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A close-up

Friends and readers,

More than week late, because before writing my tribute I wanted to re-watch a few of my favorite films, all of which Alan Rickman worked in centrally; but with two good longish clips and a good trailer, and a whole YouTube movie, I add my voice and this blog to the many many paying tribute to Rickman’s acting career and what we know of his private life. Catherine Shoard’s fine obituary in The Guardian does justice to the variety of roles he played on the stage, in movie-houses, on TV; Michael Quinn tells more of his life and describes his mesmerizing qualities in The Stage.

What can I add? Not much I fear because I never saw him on stage, only read about his startling first performance as Tybalt in Romeo and Juliet, and much later as Hamlet himself. He and Helen Mirren did not receive rave reviews as Romeo and Juliet:

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But as Valmont with Lindsay Duncan as Madame de Merteuil, they made Hampton’s play, Les Liaisons Dangereuses a modern classic.

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Duncan and Rickman in Les Liasons Dangereuses

Years later Rickman played again with Lindsay Duncan, this time in Private Lives.

Nor did I see him in many of his movies and films: he worked for money and fame, as in Die Hard where against Bruce Willis he seems to have played a role equivalent to that Mark Rylance pulled off recently with Tom Hanks in Bridge of Spies. The witty European or Britisher against the he-man macho male pro-American ideologies, undermining them a little (the subversion is very slight). Rickman was not above the Sheriff of Nottingham in a successful Robin Hood either.

He often was chosen for or himself chose parts which called for steel, for self-control, abstinence in the self and enforced on others, the punitive and competitive, quiet aggression from the insinuating interviewer Slope in Barchester Chronicles (later cast out):

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to an earnest well-meaning daring politician Eamon de Valero in Michael Collins:

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Part of this thread in his typology led to his reprises as Severus Snape in the Harry Potter films.

I saw more of the film adaptations, romances, and in my experience and those I’ve talked to his interpretation of a character in a book deepened, changed readers’ conceptions of the character and even book ever after, charged the presence with melancholy, edginess, menace — self-retreat, keeping back. As a lover he made me swoon, but he was also complicated, the man of sensibility, unsure of himself, disillusioned, all giving and he was convincing as all loyalty

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As Colonel Brandon reading meditative poetry to Marianne in Sense and Sensibility

Now for me (as for Emma Thompson who wrote the screenplay), Colonel Brandon is the hero of Austen’s novel. He and she were good friends: they played the older couple whose marriage is on the edge but just manage out of compassion and understanding to hold together in Love Actually.

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Thompson and Rickman as husband and wife going through ritual of opening presents with one of their children

The last two nights I watched The Winter Guest, Sharman MacDonald’s play turned into a film and directed by Rickman, featuring Emma Thompson and her mother, another actress, Phyllida Law, as mother and daughter, two widows; and Song of Lunch, Christopher Reid’s poem, where he again played with Thompson.

I discerned a kind of repeating theme or thread, not as obviously or directly autobiographical as Woody Allen’s but there in the finest of his films. In these again and again he is a man angry at the world, or isolated from it, and turning on himself so strongly that he estranges himself and others from himself, bitter about what he is doing in the world. This is part of his Slope character; it’s part of the comedy roles. Sometimes he smiles and snarls dangerously as he looks out from within this core. Sometimes he saves others who are suffering similarly as in Truly, Madly Deeply; he enables Juliet Stevenson, as Nina, his widow to let go of him all the while he does not want to let go of her. The poignant image is of him on the other side of a window, a glass cut off from his beloved. The film has several parallel characters, David Ryall as George, a widower; Bill Patterson as Sandy who loses himself in work. Here is the opening segment:

I usually dislike these movies where characters are seen as part of an afterlife, and since reading Lucy Morton’s Ghosts: A Haunted History that even a majority of people believe in ghosts (!), but this one no. What transcends in the film is not so much that Nina has learned to live on her own, but his simple way of talking:

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Iconically Jamie in Truly, Madly, Deeply (1991)

He describes his life with Nina thus:

Well, talking was the major component! Uh, uh, we, you played the piano – and I played and we both played a duet — something, I can’t remember … and you danced for about three hours until I fell asleep, but you were fantastic! — and then we had some cornflakes and when we kissed – which was about — eleven o’clock the following day — we were trembling so much we couldn’t take off our clothes.

Here is how he accounts for his motive in coming back to “the earth:”

Jamie: “Thank you for missing me.”
Nina: “I have. I do. I did.”
Jamie: “I know. But the pain, your pain, I couldn’t bear that. There’s a little girl, I see this little girl from time to time, Alice, who’s three, three and a half, and she’s great, everybody loves her, makes a big fuss, but she’s not spoiled, well she wasn’t spoiled, and she was knocked over, and her parents, and her family, the friends from kindergarten — she used to go to this park — and she was telling me, she, they made an area in the park, gave the money for swings and little wooden animals, and there are these plaques on each of them, on the sides of the swing, the bottom of the horse. ‘From Alice’s Mum and Dad. In loving memory of Alice who used to play here.’ And, of course, Alice goes back there all the time. You see parents take their child off the swing and see the sign and then they hold on to their daughter so tightly, clinging on for dear life, the capacity to love, people have, what happens to it?”

In Song of Lunch, he plays an editor who is aging badly, a failure as a poet, who has asked the woman he lost to another better writer (both aging well), to lunch. He cannot even stop his self destructing for the hour, cannot pull back when confronted by her. Watch the movie, listen to the eloquent poetry:

In The Winter Guest Thompson’s character is a female version of someone threatened this way, pulled back by her mother

It’s as if Rickman had this on-going dialogue with himself.

In Richard Curtis’s edition of his screenplay of Love Actually, Rickman answered a series of silly questions. Among his answers: the actress he loved first in the movies was Jeanne Moreau; his “favorite romantic movie of all time,” The Philadelphia Story; his favorite Christmas song, “Merry Christmas” by John Lennon

Alan Rickman died relatively young of cancer, another person cut off by this spreading epidemic. He and his family have chosen not to say what kind of cancer, but it seems to have been one which devoured him quickly: one person who saw him used the word “terrible” of how he looked at the end; and others who knew what was happening and were close suggest his death was a release. A terrible irony to this sad end. How many people have to die, at how many ages, in what short span of time before some empowered active group of people effectively demand true fundamental research?

Ellen

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Nadir (Matthew Polenzani), Zurga (Mariusz Kwiecien), Leila (Diana Damrau), climax of Les Pecheurs de Perles

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Tonio-Taddeo (Dimitri Platanias) has enabled Canio-Pagliaccio (Aleksandrs Anoinenko) to catch Nedda-Columbine (Carmne Giannasttasio) kissing promising to elope with Arlechino, crisis scene of Pagliacci

Friends and readers,

No I was not in London late last Sunday afternoon, but at a Fairfax independent movie-house, Cinema Art, and by myself with a sparse audience watched a passionately acted and sung Mascagni’s Cavalliera Rusticana and Leoncavallo’s Il Pagliacci, a repeat HD screening of a live performance at Covent Garden this past fall. Nor was I in New York City at the Met today at 1 but at an Alexandria City chain movie-house, and with Izzy in a nearly full auditorium watched the live performance today of Bizet’s Les Pecheurs de Perles. Both were superb, both were produced, acted, directed successfully to make them feel utterly contemporary.

What’s remarkable about Le Pecheurs is it was something of a flop in 1863, and now 100 years later it’s not only a stunning success, but had it been done say 20 years ago, the story would have seem absurdly unreal (as it did to Parisian critics). We have a female scapegoat, Leila, a sacrificial virgin whose life-in-death is meant to propitiate the sea-gods, and when she is caught making love with Nadir, the two are condemned to be burned to death. The Met production was aware that everyone in the audience has read in the last few years about the barbaric executions of women for sexual misconduct and of men for what is called treason in the totalitarian religiously-fanatic states of the middle east. Women are enslaved as a matter of course by ISIS, trafficked by everyone else, made utterly to submit or face severe punishment under Sharia law.

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No longer is there a problem believing this kind of what once would have felt mythic stuff. The program notes talked about Orientalism, but the setting, the shawls and scarves, the city glimpsed once or twice in the background was meant to conjure up the world of Mediterranean Africa and the Middle East.

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And even 25 years ago timidity, decorum, the practice of not acting while singing would have buried the startling core of this opera: the famous intensely yearning lyrical song pledging their faithfulness until death between Nadir and Zurga is deeply homoerotic; the two men are in love. As Polenzani (who projected extraordinary sensitivity, nervous distress too, and sang so well I thought of Pavarotti) said, Nadir is lying to Zurga during the whole of the song. Nadir means to find out Leila and be with her again; he has not given her up at all as he promises.

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We can’t say they are homosexual as they don’t act out the intense bonding they have experienced with one another, but all else is in place, for when Nadir is caught making love to Leila, Zurga’s seething fury is not against her but Nadir for betraying him. All the words of Leila’s intense begging of Surga to pardon Nadir in the second act, and Zurga’s desire above all to murder Nadir once he is told that Leila and Nadir love one another demonstrate this.

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Before they are caught

So too the ending. What was substituted for years erased Zurga’s sudden turn-round, his setting fire to the city and village, in order to allow Nadir and Leila time to escape the flames. The program notes said the text became “corrupt” and new unauthentic material was worked in; only in the 1970s was Bizet’s original score and the script restored; this was the basis for a critical edition in the 1990s and this Met opera. What happened in these muddled (really deliberately obscured) performances was that the villagers discover Zurga was the arson and he is burned at the stake, or stabbed in the back, and the final scene was a holocaust with yet another trio. In the opera today and as originally written, the ending is Zurga sinking to the ground in grief. He is the tragic figure of his play.

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How conscious was Bizet of this? French writers of the 19th century were not innocents. Eve Sedgwick wrote a remarkably insightful book on this disguised gay plot in her Between Men: English Literature and Male Homosocial Desire on this phenomenon. The configuration of the two men with the interface of the female between them is glimpsed in Carmen, with the baritone or Zurga role, the bull-fighter, Jose the tenor whose mortified jealousy drives him to murder Carmen, the sensitive tenor or Nadir, and Carmen a mezzo. Jose or the Nadir character is the tragic figure of Carmen, not the woman. Jim and I once saw an adaptation of Carmen where the opera was done from Jose’s perspective, and today’s performance of Les Pecheurs put me in mind of that sequel or post-text opera. But if Bizet may have known what he was doing, and others what they were watching, like movie critics today who complain when movies don’t fit an aggressive three-part action structure but follow a female pattern of cyclical movement, so the 19th century critics felt there was nothing happening in Les Pecheurs. It was “a fortissimo in three acts.”

Not today. Penny Woolcock (a British name to conjure with) was credited with the production; a Matthew Diamond (I can’t remember his name and it is not repeated anywhere after you see it on the scroll) directed it for live cinema. The sets were effective, moving from fisherman’s wooden platforms by the sea, to dream visions

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to a city that looked like Naples circa 1950, to Zurga’s office (where he has a computer, smokes, a TV, phone and paces) and back again, with a city in the background. The storm was conjured up by computer technology so we saw an ocean take over the stage; acrobats were seen swimming in the sea to stand for fisherman. A fisherman’s work is dangerous. Both men sang brilliantly. I found Danrau strident, not melodious, but she enacted the part with bravura and believability.

Izzy was much moved by the final quiet moment of Kwiecien on stage: her blog-review finds the setting to be more closely modeled on Sri Lanka and the rituals against climate change in this contemporary mix of the newly found great opera.

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Dimitri Platanias as Alfio (who will become the incensed jealous husband) in Cavalliera Rusticana

Before last Sunday I had seen Cav & Pag with Jim at least twice (with Pagliacci once done with another one act verismo opera) before I saw it again last year with Izzy in an HD Met performance, where an attempt was made to present Cavalliera as a feminist play, all sombre colors with the action directly contradicting the words and sometimes the music. The HD-Met Cavalliera Rusticana made no sense; their Pagliacci was done vividly, with excitement, but too grotesquely as a carnival comedy, it was a coarse performance even if effective.

One problem with seeing this pair is one arrives with the expectation of not being over-excited because it’s almost old hat. The real fun of this new Les Pecheurs de Perles was we didn’t know the story, the phases were a surprise, I had no idea it was homoerotic, and the ending especially broke stereotypes effectively. Yet I was moved by the old pair — as was a woman sitting me who remarked on it. She said she had not expected to be so stirred.

There is a thorough and detailed review of this production, especially musically online by Robert Hugill. What I’d like to add is how effective it was to treat Pagliacci from a feminist standpoint: Damiano Michelietto was remembering Fellini’s 1954 Italian film La Strada, where an itinerant street performer buys or marries, and beats and destroys his clown-mentally disabled wife. Giannasttasio-Nedda’s hair was made up to look like Gelsomina’s, Antonenko as Turrido in Cavalliera reminded me of Zampanò.

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Nedda is harassed by Tonio, terrified (rightly) of Canio, is in love with Taddeo, really in love with him and he with her. Here is a rightly favorable review.

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Santuzza (Anne Maria Westbroek) hoping Turiddo (Aleksandrs Anoinenko) will come back to her and leave off his affair with Alfio’s wife

Presenting Pagliacci in this light made Cavalliera more feminist too: rightly Anna Marie Westbroek as Santuzza is a victim. First the two productions were linked. The village was the same with the murder of Turiddo in Cavalliera occurring the morning, and the murder of Nedda in Pagliacci the afternoon. The same villagers were seen in both; a poster advertising the play within a play of Pagliacci is seen in Cavalliera. The two men doubled the parts of Turrido-Canio and Alfio-Taddeo. Only the lead sopranos were fittingly different: the parts opposed, the kind of soprana different.

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Mama Lucia (Elena Silio) as Turiddo’s mother

In this production, Santuzza attempts to make a friend of Turiddo’s mother and as in the script does not succeed. But during a lull in the action in Pagliacci, Santuzza is seen in the front area before the auditorium with Turiddo’s mother, now grief-striken. So the two operas are intertwined. The two women find comfort in one another; in this production Santuzza is pregnant with Turiddo’s child so the pair become a kind of Naomi and Ruth without (an erring) Boaz.

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For me it worked. The costumes were right, especially the picturesque melodamatic ones of the play within a play in Pagliacci, evoking 19th century melodrama and novel types.

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It made the contrast with reality more ironic and effective. The settings too struck a symbolic chord:

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Turrido found dead — this symbolic town by a movie-house matched the symbolic middle eastern city of Les Pecheurs

They did seem to cut scenes from Cavalliera, thus making it seem more like filler, a kind of framing for the afternoon ferocity. In the production Izzy and I saw last year, Cavalliera seemed much the inferior work, but I’ve seen productions where it was done so beautifully lyrically and pathetically and with real rage (on the part of Alfio) that it overshadowed Pagliacci.

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As Izzy and I left Les Pecheurs de Perles we said how nice to be surprised at an opera for a change. We remembered how Jim had looked up who was singing in a production of Don Giovanni as an HD-Met opera we saw now 4 years ago. Kwiecien was Giovanni and he had hurt himself on the Net (strained his back) and it was feared he would not make it. He did, if only to be in the filmed version (going out “to the world”). Jim would keep up as to what was happening in a cast; when we arrived he’d know the history of the previous opera productions. He would have enjoyed the Cav & Pag I saw last week. We thought he would have loved this Les Pecheurs de Perles. She and I both missed him this afternoon.

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Kwiecien as handsome and alluring as Jonas Kauffmann

Ellen

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Dowager Lady Crawley (Maggie Smith) to Isobel Crawley (Penelope Wilton), POV

Violet, Dowager Lady Crawley: “Dear old Lady Darnley. Always liked to stuff the place with royalty. She was addicted to curtseying! How we laughed. It’s sad to think about it. — Ah, Spratt (Jeremy Swift). Could we have some tea?”
Spratt: ” – Your Ladyship.”
Denker (Sue Johnston): “It seemed a little chilly, m’lady, so I’ve brought you a shawl.”
Dowager: ” – Oh, you are a wonder, Dencker.”
Dencker: ” – Thank you.”
Dowager: ” – I shall miss you.”
Dencker: ” – M’lady?”
Dowager: “Oh, I’m sorry. No, forget I said that. After all, nothing is settled.”
Dencker: “What’s not settled? I don’t understand.”
Dowager: “I thought you told Spratt about the staff being cut back here and at the Abbey.”
Dencker: “Well, I may have mentioned it.”
Dowager “Oh, well … As I said, nothing’s decided.”
Dencker: “But Your Ladyship couldn’t manage without a maid.”
Dowager: “Mrs Crawley does. Don’t you? ”
Isobel Crawley: “Indeed I do, but I don’t wish to upset poor Dencker.”
Dencker: ” But Mrs Crawley also manages without a butler, m’lady.”
Dowager: “That is true, but I don’t think I could break with tradition to quite that degree.
Shall we have some tea?”
Dencker: “Your Ladyship” [distressed, leaving the room]
Dowager: [Calling] “Miss Dencker? – (CLOSES DOOR) – [Louder now] Don’t worry, Miss Dencker. I’ve got a copy of The Lady upstairs.”
Isobel Crawley: “You don’t really mean to manage without a lady’s maid, do you?”
Dowager: “(SCOFFS) Certainly not!”
Isobel: ” – Then why did you — ?”
Dowager: ” – Sometimes it’s good to rule by fear.”

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Far shot of Dencker unnerved, tottering off, Spratt, the butler, Spratt, supposed gratified)

Dear friends and readers,

The Sixth Season’s 1st & 2nd episodes make a telling parallel with Sherlock’s Third Season’s last episode: in both the originating material and ideas having been long exhausted, what emerges is raw actuating core: for Moffat and Gatiss a clever (modern, ever-so self-reflexive) gay subversion of a favorite hero series; for Julian Fellowes, a reactionary push-back by a male Mrs Miniver. I’m one of those who feels the first season was Fellowes at his (dreadful word) charming best: what more characteristic of the man than that flower show (a direct borrowing from Joyce Anstruther’s Mrs Miniver columns as well as the 1941 movie) and Mrs Hughes (Phyllis Logan) and her old suitor at the fair where she ever-so-delicately tells him no; and its analogy in a pig show and Mrs Hughes and her present suitor (Mr Carson aka Jim Carter) where she ever-so-delicately tells him (though an intermediary), well yes, but for once on her own terms:

NotaServant

“I just don’t want to be a servant on my wedding day.”

What is making this happen? ratings, advertisements, money. You don’t cancel or allow to go off-stage a cash cow. Which mini-series have been re-booted with great fanfare forty years on? The hits of the 70s.

For recaps I will be referring the reader to Anibundel (full disclosure, my daughter): The last days of Downton; March of the Pigs. For previous blogs over the 3rd, 4th, 5th seasons; the 1st through 3rd and miscellany and 4th, from my website.

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Jinxed (2)

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Miss Rita Bevan (Nicola Burley) from on high jinxes Lady Mary

Downton Abbey has the advantage over Sherlock in that its mode is naturalistic (the term TV critics use for TV realism) so one need only follow the rhythms of how night follows day, probable consequence from action, and voila, you have your story’s structure. The difference between this year’s 1st and 2nd episode is that in the first it did seem as if Fellowes preening over his success (seen in a recent interview with Judy Woodruff on PBS reports which now acts as an advertising vendor for PBS programs); and having been grated on when it came to doing yet another — he decided for an in-your-face program. Stories circulate that he wanted out after the fourth season, as witness how he was at his wit’s end for matter in the fifth, resorting to repeated scenes of excruciation of our true heroine, Anna Bates (Joanne Froggart). This is alluded to by Lady Mary (Michelle Dockery) with a solemnity that hides the ludicrous narrow perspective: “Anna, no woman living has been put through more of an emotional wringer than you.” As an hour it had all the spite of Violet Dowager Lady Crawley (aka Maggie Smith)’s insouciant threat of a dismissal to Dencker, who has replaced the misogynistic role of resident female bitch hitherto Miss OBrien’s. How Fellowes must’ve hated lady’s maids in his male childhood (little master’s thoughts: “giving themselves airs, who do they think they are?”).

In the first episode Fellowes incessantly punished all the servants. I do just hate how Fellowes punishes these people with continual humiliation and has them all so grateful for not being humiliated and punished yet worse. Not much comfort in Mr Carson’s “Nobody’s going to be flung into the road, I can assure you,” to Thomas Barrow (Rob James-Collier) worried he will be fired since he has not been trained for anything but “service.” There was an increase in humanity in the second, in that a kindly solution seems in sight for Anna and Bates (Brendan Coyle) at last: now fully exonerated by the simple expedient of the murderer of Mr Green coming forward to confess (telling enough, one of his victims), our true heroine’s latest theme for self-hated and immiseration: she has an incompetent cervix (it’s almost comical). On the other hand, the solution for Daisy (Sophie McShea) having precipitated the new owner of her Mr Mason (Paul Copley), her father-in-law’s farm (Mr Henderson) into irrevocably throwing him out, because she dared, dared, to speak up against the systemic injustice of the private property system is to push out the Mr Drewes (the ever-patient all-heart Andrew Scarborough) with Mrs Drewes’s (Emma Lowdnes) happiness (!) as Lord Grantham’s rationalization and Lady Grantham’s (Elizabeth McGovern) surfacing plan to replace them with Mr Mason.

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The Drewes, finally tenants turned out

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Lord Grantham (Hugh Bonneville)’s remorse — the last stills of the 2nd episode; in the first season Grantham’s remorse led him to keep Mr Bates (Brendan Coyle), not now

It’s remarkable how these phrases all coming down to the same idea, echo and repeat with variations throughout both episodes: the break-up of the old hierarchy was unflinchingly destructive of all.

The key word being surviving (Lady Mary)

You sound like a governess in fear of dismissal … (Dowager to Isobel Crawley)

Miss Baxter (Raquel Cassidy): At least you know you won’t be asked to leave until you’ve got somewhere to go.
Barrow: I don’t know anything of the sort.

Interviewer: – Why are you leaving now? –
Thomas: It seems like the right time for a move.
Interviewer: Does it? Does it, indeed?

That’s from the work interview in the second episode, which Fellowes knows as much as anyone else is a form of suppliancy at best, hazing being not uncommon, where Thomas submits to sneers, mortification. What are the duties of an “assistant butler?’ he can ask; he cannot ask for how much on the first go-round. (The first.)

I mean who wants to work in Woolworth’s? Certainly not the Dowager who in the first season couldn’t get over Gwen wanting to go out of “service” to become a typist. Well, in real life my mother-in-law: she traded in a 7 day a week, 11 hour a day job (half day off every other week) for miniscule literal money as a lower governess in a great house for a 5 and 1/2 day week, with a wage that she could just about pay for a flat and her own food on in Woolworth’s. It was much more liberty and money, her own space to live in.

We must give them time to gnash their teeth alone (about the change in power structure of the hospital).

One servant to another: – Did you drink at luncheon? – No, I did not.
Reply: One wrong move and snap, you’re out on your ear.

Consider how Mr Mason grieves when he sees a box he contributed to for some wedding (where he contributed a small sum, so expensive was this box, that took him weeks to save from his income) now on auction. I will be told that I am to read this paradigm and all these utterances ironically, e.g., this is ironic:

Lady Mary: Don’t worry, Carson, your reception will be in the great hall if it’s the last thing I do.
Mr Carson: How reassuring, My Lady.
Edith (Laura Carmichael): How very reassuring .. (Edith was given a few good ripostes)

It’s impossible in context: in the first episode the continuous thread juxtaposed through (until we have our culmination in the auction) is the story of a seemingly smug, remarkably nasty, sneering financially aggressive female hotel servant who lies to intrude herself on Downton Abbey, in order to harass Lady Mary for money because she knows Lady Mary went to bed with the present married Lord Gillingham and can shame Lady Mary in the newspapers. No understanding is given this woman whatsoever. She is like some mean witch a glance at whom leads Lady Mary to fall off her horse. She is as weak though against Lord Grantham (Hugh Bonneville) as — let us recall — an exactly analogous intrusive aggressive female was in the opening episode of the fourth season. Has anyone forgotten the sexually voracious Lady Ansthruther (Anna Chanceller, previously Miss Bingley, her name a perhaps unconscious allusion to Mrs Miniver) who sought to make Jimmy Kent (Ed Speleers) a kept man. In this former story an startlingly old (and some might hope) forgotten stereotype about the sexual appetites of thwarted (i.e., single) women came out.

The most scintillatingly alive moment of the second episode, the most pungently delivered line occurs when the Dowager Lady Grantham revels in a yet another moment of spite: yes her excuse is she is getting back at Denker for telling all the other servants they may be let go (Dencker has replaced Miss Obrien for resident female bitch) by carelessly letting her know she may be fired at any moment.

Sometimes it’s good to rule by fear, Maggie quivers with a spurt of glee. That says it all. Gives the game of inequality away: the 1% enjoy their power. It’s not enough to be rich, you have to be above others and how can you experience this?

But as to costumes, Maggie Smith won hands down.

Indoors
Indoors – the dark red suits her very well

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Light blues and greys were favored for her coloring

It seems to me a great effort was made to dress in her a series of exquisitely flattering dresses and place her in angle that favored the outlines of her face, her coloring, caught her body gestures and face. She had so many changes and so many lovely hats, it’s hard to pick. As in previous seasons, Fellowes’s control led to the camera making love to McGovern, so here our aging princess of great actresses. From her career and what I know of her life, Maggie Smith is stuff of the finest spirit.

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Barrow walking into the new intimidating place (don’t miss those lions)

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He of course goes into the servant’s entrance

Scene
Interviewee not making eye contact

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The employer’s unashamed full gaze

So wherein was the 2nd episode superior to the 1st? It returned to the rhythms of the first season. The quiet diurnal feel of every day life. Yes in both of these latest hour concoctions, as he does everywhere, Fellowes slides over the deeper disquiet one should have over any number of incidents in both episodes. The man has an uncanny ability to put his finger on suppurating wounds in relationships and systems and then pull away to safety. It’s safe to dwell on Mrs Hughes’s shyness in marrying Mr Carson who loves her tenderly. Edith’s story and desire to go live in London is told blandly; I’d love to know what Rosamund (Samantha Bond) really does in London. We never do, only that she goes out to plays only when she has friends visiting.

Moments
Lady Edith emerging from her manager’s office where she has lost a round, Lady Rosamund Painswick waiting outside — Lady Mary says she and Anna have had so many moments together, so too Lady Rosamund and Edith (over Marigold) but they are kept superficial where we most want to know

In the first episode Fellowes uses the juiced-up faux crisis in thread after thread become so common in film stories (often disguised by having them linked up to some mystery-thriller conclusion). In the second he does not. There is no juiced-up crisis moment in the interview scene of Thomas Barrow. In both he depends on us caring for the characters and I do for a few: Anna and Mr Bates, Daisy and Mr Mason, Miss Baxter and Mr Molseley, and yes even Thomas, so that another of his gift’s — for plangent dialogue and aphorism were effective.

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Anna and Mr Bates — camera on her

Some might say he overdoes this in the concluding incident of the Drewes — but then we are made to feel a real wrong is done them when from the car, clutching the child, Lady Edith (Laura Carmichael) and Cora, Lady Grantham (Elizabeth McGovern) smoothly agree ever so quickly with the removal of the Drewes: “it’s for the best.”

One of my commentators recently wrote in response to a couple of my blog remarks: “he refuses to develop his characters in more sophisticated adult ways and deal openly with complex politics”; “fan fictions and postings and blogs too expose the nasty undercurrents of his portrayals, his fatuity“)

Comment; He exposes the weaknesses of his storytelling. I thought the first series of Downton Abbey was brilliant, but I have been progressively more disappointed by subsequent series. As I continued to watch the show, I repeatedly saw him squander enormous potential for emotionally-resonant storytelling.

This emotionally resonant story-telling (thrown away or perverted in the final message or not) was given more play in the second episode. We saw some of it towards the end of the first when Lord and Lady Grantham go down to the kitchen and talk about the food they find in the new refrigerator. The scene quietly epitomizes the theme of changing times: I do not remember either hitherto coming down to the kitchen to grab a snack. Nothing was juiced-up here. After they ate, to bed upstair they retired. In the second episode Mr Molseley (Kevin Doyle) acquiring test exams for Daisy to practice with. For all its slithering cruelty, the way the Dowager handles Dencker is done without juicing the turns. Lady Mary’s reciprocating decent behavior helping Anna to bring a pregnancy to full term.

(Using my crystal ball I predict the birth of a child in the Christmas episode, one who like Lady Mary and Sybil’s child is legitimate with a loving father and mother and assured future.)

The development of the fight over who will control the hospital. Mrs Hughes’s stubborn resistance of a take-over of “her day” by the hegemonic order she has lived in all her life. Not that she escapes it much: I foresee the wedding will be in the schoolhouse (like everything else, as the Dowager would doubtless tell us, standing on the extensive property of Lord Grantham) during this moment of (for her) liminal transition.

The two continuous threads of the second episode concern the question of where the latest wedding (in the series) is to be held and the question of the hospital. I found the dialogues over the hospital improved as the characters (the way they do in soap opera structures) recurred and re-formulated their positions over and over, bringing in new aspects as they went. And will end on two of these from the second episode:

The first intertwined with the thwarted marriage of Isobel Crawley and Lord Merton (Douglas Reith):

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Walking and talking

Isobel: ” – Do you post your own letters?”
Merton: ” – Ha! It was vital it went off today and I’m never very good at delegating. As a matter of fact, I’m glad to see you. I’d value your advice. I’ve had a letter from the Royal Yorkshire Hospital, asking if I’d head the new Board of Charitable Donors. We’d be working alongside.”
Isobel: “Well, that’s if I stay the almoner, once we’ve amalgamated.”
Merton: “Well, of course you would.”
Isobel: “When we combine, we’ll avoid duplicating our efforts. The whole thing would work a lot more efficiently than it does now.”
Merton: “So you don’t disagree with the plan? Well, don’t you see what it could mean? How old is our X-ray machine? Does Clarkson really know how to use it? What advanced surgery do we offer? None.
If a family at the Abbey has a cut finger, they go to London, – but what about everyone else? – I bet you’d go to London too. – (CHUCKLES) I probably would, but I shouldn’t have to. And what about people who don’t have that option? So the battle lines are drawn and now we must fight it out.”

Upon Lady Grantham visiting the hospital (she is leaning towards giving control to a larger authority): part of the context is Isobel and the Dowager’s on-going vexed relationship

Dowager: “I don’t want Cousin Cora to feel outnumbered.”
Isobel: “It isn’t friendly, you know, to stir her up into opposition.”
Dowager: “It’s not very friendly to squash her into submission either.”
Cora: “Excuse me, but I don’t need to be stirred or squashed.”
– The facts speak for themselves.
– Your facts or mine? – What’s the difference? – Mine are the true facts.
Dr Clarkson (David Robb): Shall we continue this in my office?
Dowager: “I wish we could persuade you to help us stem the tide of change.
cora: “I’m just not convinced it’s the right way forward, to go backward.”
Dowager: “I do not understand you, my dear. – Are you saying Dr Clarkson is a bad doctor?
Cora: ” – Certainly not.”
Dowager: “And the other doctors that use our hospital — are they no good either?”
Cora: “I’m sure everyone does their very best, but there are new methods now, new treatments, new machines. Great advances have been made since the war. – Can’t we share in them?”
Isobel: ” – Hear, hear.”
Dr Clarkson: “Of course. I intend that we should.”
Isobel: “- We haven’t got the money.”
Cora: “- I see I’m not needed to lend you strength.”
Dowager: “You’re fully in command of the argument. Have you no pride in what we have achieved with our hospital?
Isobel: “I don’t think pride comes into it.”
Dowager: “Well, I warn you, Dr Clarkson and I will fight to the last ditch.”

And so the Dowager will. So did the aristocrats as a group, including those who lost much property. But these super-rich people, they keep making a come-back. It’s a big deal when they come down to breakfast:

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Cora putting together her own meal:

Ellen

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Monique Barbee, Cristina Spina, Ayeje Feamster, Juliana Francis-Kelly

Dear friends and readers,

Today Izzy and I saw another text or set of texts performed which come out of Tudor Matter: the writings and what was said Elizabeth Tudor said in the form of a monologue play acted out by form women playing the Elizabeth. It lasted only an hour but it was intently mesmerizing: the way the texts were chosen and woven together, how the actresses did the parts (intensely, iconically, prosaically, wryly, emotionally, fearfully by turns). The play is part of year long festival of plays by women going on around the DC area: the music was composed by a woman, production design, costumes: and it was l’ecriture-femme; the organization was not at all chronological; motifs kept coming back cyclically; you could say we were in Elizabeth’s mind.

It’s probably too late for most people to put everything planned for tomorrow away and hurry to the Folger Shakespeare Theater to see this four-woman dramatic monologue, conceived, put together, written and directed by Karin Coonrod, with a sixth woman, Gina Lesihman, composing the music, Oana Botez designing costumes, as a production from the Compagnia de’ Colombari (originally a festival group from Orvieto, Italy, 2004). But maybe not too late to see and hear re-incarnations of this script elsewhere. And certainly not too late to go to the Folger for this year’s season. It began with the remarkably candid and brilliant production of Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice, via their HD screening capabilities. Now they’ve moved onto a highly original adaptation of Tudor matter to the stage.

Only recently has Elizabeth R been forgiven her ability to live more successfully than most men as leader of a country she cared about, as head of an army. As Sabrina Baron says,

with a few parts of some series as exceptions (most notably the six-part Elizabeth I in 1971), the depiction of Elizabeth, a woman who was a powerful and effective leader in her day (lived long, stayed in power, overcame a number of attempts to when she was young kill her and older overturn her throne), is as a frigid jealous or humiliated sex object. Her icon in her era was manipulated to present an transcendent female figure effectively doing what men did; in the 20th century she was at first a sexualized female stereotype who failed at love and motherhood and did little of consequence. Recently she has taken over Mary Stuart’s role as an enthralled woman (by Leicester, Essex) deeply unhappy because of this. Says Baron, quite a revenge and erasure by a male hegemonic point of view and from women compensatory victimhood for them to cling to.

Not so here. Using Elizabeth R’s own words and words about her spoken or written by people close to her, Koonrod moves back and forth across the iconic and everyday events of the reign to show how she was beset from the time her mother was beheaded (by keepers, by authority figures, by what men she did discreetly involve herself with, and yet emerges, survived and knew several triumphs (the Spanish Armada). While she did not write as much as the foolhardy passionate Mary Queen of Scots, and hid her religion as Margaret of Navarre did not, Elizabeth R wrote in all the forms these two other early modern women did: poetry, speeches, letters.

These are woven in with what others reported and what scholars have unearthed. The script assumes a good knowledge of the phases of Elizabeth’s life (who she lived with during what period and what she had to adhere to to stay alive), which are divided into four movements and four games. Iconic moments include her at the tower, when her stepmother, Elizabeth Parr and her husband, Thomas Seymour (later beheaded) are said to have cut Elizabeth’s mourning dress for Anne Boleyn to shreds while they were in a garden. This one shows how little Elizabeth was regarded until she became queen; she was a woman, not entitled to her own space; the first thing that parliament did when she became queen was to ask her to marry, which they repeated periodically no matter how often Elizabeth said she was wed to England and England was better off with a single queen (like her). there was material from the death of Leicester’s wife. The Armada. The Earl of Essex’s revolt. Parliamentary conflicts. And her frivolous moments with ordinary people.

All four Elizabeths were there at the same time. They began by sitting on uncomfortable high backed narrow lattice-like chairs (thrones as imprisoning). They catch each line up in turn, like a monody by four. Their silvery-grey dresses have features which suggest different eras (Elizabethan, the devil’s, the legacy left Elizabeth by her mother.) As the script veers round in time, first enacting how Elizabeth held off the demand she marry and have children, you grasp how each place is explicated or dramatized to see its relationship to Elizabeth or those close to her at that time (her sister, Anna, cousin, Mary, various male courtiers). Four movements within each a game. First up the nagging and pressuring her to marry and have children (the French Anjou and Leicester eras). Second there was an amoral actor-soldier and city life and court (anecdotes). The third movement was made up from Elizabeth’s prayers and laments, her few witty self-revealing poems. Last her last years as queen. I found the whole experience mesmerizing and stirring.

By pre-conceived scheme this blog should go on Austen reveries as being about and by women, one of more than 50 plays by women which will be staged in the DC area over the next year (until July say). I put it here so it will have more circulation. It belongs to the inexhaustible Turdor matter which I’ve been dealing with in my blogs on Anne and Mary Boleyn and Mantel’s Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies, and which I hope to add to on the 2003 Boleyn Girl by Philippa Lowthorpe (with a little help from Andrew Davies), Anne Boleyn and other early modern women destroyed, sustained over a life-time, hitherto taken out of history.

Ellen

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Ross and Demelza (Aidan Turner and Eleanor Tomlinson, 2015) — wordless

(From invented commentary/choral scenes) Francis (Kyle Soller): ‘Ross, surely you must see with such a wife, you cannot hope to have entry into any respectable gathering … You will cut yourself out of society, consign yourself to …’ Ross: ‘a life of peace and seclusion, I must try to bear it as best I can …’ //Margaret (Crystal Leaity), sitting down near Ross: ‘I never thought you the marrying kind … is she wealthy? He: ‘Not at all’ She: ‘Is she beautiful? He: ‘In a way’ She, puzzled: ‘So, you love her? He: we get on … //George Warleggan (Jack Farthing): ‘I’ve puzzled you out … Ross: ‘Was I so hard to fathom? George: ‘Well, I thought so, but your recent nuptials have made everything clear It delights you to thumb your nose at society because you consider yourself above the niceties by which it operates … ‘ Ross: ‘Not above, just indifferent … ‘ (all invented scenes and lines)

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Ross and Demelza (Robin Ellis and Angharad Rees, 1975) — also wordless

He (earlier in the scene): ‘Look at me … look at me’ (taking her head in his hands and making her face face his) ‘tell me the child is not yours and mine … tell me … ‘ She: ’tweren’t nuthin … it just happened … tweren’t made out of love … ‘ He: ‘It was made out of yours’ (sob from her) … ‘come’ … She: ‘Please Ross, let me go, ‘taint nothing to do with you, ‘taint nuthin you should think of … tomorrow it’ll be gone’ … He: ‘And you too.’ She: ‘take more than that to see me off, oh Ross, please … that’s the first time I called you Ross .. ‘taint nothing to do with you. ‘taint your fault ’tis mine’ (camera on his sympathetic face) ‘What would I do with a babe all alone?’ He (suddenly his voice loud and firm): ‘You won’t be alone .., we’ll be married.’ She shakes her head ‘No … no, you don’t want that … I will come back with you but not for that’ (she now caressing his hand). He: ‘The child’s mine too it’ll have a name my name … now there’ll be no more arguing … come … (lines from Jeremy Poldark and Warleggan as memory, though scene wholly invented)

Dear friends and readers,

I remarked when I first set out to compare the new Poldark mini-series (2012, of Ross Poldark and Demelza) with the older one (1975, first four of sixteen episodes also Ross Poldark and Demelza), and Graham’s Ross Poldark and Demelza, the two first Poldark novels (1946-47), my obstacle would be my deep emotional investment in the books. A film is a work of art in its own right, realizing the vision of its creators, what statement they want to make about the book (among many other things), and in most cases I have not judged a film by its literal faithfulness, and instead demonstrated countless times that films adaptations must be valued on how they speak to the issues of the time in which they are made, as well as commentaries on the original book (or books).

I can’t quite do that here. I found myself hit where I live to this day by the new Demelza and Ross’s first euphoric months of love in their marriage (so were mine with my husband), identifying, bonding with both, wishing Horsfield had dared to be more visionary in her depiction of the Pilchard harvesting by moonlight,

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wishing that more had been made of the difficulty Verity and Demelza had in overcoming the difference of their status, education, Verity’s deep loneliness and Demelza’s need of someone to boost her self-esteem, not just by teaching manners, but how to speak to people who are in class and type above you: we see them confide,

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dance and shop together a bit too quickly:

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But I was gratified with the length of the depiction of that first Christmas, including Elizabeth on the harp, listened to in the book by Francis with exquisite appreciation and enjoyment, Demelza’s frightened luminous folk singing,

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singing

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and the walk back:

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It feels churlish to complain that in the book at Christmas Ross is deeply erotically attracted to Elizabeth, that she is no friend to Demelza, but jealous, and that far from drawing them together, the rich furnishings and historical paintings, the very heritage of the house for a time pulls Demelza and Ross apart again. Only when they return to Nampara and are within its grounds and walls does night and the “old peculiar silence” cease to make a barrier and “become [their] medium.” Their different pasts and personalities “could not just then break their companionship for long. Time had overawed them. Now it became their friend” as Ross Poldark ends.

Horsfield’s rendition was in fact not thematically faithful to Graham’s Ross Poldark. Nowhere in Graham’s book is there this continual carping at Ross’s choice of a woman beneath his class.

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In no scene does Ross express any regret to any man about his decision to marry Demelza (as he does in this scene and to people beneath him in rank)

No one in Graham’s book threatens to withhold investment money, no one sneers; Ruth Teague is spiteful (and as in the 2015 film) gratingly mocks Demelza as our “reclusive” Ross’s “Friday,” but the way Horsfield continually voices the competitive (nowadays) and hierarchical (then) view that Ross has destroyed his future is anachronistic. Ross cannot lose his status as the son of an ancient family, and as long as Demelza can learn to parrot the manners of her “betters,” speak less demotically, dress right, with functional literacy, she could theoretically and does except for the abrasive sexual encounters she is subjected to because of her gender do very well.

The lines I quoted above are a product of Horsfield’s own buying into opportunistic careerism. The way up, the way to win wealth and position is through marriage, but as the younger son of an impoverished branch of a Cornish (marginalized exploited semi-colony within Britain), with no sympathy or desire to network or politick in his class, Ross was not likely to do better than Ruth Teague (in the book a fifth daughter of very much declining pseudo-gentry). I exulted in what I admit are the replies Horsfield dialogically supplied Ross with.

I had one insight important to me because Horsfield refused to qualify the love between Ross and Demelza during the sequence leading up to and concluding Christmas. Films can bring out graphically what is deeply appealing in a novel without discussing this explicitly: I have wondered why I love these books so. I saw in Horsfield’s fourth episode that what I love so is the relationship between Demelza and Ross Poldark: I identify utterly with her and find him intensely appealing through her eyes. Jim and my early relationship went utterly against norms: we married with no money at all, 2 pound 10 for a license, his parents took out out for dinner that night and left. He and I danced the night away in a pub and the next day went to work because we had 10 shillings between us. Those first months of my life with him were as euphoric as Ross and Demelza experience in the last part of Ross Poldark, from the pilchard sequence to when they are alone. Nothing could break out companionship we felt; everything outside was the junkyard of what did not matter. That’s how it was for us.

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Demelza’s supposedly “saved” father and religious step-mother reveal their hypocrisies

Paradoxically the 1975 episode 4 with its grating and (to those who know the books and films) infamous departures from the story is often closer to the radically communitarian, anti-hierarchical, pastoral and pro-underdog atmosphere of the closing quarter of Ross Poldark. It is true that Graham’s book exposes the hypocrisies of fundamentalist religion (as does this and the fifth episode of the 1975 mini-series). But it’s ludicrous to make Demelza pregnant after one night’s sex — apparently to absolve her of becoming Ross’s partner for two months before the marriage as she does in the book. The 2015 film also compresses time so we will not observe this — apparently it’s still not acceptable in a mainstream TV film for a heroine who is not promiscuous to have sex freely with a man before marriage. The anachronistic depiction of Demelza actually saying that she is not sure who the father of her child aloud would be beyond belief for the 1950s; much less the 1780s, when such talk would land her in the streets of London as the lowest of abandoned prostitutes.

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Demelza’s absurd nonchalance

To do what Pullman did is to erase what is beautiful about Ross’s choice to marry Demelza: Ross marries Demelza voluntarily even though he is still in love with Elizabeth at that point, because it is the right thing to do for her as a human being needing him (as she has nowhere else to turn to and nowhere else to go), and because he likes her very much, enjoys her company: in the book she has grown to be part of his life, his very being (as he realizes at the close of dawn after the pilchard harvest). It is an act of rebellion against his class’s norms, fostered by his anger at his peer’s throwing away of Jim Carter (whom he Ross identified with); he is not just indifferent to “society’s niceties” (since when is marriage a nicety?), but wants to be seen to scoff successfully at them. Which he does. In the 1970s Pullman and his team made the Poldark film engage in the contemporary debate on abortion: when Demelza takes the one coin she gets from Ross and crosses the heath to find a laywoman abortionist she is risking her life. There were abortionists in the 18th century but it was rare to attempt this once quickening (regarded as when life began) started which the film pictures Rees as into.

Yet in the book Ross does love Elizabeth and erotically and intensely and there is a scene in the Christmas sequence where he admits this. Without acknowledging this and Elizabeth’s materialism, Elizabeth’s hypocrisy in trying to use Ross as a rope to escape from Francis’s gambling, drinking and inability to please her culturally — how will Horsfield later account for Ross raping Elizabeth. She has made Elizabeth so pious, exemplary and without rancour towards Demelza that I am almost glad that Horsfield changes Francis’s character so at least he is naggingly jealous (and registers that there is love between Ross and Elizabeth). In the 1975 film Francis is rather hurt, unable to reach his wife because of his own lack of self-esteem (this is closer to the book and more in line with Francis’s sense of himself as the heir to the estate, an aristocrat with a lineage):

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Clive Francis as Francis appealing to a cold Jill Townsend as Elizabeth

In the film unlike the book Elizabeth wants to leave Francis and anachronistically offers to go and live with Ross elsewhere (again a reflection of 1970s norms), and he agrees; but Elizabeth’s shock and horror (equally not in the book) when she comes the next day intending to make plans to come and live with Ross, only to discover he means to marry Demelza because he is pregnant does convey Graham’s Elizabeth’s resentment, anger, alienation, and Ross’s defense of Demelza as “no trollope” but the girl she ever was, prepares the way for Ross’s rage at Elizabeth’s entrenched snobbery and her later (as he sees it) betrayal of him and the resulting rape.

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Pullman also conveys what is in the book: Demelza’s knowledge that Ross loves Elizabeth at least as much as he does her, something Horsfield omits. As directed and filmed, Townsend in that huge dress with her high hair is a physical obstacle as well as an intangible one to a fulfilled marriage for Ross and Demelza.

Confrontation

In fact this confrontation is central to the next seven books. For seven books Demelza will have to live with the reality that Ross loves Elizabeth as much as if differently than the way she loves her. By dramatizing this at the point of the marriage, Pullman and his director bring this out.

More to the point of filmic art, the theatricality of the clashes between Demelza and Ross over her pregnancy, Ross and Elizabeth three different times, Demelza and Elizabeth’s face-to-face silent confrontation and most of all Ross’s ride after Demelza across the wasteland, wrestling her down, and sudden tenderness and care for her in bringing her home is among the most memorable and effective sequences of both the 2015 and 1975 mini-series — and the language given them from the book voices the deepest of promises and obligation more forcefully than the 2015 lyrical use of montage however deeply pleasing

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In effect the feelings are the same in 1975 and Graham’s book: by the end of the novel Demelza is aware Ross still loves Elizabeth intensely, or at least wants her as much as she, Demelza; she has been faced with the heritage and elegance of his house and family. There is much for them as a couple to overcome, and that is true to the book and true to life.

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I have omitted the death of Charles Poldark. In spirit the 1975 film is quieter, it is more pious (Graham mocks the pretense and hypocrisy of the neighborhood grievers). I found the graveyard scene with the “man that is born of woman” speech moving. Francis behaves in a dignified manner at Trenwith just after; we see the desolation of Verity and how the self-centered Elizabeth cannot understand that her frustration is analogous to meaningless life (except for caring for Geoffrey Charles who in the 1975 film Elizabeth is seen as neglecting) she and her father-in-law and husband have imposed on Verity.

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Horsfield builds up the death scene itself much more considerably. Nowhere in the book does Charles hand the responsibility for his family to Ross over his son. Horsfield uses it to convey her Francis’s bitterness: he is relieved his father is dead as there is no one around to denigrate, mortify and insult him (as we have seen Charles continually do). Horsfield’s really mean and sordid-minded Charles is as much responsible for Horsfield’s Francis’s wounded psyche as any demands on him that are outside his ability:

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I find it interesting that in 2015 less piety surrounds the dead and there the film can return to more of the feel of the mid-century book.

In both episodes the desperately needed copper is found, and in both it has been voiced that this will only save the community if Ross and his partners can get a decent price for it. In 1975 Ross thinks he has staved off the Warleggan monopoly, that all his partners are keeping secret from Warleggan who are the members of the Carnemore Copper Company. In 2015 George Warleggan (Jack Farthing) has begun to break down the company because Dr Choake (depicted as a nasty evil-tending man — a child-like use of a character) has agreed to sell his shares to George. There are many things I respect about the book and both mini-series, but the most important is the attempt at a serious depiction of economic relationships and structures as the center of daily life.

Ellen

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

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

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

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

Dear friends and readers,

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

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

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

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The confrontation

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

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

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

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

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

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A very different walking away and calling back

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

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

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

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

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

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

***********************

A few observations on 1975 Episode 3 (compared to book and 2015 Episode 3):

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

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

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

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

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Norma Streader

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

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Jinny given separate scenes where we get to know her

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Warleggan personally grated upon

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Ross articulating a set of values

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

Elizabeth. In retrospect by the fourth book (Warleggan) Graham gave the earlier history of Ross’s continuing intense love for Elizabeth and Elizabeth’s dissatisfaction with Francis. It’s right to bring it forward as it give the overarching tension to the series and by the end of this novel (a Christmas scene of rival piano playing between Elizabeth and Demelza) Demelza realizes she has a real rival, but by bringing it forward it changes the whole feel of this early material which is much simpler and somehow less meretricious because less complicated, less contrived .

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This episode has Elizabeth coming to see Ross once — right after the trial in need of decent conversation and solace but too proud and upper class to let down the barriers. She is under considerable strain; her life is one of frustration and boredom; she finds she cannot tell Ross this.

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

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

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(Passing shots in 1975)

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

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Observations on 2015, Episode 3 (compared to 1975 film and book):

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

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

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Eating and talking; she is now the cook

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

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

Horsfield’s George is not a monster — there is an attempt to make the capitalist understandable, but he is now a sneak as he was not in the book (in the book George was as far as could be seen rather open and brutal and amoral rather to anyone who can observe). Jud and Prudie have become sullen servants which is odd — instead of making the lower class servants at least someone we can be fond of identify with, they are mean themselves. In Graham’s book Jud is droll; Horsfield seems to have no feeling for drollness. Paul Curran understood it (and probably Phil Davis might if given the lines).

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Ellis and Curran working in the fields: Jud to the back, Ross remains a gentleman but there is camaraderie (1975)

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Mary Wimbush as a good-natured thoughtful Prudie (1975)

Jim and Jinny Carter are also kept at a distance; we don’t see enough of them close–up. In effect some might say the 2015 film is more class-ridden, far more class self-conscious.

Horsfield does not show the passing of time, the choice of landscape imagery is pointed (a blast in the mine, flowers in the field near Demelza suggesting eroticism) and we move into the poaching too quickly, with the trial and then the love-making explosion between Ross and Demelza afterward.

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The morning after: in the novel Ross alludes to a Shakespeare sonnet (“Th’expense of spirit in a waste of shame”) asking himself if he feels this; and Demelza does revel in the fields

Demelza’s behavior feels more passive during the love-making scene which is actually not specified in the book (it was written in 1945/6). Then as in the book we get Elizabeth’s too late visit, and Elizabeth’s intuition something has happened between Ross and Demelza. Though not in the book now I feel it is also a loss not to have Ross trying to send her away for her own good, a real loss her anguished speech about how she has someone to turn to; here she is merely seen fleeing, he once again rides after her, and after silent observation, simply marries her — she just does it. There is not enough preparation. The book does not show Demelza’s agreement and both the book and 2015 show women submissive but it leaves a hole in the psychology that is not made up for as the 18th century Demelza would never leave Nampara (she’d be beaten at home, in the streets beaten or raped, end up a prostitute) and Graham’s Elizabeth does not mouth pious beliefs.

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

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Made a supine fool by Margaret

Elizabeth, on the other hand, is made far more exemplary. Asked by Francis’s father, if Francis does his duty (has sex with her), if he is at work on the mines somehow or other, she says yes. She plays the harp in the book too (there are no harp scenes in the 1975 movie):

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Probably the most important character change is in Francis: The episode brought out Francis’s incompetence over his mine (he hasn’t lost it as in 1975 because he gambled the money away carelessly like an aristocrat), his unfair jealousy of Ross when Elizabeth gives birth and at the christening Ross talks with Elizabeth; how he blames Ross for Elizabeth not wanting to have sex with him. In the book it’s the child; in the 1975 this is not a thread. The 1975 Francis was not mean and jealous in this way. Kyle Soller is made to look stupid, he can speak truth back to George Warleggan and he likes Ross, wants his respect and companionship at first, but is seduced by George into forgetting by George’s playing on his sexual and work insecurities; so he is not appealing It is far too easy for Margaret to flatter him that he is the only Poldark. This Charles (Warren Clarke) is himself really mean too; not likeable as Frank Middlemass was able to make him. In the 2015 Francis sits on a horse looking helplessly at Ross’s mine

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so when we see him with Margaret he calls himself “the Poldark.’ he is not appealing (there are now two scenes where Elizabeth has been reluctant or refused him access to her body and bed) to a larger audience, rather helpless and writhing and angry: I can sympathize. But then he is overtly arrogant to Verity, sneers at her. He buddies with George which he would in the book (to a man of Francis’s type George remains “a blacksmith’s son,” beneath him) or in the 1970s (where he resents George’s attentions to Elizabeth and his presents to his son and detests George as a sneak he must kowtow to because he owes George money).

It’s implied but never brought out in the novels that Francis is not a good leader of men, not pro-active on behalf of business; but this is never stated. He is a self-contained aristocrat, containing his self-esteem and careless dismissal of those beneath him; in 1975 with an undercurrent of self-loathing out of a depression within his character which his father has taken advantage of. We see him enjoying himself:

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The contrast is with Jim Carter who the culture subdues, makes deferent, hesitant, without assertive pride:

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Ross scolding Jim for poaching (1975): there is a similar scene in 2015, but it has lost its original context

In the fiction Margaret preys on Clive Francis as Francis through demanding gifts, and she encourages his gambling; she sneers at his love-making as boring, jeers at him. In the fiction we may feel Francis is distrustful and jealous of Ross’s love for Elizabeth, but it never comes out, except when Elizabeth begins to refuse sex — then the narrator tells us it’s Geoffrey Charles she prefers.

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

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To bring out a few points from the above notes and details: strong parts of the 2015 film include its historically accurate presentation of the court scene, its depiction of a deep relationship developing between an upper class male (however made more egalitarian in presentation) and a servant girl, and how her character is given resonance through class and status anger.

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

It lacks irony and there are moments where the script might have meant for Turner to project ironical distance (as when he is talked to by the preacher at Jim and Jinny’s wedding and told marriage is to prevent fornication; or when Mrs Teague and her daughter Ruth assail him), but he is either too flat or obvious in tone.

The strong parts of the 1975 film are also the court scenes done in a way that brings out 1970s values in Ross’s speech, and the final love-making scene and disruption afterwards that represents an unfortunate departure from the book’s original themed presentation of politically radical love. But it has real humor and can contain a sympathetic depiction of Francis as a flawed but understandable male character:

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Clive Francis allowed dignity even when behaving in foolhardy unthinking manner

Ellen

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

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Aidan Turner as Ross Poldark: as magnificent against defeat

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

Dear friends and readers,

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

Let us begin with Episode 1:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Robin Ellis and Angharad Rees from Episode 2 (1975)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Rare moment of selfhood for Verity (2015)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Playing with her dog

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

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

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

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

Next week, Episodes 2 compared.

Ellen

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