadnezzar as a kind of man/beast, crouching on all fours. The admiration of one great artist for another is always worth noting. Perhaps I should refrain from noting a certain evocation of a contemporary menace.

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Blake’s Nebduchadnezzar

I won’t refrain. The opera figures retreat in the face of fear, sexual engagement and reality. Ours is a hard world people with the wherewithal retreat to dreams like this from.

There is another great piece of music and lyrics that matches this one, as serious and allegorical as Saariaho and Maalouf’s and brings out the underbelly of this opera. Bob Dylan’s A Hard Rain’s a Gonna Fall

The lyrics say what needs to be listened to, not just said, and acted upon, and a much seasoned-performer like Smith’s nervousness in front of this over-, opulently dressed crowd just make so much stronger how much this song’s concrete causes needs be heeded … I’ve not been so deeply moved by a performance or song in a long time.

You choose which one you think comes closest in this dire moment, the well-behaved decorous allusive myth with its diversity of casting or the accosting of what the blue-eyed son has done.

I must not leave out that this is only the second opera mounted in the whole of the Metropolitan Opera’s history to be by a woman; it is also only the fourth to be conducted by a woman: Susanna Malkki. My great grief is the first woman who won the popular vote to be president of the US is not the president tonight who could have heard it. Instead we have a man/beast who has promised to continue the horrors pictured by Dylan. Dylan deserved the Nobel, though perhaps he should have been there to accept it, and gotten it for music (and someone else for literature), I don’t mind. Patti Smith’s singing more than made up for anything awry.

Ellen

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Joel Edgerton and Ruth Negga as Mildred and Richard Loving (2016, written and directed by Jeff Nichols) — he enjoys watching cars race

Friends,

As many know, this is the story of the interracial marriage which led to a judgement by the supreme court which included the assertion that the marriage is a fundamental human right. Before this decision, states could and did outlaw marriage between people of different races. Over the course of the two hour movie I found myself deeply respectful of Mildred and Richard Loving: we see how they love one another, how they marry in DC, are arrested in the dead of night in Virginia, thrown in jail, treated with bullying disrespect and anathema by a succession of disdainful white male authorities. The story moves slowly and symbolically, rather like an outline where after an initial attempt to return home while Mildred has her baby, and re-arrest, with a dire threat of many years in prison, they live in DC (or risk imprisonment) for several years. Mildred finds the city demoralizing and streets dangerous for their children so they brave going back to a hidden place in Virginia. Terrified, hounded, she writes to Bobby Kennedy, then the Attorney General, and he suggests to an ACLU lawyer and civil rights expert that they take on their case. We follow them over several years and risky behaviors until the case reaches the supreme court where they win.

What I liked best about the film was its quietness. I feared I would be subjected to another ratcheted up melodrama, complete with thriller moments, high crisis scene and speechifying denouement. We are spared this. I did recognize that this was still another of these so-called art-films, which, as if in order to appeal broadly, be commercial, is produced with a super-solemn stance or tone, pompous and somehow (even with the poverty presented) over-produced (glorious colors, very close closeups). So I agree with Richard Brody’s New Yorker review which finds a much earlier TV movie, Mr and Mrs Loving, much more realistically human, comic at moments, entertaining, bringing out the very messy issues and petty and important bad harassment this couple experienced for years much than Jeff Nichols’ still super-dignified treatment. Yet this film is apparently more accurate and based on an intermediary documentary, The Loving Story, by Nancy Buiriski for HBO (2012).

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The actual Mildred Jeter and Richard Loving

Maybe real people aren’t comic. We hear from both sides of their families (black and white) individuals who lash out against the couple for marrying as a betrayal, a selfish indulgence (!), even a crime. There is a lovely rhythm to the presentation of years, birth of children, everyday life going on. Richard spends his existence building buildings as well as caring for his wife and family. A photographer comes to give the couple more presence in the media and he takes a photo of the couple enjoying themselves in front of the TV. (The credits include a real photo of the real couple at just such a moment.) We worry Mildred and Richard’s children are at risk from authorities, and are told that at the supreme court the argument was made that “mixed race” children are unacceptable, but I felt we could have been given more information about the issues the case rested on. Nonetheless I was much moved, especially by Ruth Negga’s performance, and here and there actors playing individuals in the family: Richard’s black brother-in-law, Virgil (Will Dalton) who is a genuine considerate friend to the couple is one that comes to mind.

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Films do not occur in a vacuum. So in this wretched moment of US politics where a white supremacist racist has been appointed by an overtly racist president as his chief strategist, where a man noted for his cruelty and draconian tactics running a police force in NYC (Giuliani) is said to be under consideration for Attorney General, where what is promised includes registration of people based on ethnic origin, rounding up and deportation in huge numbers of others, and outright mockery of #blacklivesmatter (not to omit disabled people), and doubling down on harsh prison sentences, such a presentation is not out of place. The film shows it matters who is attorney general. It showed how dependent an average person is on the supreme court to enunciate as law genuinely principled enlightened assumptions. As triumph of good came into view, I felt heartsick. You can go in the same spirit as you go on a march, sign a petition, phone your congressman. Here is the case as outlined in wikipedia: look at who were the judges. Do you think the same favorable decision would be the result today?

It’s also an absorbing quietly suspenseful (anxious) two hours. Anne Thompson in Indiefilms covering different aspects than I have calls it Oscar Worthy. The movie itself is also is a gentle depiction of a kind of marriage: the wife so careful of her working class and inarticulate husband’s feelings, his attempt to do all he can within his nature and character. Thompson says the film dramatizes how love is an inalienable right — for all the characters, children to grandparents.
Ellen

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The LA and Kennedy Center cast

Dear friends and readers,

I’m told that Ivo Van Hove’s New York City production of Arthur Miller’s A View from the Bridge, which rightly received rave reviews as a production, though not as a play, when it played in New York is not attracting the full house it should at the Kennedy Center. Granted, I was row H on the side (next to a friendly couple who had also bought at the last moment); but all around us were empty seats. So I write to urge everyone who has a chance to see this production (no matter if other actors, at any rate in this case all superb), if it comes near to you. It speaks to our dire situation in the US gov’t today.

It’s not that the play concerns immigrants but its core depiction of Eddie, as a rawly emotional deeply resentful sexually sick white male (Mark Strong in NYC, here Frederick Weller of Center Theater, LA repertoire group) at the center. The story is this: Eddie’s childless wife, Beatrice (Andrus Nichols, Center Theater) has invited two male relatives from a starving place in Sicily, Marco (Alex Escola, Center Theater) and Rodolpho (Dave Register, Russell Tovey did this part in NYC) to sneak illegally into the USA to do hard labor on the waterfront. Eddie is all generosity, offering bedding (a place on the floor of an extra small room), meals, but is more concerned with his niece, Catherine (Catherine Combs) who wants to take a job outside the home. He claims to want her to stick to her studies, but since these are not college, but stenography and typing alone, whose intention is to enable her to take a job, he is on weak ground. She wants to work for money badly, to be independent.

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The London production

A fierce struggle ensues in which she wins but we see with many concessions to his male pride: he is in a continual vigilant posture towards her: why is that skirt so short, why wear high heels. She is continually trying to placate him. Marco is there to get money to send home to a wife and four children, which he duly does, but Rodolpho is unattached, and he and Catherine begin to go out and fall in love. Eddie is incensed, and becomes aggressively hostile at first just to his niece and wife, sowing doubt about the man’s motives and character. He loathes that Rodolpho can sing like rock star, that he can cook, he sews, and begins to say explicitly Rodolpho is there to marry Catherine so he can become a citizen and then desert her “for the big time.” That’s why Rodolpho wants to take Catherine to Broadway, not because the movies there are fun, or plays, or lively street life. He insinuates that Rodolpho is gay, “not right” (he does not use the word pervert but we feel it in the air). He becomes ugly before Rodolpho. Beatrice moves from mild expostulation over his trying to keep Catherine a baby and without a job, to withering insinuations that Eddie is “in love with” his niece. Eddie does not appear to register this until near the end of the play when he gasps out in intense insult that Beatrice thinks he has incestuous (he does not use that word either — having a limited sexual vocabulary) longings.

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New York City

What makes for the two hours of emotional turmoil and anguish is how everyone in the play is so chary of Eddie’s feelings, so respectful of him who by the second is bitterly complaining he is not respected in his home, and making life a misery for them all. A horrible scene occurs where Eddie coming upon Rodolpho and Catherine alone in the house after they have obviously been half-naked physically assaults them both – by first hugging Catherine painfully and kissing her, and then doing the same to Rodolpho. The latter is taken as an ultimate insult; but Eddie jeers that since Rodolpho didn’t throw Eddie off successfully that proves “he is not right.” He will not hear of an engagement; he becomes livid when Catherine wants to leave; when the marriage is set, he will not come and forbids his wife to go out of the house or he will never let her in again (this harks back to before the later 19th century when husbands had a legal right to throw a wife out). We have an intense scene where she begs to be let to go to the wedding and when he will not give permission, tells Catherine after Catherine urges her to come, she will not. Not that she dare not. But she will not disrespect or hurt this man, something Catherine is continually telling him she does not want to do. Also how grateful she is to him as his niece for all the years of fatherly tender affection and care (which he did not owe her). She also half-believes his suspicions about Rodolpho.

The play is framed as a play. It’s done inside a kind of arena on both sides of which are audience members. There is an intermittent narrator-storyteller confiding male who speaks to the audience, the lawyer, Alfieri, whom Eddie comes to consult at intervals. The second form of suspense emerges when half-way through Eddie begins to think he will inform the immigration authorities in order to get the two young men sent back to Sicily. But he goes to Alfieri to consult about more than that: the point of their dialogues is Eddie continually wants Alfieri to do by law what the law refuses to condemn, or even pay any attention to. The law will not act to prevent Rodolpho from marrying Catherine. It will not act to prevent Catherine from leaving his home or make her obey him. The law will not punish Rodolpho for being “not right.” Nor Marco either — for anything but being illegal immigrants. The point these dialogues bring out is how this white male wants things as his right he has no legal right to. I leave it to my reader who will remember the election of a deeply corrupt white male for president whose major constituency was just such people as Eddie (and probably Beatrice too). The lawyer as a role functions very much like (anticipates) Robert Bolt’s The Common Man in his A Man for All Seasons (another play to read and watch this winter of our distress; Michael Gould reminded me of Corin Redgrave.)

Things are brought to an explosion when Eddie does inform the authorities and an official comes to the house to take Marco and Rodolpho to jail. Eddie has needled Marco that if he does not go home soon, he will find his wife has more children than she had when he left. A ridiculous contest over who can lift a chair with one arm from one leg has gone on where Eddie cannot do it, but Marco can. Marco then emerges viscerally as he calls Eddie a “rat” and tells him he is responsible for the starvation of his children. He leaps to murder Eddie. He is prevented and taken to jail. Alfieri plays the reasonable voice: he comes to jail to pay bail and enables Rodolpho to go out and (if he wants) marry Catherine before his hearing comes up; but he will only help Marco is Marco promises not to murder Eddie. Again he must tell Marco that the law will not help him either.

The play starts slowly and the actors say their lines so slowly I thought they were actors playing actors playing New York City 1950s parts, getting the accent right, the gestures, the time. But if this is so, it moves more rapidly and becomes smoulderingly emotional with the actors becoming the people and the pace becoming frantically emotional by the end.

The play is peculiarly significant for this terrifying political moment where we now see how easy it is for the US republic to slide into a dictatorship because at the grief-stricken final moment, the lawyer – however reluctantly, however ruefully — justifies Eddie. Alfieri says he mourns for Eddie, he feels for him, everyone was so right to care. A tableau of Beatrice holding onto Eddie like a Madonna with Christ in her lap with all the characters in intensely held characteristic postures all around her is the play’s final moment. In the language of conventional normalizing cant criticism, even including the dripping condescension of critics towards Death of a Salesman in the earliest productions, Ben Brantley intones that finally “Bridge is an imperfect work, awkward in its aspirations to timeless grandeur. After all, it is framed by the self-conscious recollections of a Brooklyn lawyer, who speaks as ponderously of inexorable fate as any Greek chorus ever did.” But not a word about what is wrong in words meaningful to viewers or readers today.

Lyn Gardner of The Guardian comes closer: “This is not just somebody else’s family tragedy. It speaks directly to us and suggests that there is an Eddie Carbone lurking in all of us, just as there is a vengeful Electra and a blind Oedipus.” Really? in women too? How is Catherine a vengeful Electra? Jordan Riefe of the LATimes gets yet closer: “While as his brother Marco, Esola is a brute at rest for most of the play until finally stirred to action. In the end he becomes Eddie’s match — the roaring embodiment of injured ego masquerading as paternal (or in Marco’s case, fraternal) protection.” There is an acknowledgement that it has not been Marco all play long causing the problem, but none that the ego is white male.

We should not be surprised at the lifting of a veil in another direction. After all, what do some people say the very central concern of Death of a Salesman is? Avoiding the insistent explicit economic message that Willie Loman is being thrown away after a lifetime of hard work, with barely enough to survive on (that social security that Paul Ryan is now exulting he will at long last privatize, hand over to Wall Street and thus destroy), people quote Linda’s pathos: “He was so wonderful with his hands,” the ne’er do well rake son, “He was a happy man with a batch of cement; Biff at least tries: “He had the wrong dreams. All, all wrong.” But again and again I’ve heard the play summed up as “Attention must be paid,” we are not paying enough respect and attention to this man.

Well we are paying attention now. He is getting back at last. what is remarkable and important about this production is the lawyer’s remarks feel so perverse.

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Mark Strong as Eddie (who also played the torturer in George Clooney’s Syriana, a political recreation of wildly savage Jacobean drama as film) at Lincoln Center fierce with dark rage, lecturing everyone else

See it. Feel it. Then think about it (see my Post-mortem). I read that what happened in a New York City theater when our present gay-hating vice-president elect provocatively came to see Hamilton found himself unsurprisingly lectured and told he is supposed to represent all the diverse peoples of the US. This is a clever distraction on the part of Trump (who does not meet with reporters now, only issues lying distorting demanding tweets) so that the top story is not how he had paid $25 million to squash the suit of the defrauded students who went to his university. He is now making money hand-over-foot in his hotels, and will probably rake in enough in the next weeks to cover that easily.

No, go see and then read this play instead. it made me and some around me tremble.

Ellen

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Jamie (Sam Heughan) and Claire (Caitrionia Balfe) drinking, eating, confiding on their wedding night (Outlander 7)

Friends and readers,

I carry on my comparison of Outlander with Poldark (see Outlander as a descendant of Waverley): as film art, as mini-series, made using the same kinds of cinematography (rich, mesmerizing, computer enhancement continual), dramaturgy (figures in a landscape not on a stage, montage, juxaposition), briefer dialogue, both seen as “women’s material,” albeit with plenty of male heroes and villains about, this dyptych again shows where the new Poldark is lacking (see scripts): the pair are symmetrically structured with the underlying paradigm for both a repetition of the same alluring exploration. As Emily Nussbaum puts it,

Outlander is, finally, as thoughtful about male vulnerability as it is about female desire, a rarity for television. It’s a quality that makes the show appealingly romantic in multiple senses (Emily Nussbaum, “Out of Time,” New Yorker, April 8, 2016)

When Dougal proposes that Claire marry Jamie, he says to Jamie and Claire separately that his purpose is both to secure Claire from the depredations of Black Jack Randall (yes played with fierce intensity by Tobias Menzies), and (as Murtargh [Duncan Lacroix] also suggested was needed, wanted) and to secure for Jamie an older mature woman.

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It might startle some viewer that Jamie responds to Claire asking him if he will mind that she is not a virgin, no, as long as she doesn’t mind that he is (not that he’s never kissed a woman, “I said I was a virgin, not a monk”). But it fits the frequent reversals of roles in this series.

Garrison Commander when viewed as a whole is the second of two linked phases: in the first (from Jane’s memories in Rent or Outlander 5) we see Tobias capture, at first seem to negotiate with but then longingly flay Jamie, flog him until his back is permanently seared, scarred, somehow made shameful (like a slave’s); in the second, Garrison Commander, Claire lands in his hands for a few hours, and just as she thinks she has succeeded in winning him over to take her into an English situation where she can make her way back to Craig Na Dunn or where she wants to go, he kicks her hard in the stomach, threatens her humiliatingly and seems about to knife her mortally (as it is mortally dangerous for Jamie to come into the English lair).

The Wedding has three phases of love-making: the first just after the episode begins and the two, just married, come into their apartment together, almost as a duty:

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the second after a long period of conversation about themselves, only Jamie tells far more of his family, background, memories than Claire, this a deep coming together lovingly, tenderly:

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and then the third after Jamie tells her of his preparations for the wedding, where he takes over the woman’s role it seems — securing the priest and ring, getting the proper beautiful clothes which will endow them with great dignity, and finally the ceremony itself; and then third, hungrily, far more aggressively, letting go,

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after which they are hungry and morning has come. We are allowed to dwell on each phase feeling it with no interference as it were.

It is framed by another wedding: as the episode opens we see Claire walking a city, perhaps London streets, in modern outfit with Robin Hood hat, and Frank suddenly eagerly begging her to marry him now, at city hall, with no preparations. She protests she has not yet met his parents, to which he responds, well now you’ll meet them as Mrs Frank Randall.

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He is (like Jamie) while in the male position, yet abject and in need of her permission. This scene makes a striking contrast to the elaborate decorative ritual Jamie and Claire go through,

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and lest we forget this, at end when morning comes and Jamie has left the room, Claire picks up the wedding dress, and out tumbles her wedding ring from Frank. In order to marry Jamie she had taken the ring off, and put it down the front of her corset, and now it falls to the floor almost going down a crack. But not quite. She kneels and picks it up and puts it on the ring finger of her right hand. This knits The Wedding back to the Garrison Commander for of course we know the same actor plays Black Jack as plays Frank.

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There is nothing like this kind of consistent loving development in Horsfield’s Poldark. it’s partly the result again of taking a small and self-enclosed portion of a single novel (Chapters 12-15, “The Garrison Commander,” “A Marriage is Announced,” “A Marriage Takes Place,” “Revelations of the Bridal Chamber”); but it’s also this trusting to the material, not feeling that you have to supply something else, or qualify it.

Nussbaum suggests that what we watch in the first season is a “continual crumbling” of a bridge they build between them. I think that’s so, from when she “disobeys” him and he beats her, to when after the witch trial, she at long last tells him of who and what she is, where she comes from (the future), her other husband, and he generously takes her to the stone and leaves her to make up her mind. She does — for him, and again it’s his vulnerability risked, and her desire knitting them as one, her strength too as she says to him, “Get up, soldier” (making us recall her as as a battlefield nurse).

I just reveled in these two episodes. Yes because I loved the love-making (the first time watching I was embarrassed by the candour and directness of the scenes), but also because the way the development was placed against a background of serious disruption of any morality among the English and hedonistic vicarious joy among the Scots (though sometimes the episode again made me feel Claire had landed among a group of disciplined frat boys). In Garrison Commander there is an earnest British soldier who first sees Claire while she is with the Scotsman seeking rent, and thinks she may be their prisoner; he takes her for safety to the English fort, only to find she is now open prey and he can do nothing about it because of his lower rank. This holdover of emotion of a subaltern is matched by Dougal (Graham McTavish) in The Wedding, who clearly would cuckold Jamie, were Claire to be open to this; Jamie’s is as subject to Dougal and Colum as other of the British officers who would try to stop Randall, protect Claire but they can’t. Dougal is the linchpin of both episodes: following Claire into the English stronghold, pulling her out, engineering this wedding, to hold onto her. He has decided she is not a spy and wants her identity as useful to him and has a fierce authority over Jamie, his nephew it seems.

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These patterns are not found in the chapters, rather they are filled with nuanced dialogue and thought between Claire and Jamie. In the novel for these chapters there are no memories of Frank. There is loss here: effective as the outward dialogue in the scenes of clash in Garrison, of argument at table, and of gentle and raucous comedy (the priest who must be dragged out of bed and then bribed to perform the ceremony, the trading of Biblical passages, Ned Gowan (Bill Patterson) among teasing prostitutes who are presences out of The Beggar’s Opera), I found the long give-and-take conversations in Gabaldon’s novel much more moving. The movie can risk only suggestive fragments of Jamie’s childhood, boyhood, who was this relative and who that. This is a building up of a picture of him as having pride as Laird.

The next episode, Both Sides Now (Outlander 8) will be a continual movement back and forth from 1943 and the desperate Frank at the police office, with the Reverend Wakefield, told by Mrs Graham that some supernatural neolithic charm has taken Claire off to another time, with Claire and Jamie traveling or wandering themselves as semi-outcasts through the highland’s landscape. They encounter a beggar, Hugh Munro in the novel, now called Willie (Finn Den Hertog) whom Jamie welcomes warmly, and has himself been made permanently mute (his tongue cut out), his feet ruined, during a captivity among the Turks, in Algiers, as a galley slave. Now he wanders through the world.

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He is a parallel to Frank.

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And this new trio comes near danger.

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Again this is a lingering juxtaposition not in the book. But this is for another blog.

Ellen

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WARNING: Embargoed for publication until 00:00:01 on 27/09/2016 - Programme Name: Poldark - TX: n/a - Episode: n/a (No. n/a) - Picture Shows: **EMBARGOED UNTIL TUESDAY 27TH SEPTEMBER 2016** Francis (KYLE SOLLER) - (C) BBC - Photographer: Adrian Rogers
Kyle Soller as Francis Poldark — these were “his” episodes

[Note: this blog assumes the reader has read all twelve of Graham’s novels, viewed the 1970s mini-series, and is interested in the content and art of the books and this older and the new 2015-16 mini-series]

Those who are left are different people trying to lead the same lives … Demelza to Captain MacNeil who attempted to console her for death of infant Julia (Jeremy Poldark, Bk 1, ch 4, p 55)

There’s no to-morrow. It doesn’t come. Life’s an illusion. Didn’t you know. Let us make the most of the shadows … Ross to Elizabeth (Warleggan, Bk 3, Ch 5, p. 314(

Dear friends and readers,

The other night I dreamt of Poldark for the first time in a long while. When I first began to read Graham’s books in the 1990s, and then watched the 1970s series, the actors who realized the characters entered my dream life, were there vividly in the way this past year the characters and actors who realize them from the first season of Outlander have. When I woke, I found the new actors from the new series had intruded upon my consciousness. So, although I’ve hopelessly inadequate stills from the new incarnation, I thought I’d record this crossing over for me, but keep the outline of the episodes’s structures brief until such time as the DVDs of the season are made available to the public. I am remembering to hold fast.

My dreams began with the books, and, like Graham at the time said, the original casting was inspired. Many 1970s castings sought to embody what was thought to be the common reader’s image of a character (nowadays there is much casting against character for older novels). Graham’s novels are incomparably better than either series – the politics so relevant to today, is erased or qualified in both series (albeit differently), the analysis subtler in the book on all levels, but of course films can visualize, make oral, offer such specificity vividly as no book can — from the hallucinatory image on the light screen, to the voice, to music — the 1970s series had a haunting refrain.

The only creditable point of view to take on this new mini-series is that there is no such thing as “the real” Demelza or “the real Ross” or any of the other characters. There were the characters as originally conceived, of which I am very fond. But there are now two iterations. In the way historical fiction works, there may yet be more Rosses, Demelzas, Francises, Warleggans as the texts are rewritten, reproduced, re-filmed, re-designed. I’ve just taken on an assignment to review for an 18th century periodical, Martha Bowden, Descendants of Waverley and have found it a help in understanding the Scottish features of Outlander, and take Bowden and other critics’ view of the relationship of the historical setting and times the specific books are written in and filmed to be accurate.

We are on our fourth set of images. There are four shifts of eras: the 18th century itself, which Graham, the 1970s film-makers and now Horsfield seriously engages in, the books written in the aftermath of the horrors of War World Two:

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The first edition of Ross Poldark

thirty years later a first series during a time of radical questioning of society, of second wave feminism:

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A 1970s edition of Demelza

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1990s edition of Warleggan

and now forty years on, a reactionary, war-torn era again, one seeking to believe in group identities which themselves become the source of conflicts.

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Ross (Aidan Turner) and Demelza (Eleanor Tomlinson) on the cliff: end of Demelza as seen in the 8th episode last season

All the heroes of this new series have been exemplary, Francis had a hard time getting there, but once he does, Lady Fortune turns her wheel and he is gone. The heroines are all supporters of the society’s norms, pro-establishment family figures. The working classes are taken utterly seriously, and authority figures uphold the order regardless of personal loyalties (very different from the 1940s books and E.M. Forster) or are savagely repressive. There seems no third choice between cutthroat capitalism and paternal socialism and care of the type the new Ross and Dwight Enys embody.

So, as last time, you can click on the links below to read a summary and evaluation of the comparable older episode, and this time I have added links to summary and evaluation of the two books.

Jeremy Poldark: In the midst of life there is death ….

Warleggan: Unabiding renegade; sexual possession; the power of memory ….

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Episode 4 (12 in the 1970s series)

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It was very well done. Ross was at the center. A full concentration on him as exemplary if non-conventional non-mainstream hero (only he is mainstream, utterly). Turner’s expressions sometimes reminded me of Douglas Hodge who has in his years as British actor, often on BBC costume drama (but now seen as the well-meaning gov’t agency employee in The Night Manager) played the same type as Ross is becoming: the deeply well-meaning man who has realized no one will understand what he is trying to do, and fewer than no one give him credit for any altruistic motives. The new realizations include the visit of Verity’s husband’s eldest daughter by his first wife, Esther: Verity’s new problems, cut off from the Poldarks, and seemingly dependent on her husband for her social life, are felt. The obtuseness of the girl does make for yet another portrait of a woman as really mean; Gabriella Wilde as Caroline is made much worse in the early stages of her relationship with Dwight (though it should be noted this is true to Graham’s book). The baptism scene was touching.

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Eleanor Tomlinson and Aidan Turner as Ross and Demelza

In the older series, Ross’s scene negotiating with Trencomb was comically effective, and this was tried for again with Richard McCabe playing Trencomb realistically.

Some of the changes signaled to me that Horsfield just doesn’t trust the books to hold us and they jarred: Ross is made to recklessly endanger himself by going out with the men. He only draws his curtains in the book; in the 1970s he agrees to conceal the goods as his debt-promissory note is bought by Warleggan; but now he goes out with the men. Horsfield has George show up at shareholders’ meetings, George (again!) threaten Elizabeth if she doesn’t get intimate with him, he’ll call in loans (?!). Demelza is not permitted to get herself to shore, no the male must rescue her.

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Whenever Horsfield does trust Graham (as in Ross’s remark he wants freedom to call his soul his own) how the film rings out. But she does not trust him to have written adequately as before her Henry James did not trust women writer nor male warrior types. Nor some of the writers of the first 1970s season, namely Jack Pulman in the first four episodes (for Ross Poldark) and Jack Russell for the last four (for Warleggan).

At so many turns she ratchets up what is happening — that’s why the improbable and dangerous going out with the smugglers; why she has Ross deliver a speech at the trial that would have given the judge amunition to over-ride the jury. Horsfield makes Demelza and Ross bicker! She has Demelza smoldering with resentment. What makes them happy in Graham’s book at first is they get along; they see the world similarly. They enjoy one another’s company; they like one another.

A few details worth noting in the order presented in the new film: Horsfield invents and then emphasizes how Warleggan sends a mole to participate in Ross’s company’s meetings. Francis continues to refuse to allow Captain Blamey a place a Trenwith, though seen relenting in his face. Ross says Warleggan wants to own me. The ferocious beating of Jud, with George proclaiming he had not ordered the men to murder Jud. The beautiful harvest scene, with Francis holding out his hand to Ross: “Cousin, it’s an unexpected pleasure.” Meanwhile as in the novel and previous series, Demelza overhears Ross and Elizabeth broaching their love in words once again; she tells Elizabeth of her pregnancy. She and Ross see captured “free traders” passing by the new ruined Wheal Grace. Ross’s dialogue with the prevention men: “Your commitment to the law is heart-warming.”

WARNING: Embargoed for publication until 00:00:01 on 13/09/2016 - Programme Name: Poldark - TX: n/a - Episode: episode 3 (No. n/a) - Picture Shows: Demelza.  Demelza ((ELEANOR TOMLINSON) - (C) BBC - Photographer: Mike Alsford

We see her gone fishing. Now the men in the mine blasting. George wrestling with man hired to do with: his hands fists switch to Ross’s as he looks at a worker; he worried, “Were you hurt in the blast? And now illness spreads, Dwight called, but cannot work out symptoms. Unfortunately Horsfield choses to make Ross the hero that saves the day: Ross’s talking of sicknesses at sea makes Dwight remember scurvy. The men need fresh fruit. The meeting of Demelza with Elizabeth in wood and Demelza’s fear Elizabeth will betray her — Heida Reed given a good black hat.

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Heida Reed as Elizabeth

Encounter of Ross and Warleggan: Jack Farthing’s needle face in their encounter: “Is that a threat?” Ross over hears women in house: “fish won’t keep … no salt.” Ross now forbidding Demelza to fish: “Have you no sense — do me the courtesy of taking more care of yourself in future.” This is disrespectful voice. Comically Francis seeks metals on his land with magic wand. Lovely Dutch paintings in mind in scenes with Caroline at her desk writing letters (the correspondence found in the book). Caroline’s nasty Malthusianism. Slowly Francis becoming more open as Ross’s company begins to lose confidence of “investors.” We see George rush out to Caroline — like she was a peahen.

The Trencomb meeting – with Demelza a more active presence against it, as she was not in the books or 1970s. Am alternating with George’s pressure with Ross and Elizabeth. Intimacy is what George wants. Long sequence in mine — edgy; memories of Mark’s statements. Demelza shows irritation at Ross’s dealings with Trenwith; she would not be involved; he wants more money and improbably salt for the average person. Then a mining scene: the company needs a pumping engine which costs.
Francis joins Ross in front of Wheal grace: you don’t intend to resurrect her? the curse of the Poldarks is too much ambition with too little financial. Alternation of Dwight and Caroline (going badly on the surface) with Blamey bringing treats to Verity: James and Esther will come in a month, when another engagement rejoicing. An assembly for Caroline’s engagement. What Caroline wants is eternal youth. The quarreling of Ross and Demelza reaches new depths. Demelza’s is a bitter resentful tone. Verity waiting. Dwight ever more seduced by the fruit.

Last part: the really painful scenes of Verity with Blamey’s children. A failure in the episode is Jud’s funeral. The scenario is supposed to be comic but the kind of condescension necessary to make the working class characters at the funeral funny is apparently not acceptable. To do it in this grim way makes little sense. The birth, the baptism, the knock-down dragged out fight of Ross and George in the tavern: in the book, in the 1970s and again today. Ross just has had too much. The family getting together to open Wheal Grace.

A survey shows that the episodes are well shaped, given time, and the threads make sense as they move back and forth. There is no sudden interruption of one kind of matter (say the commercial meetings) with another (the romance stories)

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Episode 5 (or 13 in the older series)

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Kyle Soller just before he falls

I was deeply moved by how Horsfield, her director and actors performed the death of Francis Poldark. The episode differed considerably from the book; again the method was concentrated, this time on Francis. If you knew (as I did) because you had read Warleggan (ditto), it’s obvious that the whole episode is built for those who know too: it’s filled with ominous hints, and the irony that Francis is now doing all this successfully (including persuading Halse to give a more lenient sentence to a smuggler and even finding his wife will let him into her room and bed) and chance will kill him (in the book later on Ross says he died like a dog or some such words, very bitter). Kyle Soller was again brilliant in the role: he is the linchpin of this episode which keeps returning to him. Horsfield’s character has been quite different from Graham’s in the 1940s and the film-makers of thte 1970s: an anachronistic failing entrepreneur (in the 18th century a gentleman was seen to be a gentleman when he didn’t work) and Clive Francis in the 1975-6 episode was much closer to 18th century norms and Graham’s, with important additions of rebellion, anger, a la Joe Orton plays (which Clive Francis starred in). On the other hand, details provided emphatically by Horsfield are closer, such as Francis holding so desperately onto a nail and not being able to do so for hours on end, as who could? Tiring.

The equivalent Episode in the first 1970s series is by contrast very diffuse with a depiction of the whole community part of the scenario — time given to the informer, to Rosina and Hoblyn, and Caroline (Judy Geeson) shown early on to be trying to understand the lives of those who experience precarious and beaten-up lives, deeply ill because they haven’t fruit to eat. Episode in 1975 differed from the book too and I liked the new pro-family element in the 2016 of bringing Verity back to Trenwith to care for Aunt Agatha (not in book or 1970s). Warleggan’s role is an element but not the key driving force it is in this new episode 5. Ralph Bates was stern, angry, out for himself, but not Envy itself (as Farthing is made to be literally): Farthing as Warleggan again threatens and attempts to cajole Elizabeth into having an affair with him (not in the book at all, not in the previous film). I did find this new change and Elizabeth’s reaction of trying to appease George, made for more details of drama, dramatized moments between the two (in the 1970s he brings presents and is getting along with Elizabeth merely). The new pro-active emotional Elizabeth (different from book and first series) will make the coming aftermath of Francis’s death more emotionally complicated, but I predict or surmise that it will make Demelza a much more hurt character, and the whole relationship between Ross and Demelza painful to watch. The new Elizabeth asks, “Why should not a woman love two men — if a man can love two women.” Indeed, as she claims to have loved Francis, she is now loving two, but Demelza has not loved two men: she has placed her whole identity in Ross as his wife, giving her status and place and self-esteem (that’s the book) and enjoys flirting with Captain MacNeil (that’s the first series), likes his kindly courteous attentions, but knows he is on the side of the law first; she knows where to draw the line, that’s not love.

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Details worth remembering. The scenaro shows too much juxtaposition saved by having Francis in so many of the scenes, the POV, and Soller’s acting, his presence: on the beach the two boys running. This is Ross remembering his boyhood with Francis. Francis becoming exemplary: he says “father would be amazed” at his reading matter. People and coves being picked off. There is an informer. Francis as magistrate softening Halse. Quickly Rosina with her lame leg brought in, her father Hoblyn: much less time spent and hard to pick up what they have to do with the story. Again it’s said there is an informer. A swan shown. We see Caroline and Unwin back with her uncle saying she should embrace her fate. Verity on her way back to Trenwith, very glad to be with Geoffrey Charles too. Dwight this stable good man (as is Ross, and as Francis is becoming) who tells off George. A scene with Francis where there is something very touching about him. Uncle Cary now has promissory note of Ross’s.

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The party at Killwarren – Both Poldark families showing up. Dinner scene: Elizabeth next to Ross, and as in book she uses occasion to confess her love for Ross; Demelza sits by MacNeil, Unwin and Caroline. We then see Ross meditating over his conversation with Elizabeth. Unwin flees from infuriating Caroline – she is told Dwight is wedded to his work. Dwight called to Agatha. Engagement publicly falls through. A wonderful warm scene of Verity and Dwight over Agatha. Francis now turns his on George: must you be envious even of that? George now turns to Cary. The twin love-making scenes: Ross and Demelza in bed, Francis let in Elizabeth’s room. We are happy for him, but what kind of person is Elizabeth: this is like the cool customer of the book, with her firm self-esteem.

Again who is the informer. Horsfield brings in Nick Vigus and has him say, Why shouldn’t a man sell himself to highest bidder? Derisory comment thrown at Ross once again over marrying a scullery maid and living in squalor? Gorge wrestling away with hired partner. Cary: What price would you pay for the promissory note of Ross’s? Ross and Francis so hard at work on wall of mine. George’s visit to Trenwith after Francis reception: Elizabeth is welcoming him manipulatively. Ugly words of George to Agatha: the same raw insults as the book: he wishes there was a law to kill off crones; she replies “your mother had no taste. MacNeil now taking tea with Demelza. (Here I can’t resist remembering how deep the scene was in the book where he made truthful remarks about grief to her sense of Julia). Vigus talked of informer, and now we see Rosina and Kempthorne (who is the informer) who claims to make money on sails.

WARNING: Embargoed for publication until 00:00:01 on 13/09/2016 - Programme Name: Poldark - TX: n/a - Episode: episode 3 (No. n/a) - Picture Shows: Caroline Penvenen and Dwight Enys.  Caroline Penvenen (GABRIELLA WILDE), Dwight Enys (LUKE NORRIS) - (C) BBC - Photographer: Jon Hall

Dwight tells Caroline of his obsessive love symptoms; by contrast, Ross and Demelza’s uncomfortable conversation. Elizabeth and Francis – modify your hostility. Francis goes to George to tell him, “Never set foot again in my house;” and to implied threat, “it’s a small price for avoiding the noxiousness of your acquaintance.”

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Demelza bathing Ross — has Horsfield been watching too much Davies? Elizabeth seen with boy, Francis overlooks and says “I’ll be home in time to read you a story.” We know he won’t. Dwight wants Caroline and Demelza asks, “May not a woman confer status?” Back to blasting in the mine. Ross and Francis looking Ross called above: note from Pascoe “Wanted in Truro.” Francis stays. Horsfield now has Caroline exulting at the jilting, and Dwight relieved; Ross says that Dwight stands for himself, who and what he is, but I find Caroline (like Keren before her) just awful. This one schooled in learning to be heiress she in London.

Trenwith: Elizabeth, Verity, Geoffrey Charles; they have a dinner and desert waiting for Francis who is himself super-excited by the copper he thinks he has found. He rushes to Nampara; finding Demelza confesses at last and her face hardens; “It is my dearest wish to be of use to make amends.” He instist Ross still loves you.” to which she replies “Sometimes I think he lovse Elizabeth better. Francis that she doesn’t think well enough of yourself. “You mistake your own value; do away with notion someone has done you a favor by marrying you.” A version of what he says in the book. Beautful moment
Pascoe tells Ross. The mine, Francis back there. Verity must leave Agatha to rejoin her husband. And now Francis falls deeply into water, pulls himself out enough to hold onto nail. She reinforces too obviously with image of spider in web.

Quietly waiting dinner for him, Elizabeth sends to Nampara for Francis. Ross at home says by Christmas we must have 1400 pounds. Someone come from Trenwith looking for Mr Francis. Back to mine: no one seen him for hours. We see him holding onto nail. Now he should have been dead hours ago … Dwight: Francis missing. One last dream: now Francis dreams it: the two boys running over the shore together. Francis sees Ross as saving him, in Ross’s arms. Back to real men frantically going deeper and finding the dead corpse, still warm and wet. Not good moment to have him say this: “Why the hell didn’t you learn to swim.” Knocking at Trenwith. Elizabeth POV, Ross looking in at her appalled. Funeral. Her crying in Ross’s arms. Demelza watches.

We can see that Horsfield lacks an aesthetically clear structure for Episode 5; she uses too many cliches, and her instincts for the right moment for a statement are often off. There is too much interruption, she is trying to get so much in. But the episode soars through Kyle Soller, sided (so-to-speak) by Aidan Turner, and by Horsfield’s script’s concentration on the figure of Francis Poldark, his dream life, his relationship with Ross, and how he is by chance replaced (not saved, Ross is no miracle worker) by Ross. Ross is now the eldest male Poldark, though the heir as it was understood at the time will be Geoffrey Charles, to whom Francis gave his part of the ownership of Wheal Grace.

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There has been interesting illuminating talk on the Poldark Appreciation face-book page and I record some which gives insight into how people today are regarding these different iterations.

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Eleanor Tomlinson as Demelza, rough working class girl when first taken in

One person (Stephen Burk) on the Poldark Appreciation page wrote that he saw the story as “the evil Warleggen family warring against the good Ross Poldark and family.” He saw “humane values represented by Ross Poldark pitted against upper class snobbery;” he saw this in another version in “Ross’s gentry cousin marrying the middle class sea captain with a troubling past.” He accepted “Caroline’s haughty, flighty character (she was very good by the way) contrasting with the Doctor’s good and stable character.” Demelza’s character he also saw a “contrasts; a miner’s daughter, lower class (probably about the lowest just above slavery, prostitutes or thieves) who has obviously had a rough and tumble existence and who’s entrance had her groveling in the dust wrestling a man, dressed in men’s clothing when Ross saved her. The feisty, “feral” young female with little or no advantages not to mention social upbringing wanting to punch people out when they give her trouble rehabilitated by Ross into gentry, more or less. People though never totally change, they may to an extent but there are always ways of thinking and actions that will remain.” These simple oppositions are at work, and he accepted the class system and was entertained by “the rough lower class Demelza and the cultured, gentry class Ross and their relationship.”

So this is one reason the new Demelza is not liked: he wanted “the feisty and probably surly at times girl” with a loud accent — though this is not what is presented in the book. Demelza does know her place. The viewers today wanted “street wise smartness” to contrast with “Ross’s upper class posture.”

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Demelza come to Falmouth to talk to Captain Blamey (Richard Harrington) — I prefer this gentle kind of scene in the series much more

When I watch these films and those of 40 years ago I look for complex characters, subtlety and political and social commentary which is liberal in thrust and values courtesy until injustice begins to rule the day.

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Angharad Rees as the witty Demelza at the dinner table with Clive Francis as Francis enjoying the talk

Someone else (Gill Roffey) wrote: “Horsfield has made Ross the focus of everything,” to the “detriment” of the other characters, especially Demelza: “Demelza has a mischievous flirtatious wit. She gets tipsy at her first Trenwith Christmas and flirts with John Treneglos under his wife’s nose. Whenever she goes into society she charms everyone she meets. Horsfield is giving us none of this. When she meets Justice Lister in the book she charms him too, and makes a favourable impression, whereas in the mew series her attempt is clumsy and ill-judged. Then there is the infamous boat rescue. In the book she is the resourceful woman feeding her family, Ross doesn’t know about her fishing. Now, of course, it’s all about him, so he has to rescue her.”

I learned from this and replied: “Yes Demelza is witty, yes transgressive, yes she loves to drink and lose herself in pleasure. I see those social occasions themselves somewhat differently: finally she fails at them (especially that first assembly) because she’s of lower status and is a woman; but after each one she learns how to cope, what she can do and what she can’t. In the later books she is more of a recluse (keeps to herself) but also has made an adjustment to how to run a party. she also throughout continues to defer to Ross: she says early on he is her, he is her life; she has invested his view of him in herself as her. That might not be popular but it resonates with me and Angharad Rees inhabited that and I loved it and bonded with the character in the books. I agree that the books are as much about her as him: her growing up, her education. So yes these changes hurt — especially the bickering between them.

I can see what is meant today: Ross has to be the hero rescuing everyone. For me that’s such a simplification: in the books he makes many errors, some of which are irretrievable. I prefer that too. I prefer a character who is fully human and like us has many failures. The hero of the book and the 1970s was someone with fortitude to endure what goes wrong — due to himself. More novelistic. What such a man might have been, what the women of the era, is something else again.

Ellen

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Kenneth Branagh and Colin Firth — as characters digging the deep past up in the form of a coffin of a Muslim who once painted a mural on a 14th century church wall (A Month in the Country)

Dear friends and readers,

While the fall term has hardly begun, today was time to put in a proposal for next spring for the OLLI (Oscher Institute of Life-Long Learning) at George Mason. I enjoy enormously Booker Prize books, winners, short-listed, nominated. I love most of the film adaptations, which also win prizes.

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Ralph Fiennes and Juliette Binoche as the English patient and wandering nurse (screenplay Anthony Minghella)

At the same time I am aware only a certain kind of book wins: you’ll find no John LeCarre’s there. And it’s not just books which can be fitted into formula genres that are excluded, non self-reflexive historical fictions are out. Nor is it that mawkish uplift, and the kind of woman’s novel that garners an Orange prize; anything profoundly reactionary. So casting about for some kind of framework whereby term after term I could slot in books and explore books of our time as well as the publishing industry, I came up with this:

The Booker Prize: a marketplace niche & selling tool?

In this course we will discuss 4 gems of Booker Prize fiction. Some have said the prize functions as a brilliantly exploited marketplace tool aimed at a specific readership niche, just perfect for high quality film adaptations and literary criticism. The books are characteristically historical fiction, self-reflexive, witty and passionate, post-colonialist, and the three of the texts I’ve chosen have been made into great films. I ask that before class begins everyone have read J. L. Carr’s A Month in the Country; in class we’ll read Rose Tremain’s Restoration, Ondaatje’s The English Patient, and Graham Swift’s Last Orders.

I originally had Paul Scott’s Staying On in lieu of Restoration, but it is such a painful story of retired people now vulnerable to subalterns and the readers I read with are older retired people, so I worried. I ruled out Carol Shields’s Unless on similar grounds: perhaps they had a grown child who succumbed to such a syndrome. None of the Raj Quartet has won — the prize usually eschews sequel kind of books. A course just on Paul Scott is possible.

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Celia Johnson and Trevor Howard in Staying On carry over the typologies of Brief Encounter

[NB: later on I discussed it with other people in classes and with the organizers and I may well substitute Staying On for The English Patient (after all an exotice romance) and Unless for Restoration (not commonly known history though the topic of mental illness during and after a war is central). They are shorter, easier reads and that they come home to people might make for a much richer class.]

I loved Penelope Fitzgerald’s The Bookshop, but perhaps that makes the list insularly English. We can discuss it in claas; it is so slender — a characteristic of some Booker Prize books (they gave a prize to a long short story by V.S. Naipaul once). Byatt’s Possession (very precious), Atwood’s Alias Grace (complicated structure and POV too), and Mantel’s Wolf Hall were all too long to do other books with; Adhalf Soueif’s Map of Love long and too Eygptian: I can see doing that with her In the Eye of the Sun, but hesitate before a heavily Jewish population. I like the idea of pairing Alias Grace with the real woman behind the novel: Susannah Moodie and her Roughing It in the Bush. And in future terms I can see myself doing Ishiguru’s Remains of the Day — how I wept over that film with Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson at the close, just missed out on what would have made their lives good, just.

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The four frenemies carrying Jack’s ashes (in a box) to the jetty in “style” — a fancy car

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Reconciliation by the sea (Last Orders) — my students loved the film

None of my choices are darkly despairing. There are fascinating films for all four. I hardly remember Tremain’s book except liking it intensely (and have never seen the film).

As a side-note: I noticed something typically about women’s books who win the prize: typically women winning the Booker either write very long complicated books — with a George Eliot impressiveness — and if I chose one I’d hardly have time for another. One or even two swallows do not a summer make for my thesis about Booker prize books. Or they write odd and/or very slender ones. It’s “as if” they have to strike an impression more than the men.

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Charity Wakefield as Mary Boleyn (one of a continuum of heroines in Wolf Hall)

This is a new venture like my 19th Century Women of Letters which I hope to develop over a few terms — well within my taste, each time expanding my knowledge this or that way without asking too much, leaving time for scholarly reviews, essays, papers.

These books, indeed this sub-species, will be great fun to write blogs about here too.

Ellen

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