Archive for the ‘romance’ Category

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.


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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)

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,

pilchardsshe (2)

pilchardsshe (1)

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,


dance and shop together a bit too quickly:



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,




and the walk back:


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.

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.


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.

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):

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.

Elizabeth (2)

Elizabeth (1)

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.


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







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.


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.



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:


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.


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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 …

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?

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.


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.

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!]”)


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.

cannotresist (2)

cannotresist (1)
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.

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.


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):


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.

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.

Jinny given separate scenes where we get to know her

Warleggan personally grated upon

Ross articulating a set of values

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

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


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

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.


(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.


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


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,


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).

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

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.


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.

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

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):


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


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:


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

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.


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.

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:

Clive Francis allowed dignity even when behaving in foolhardy unthinking manner


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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

Aidan Turner as Ross Poldark: as magnificent against defeat

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.

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

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.

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

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.

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.

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

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)

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:

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:

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

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).

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


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).

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


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:

Playing with her dog

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.

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

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.


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Claire Foy as Anne Boleyn at her wedding to Henry VIII — of course Wolf Hall is not covered in this volume, but it fits into the insights into historical film and fiction (it is Winston’s Graham’s first type, where all major character once existed for real) (2015, from Hilary Mantel, scripted Peter Straughan)

Dear Friends and readers,

After an unavoidable 2-week hiatus I continue my review of this rich volume. The first section was devoted to different approaches to costume drama; this one places the films and mini-series into their place in a history of historical films and fiction, in the heritage industry, among national identifications, and finally recent developments in historical films. I have treated and referred to Katherine Byrne’s “New Developments in Heritage: The Recent Dark Side of Downton Abbey” (Chapter 32); I’ve devoted a separate blog to Giselle Basin’s high praise for “Upstairs, Downstairs (2010-2012) and Narratives of Domestic and Foreign Appeasement” (Chapter 12) as I’ve watched the first season and am into the second of this mini-series.


From Robin of Sherwood Forest (HTV/Goldcrest)

Chapter 8, Andrew B. R. Elliot’s “British Historical Drama and the Middles Ages” packs an enormous amount of information and insight plus good bibliography (they all have that) in remarkably few pages. He begins with the common perception that there are few costume dramas set in the middle ages (most are later 19th century, Edwardian, early 20th century), with the occasional leap into another era other than the middle ages (I, Claudius; Poldark). It’s thought the era is not one easily to recreate from these artefacts, literal epitomizing and also itself not “a usable past,” its chaos does not lend itself to mirroring. His essay is an attempt to demonstrate there have been many many historical dramas and loose adaptations set in an imagined European middle ages (from Scott, from 1930s Erol Flynn style movies, from various modern Arthurian and crusade stories).  Some are minimally historical and connect more readily in the way of other costume dramas and mini-series to fantasy and action-adventure or romance or parody today. So his essay is filled with brief descriptions of many series in which he really manages to say a lot about the very occasional (rare) superb one and describe much fantasy, stories of male hegemonic power and sheer dreck or smooth unexamined costume-y stuff (Men in Tights as the Mel Brooks parody has it).

First there are 3 typologies (why does everyone divide their subject into threes?): one Robin Hood-centered, one Crusades, and one Arthur matter. These intermix but they have different emphases. Elliot attempts to show which mini-series and films made a serious effort to make a statement about the period in which the films were made (the 1970s again comes out as a time of better films and mini-series) and those films which are (he would not use this word) drivel. A celebration of male power is seen across them all — the few good men saving the world. The early 1950s on TV (where there was an endless Robin series on popular and commercial TV) had a naive image of heroism and chivalry with lots of nostalgia, but also an image of unchecked male hegemony linked to physical and political power. Then Elliot goes through each subset from 1960 on. I single out a few he thinks worth re-seeing and study.

Robin Hood: Again the 1970s in general has better ones. He names as fine and interesting: Goldcrest’s Robin of Sherwood Forest and Richard Lester’s Robin and Marion (I resaw it this summer and loved it all over again). An inward melancholy piece about a deep sense of hopelessness for good goals. He says the 2006-9 Robin Hood series is about Robin as “an enlightened post-colonal leader suffering from PTSD; the sheriff now lends himself to a Bush-Blair analogy.

The Crusades: the third is the favorite as richest in anomalies and he singles out a 1961 Danziger Richard the Lionhearted with “gritty social realism” and “shabby style locations”. He goes at length into Derek Jarman’s Edward II 1991 movie) where identity issues, race (Ciarhan Hinds as Bois-de-Gilbert from Scott is particularly effective). The film has Ivanhoe choosing Rowena over Rebecca so reinforces English identity. There was a 1997 mini-series where the the heroes fought over an empowered Rebecca. He likes Cadfael: it was a mystery thriller detective with everyone in tights, but Elliot finds in it real examinations of modern ideologies plus good writing, good scripts, tension, well done.

King Arthur: Elliot says there is much less of Arthur nowadays in films than one would expect (given books where there is a lot, given Victorian background, given the Net and fan groups). He says of one 1956-57 Arthur hardly appears; it’s called The Adventures of Sir Lancelot. Again of what there is the finest is a 1970s Arthur of the Britons (ITV< 192-73, 24 episodes). Arthur redresses many modern nationalist misdeeds. I add that perhaps we don’t like an ideal hero as much as the Victorians did. Merlin is favored as a fantasy figure according to Elliott.

Recently the demand for high production values leads to a reliance on co-production and with the US in there you cannot have the same exploration of nationalisms, international casts become bland and cannot critique the present the way Arthur of the Britons and Robin of Sherwood once did. So there is a prioritizing of multiculturalism with some criticism of imperial power as such.

Elliot suggests that historical drama a process of selection and reassembly from traditional materials. W should not give up on historical drama set in the middle ages: it may be the reality of the Middle Ages was so dreadful in so many ways a long tradition of fantasy from the 1930s picturesque popular costume dramas got it off to a bad start (I left out Stewart Grainger kind of films in Gainsborough films), but we should not give up on it at all — consider for example, Games of Thrones.


Glenda Jackson as Elizabeth I (1971)

Chapter 9: Sabrina Baron: “Desacralizing the icon: Elizabeth I on Television.” This was a grim account. There have indeed been a large number of films featuring the character or figure of Elizabeth I, but after a thorough review of these from 1938 on, Baron concludes, 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), she is repeatedly shown as a frigid jealous or humiliated sex object. Her icon in her era was manipulated to present an transcendant 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.

The essay is so chock-a-block with films and details I just offer a few: If you look at contemporary records, you see to many Elizabeth was a mystery, a curiosity, an anomaly, but not an abomination. What she proceeded to do gradually was showcase her virginity, insist on it as what wedded her to England. In 1596 an order was issued that all unflattering portraits of the queen should be destroyed. As a consequence a very few depictions of Elizabeth for real in her later years have survived. What was one to do with this unmarrying, unreproducting, later undesirable woman? Her relationships with Leicester and Essex (and others) so romanticized were about their desire for financial favor and political preferment (I add though evidence suggests that Leicester was responsible for the death of his wife). Baron briefly covers US films (e.g., especially the influential Bette Davis and Errol Flynn), particularly how they influenced or were the same as the UK. The Cate Blanchett movie is one of those transforming Elizabeth into the vulnerable yearning woman (I remember her dancing most of all) and Mary Stuart (Barbara Flynn) into the thwarted politician.


I was startled to discover the second BBC film about this queen was an adaptation of Scott’s Kenilworth and starred a very young Jeremy Irons as Leicester and Gemma Jones as Elizabeth. first done in 1956 and then 1967. This is one of those costume dramas wiped out. Irons returned in the same role on HBO in 2005 in a wildly popular version with Helen Mirren (Hugh Dancy, the Essex). (A sad fall away from Jane Tennison.) Alessandra Stanley (who wrote a sequel to GWTW) was a rare critic to dare to write of how this film wallowed in painful pity for this aging woman — none of her public successes made much of, hardly mentioned.


James Onedin (Peter Gilmore) and his first wife, companion, partner, Anne

Chapter 10: Mark Fryer’s “‘It’s not the navy — we don’t stand back to stand upwards’: The Onedin Line adn the Changing Waters of British Maritime Identity.” To me as reader it was telling to have an essay on Elizabeth I where all her real achievements were erased juxtaposed to two essays on depictions of men who are seen as heroes at sea (whether businessmen or at war) where the figures are celebrated: Baron’s essay is grim because the public image is one of intense resentment and dislike of a worthy historical woman; Fryer’s essays is slightly uplifting because the series allowed (as it went on) for a real exploration of at least these characters’ experience of an empire built by the harshness and vagaries of mercantile endeavor. At first it was simply a dramatization of symbols of national identity, as it went on it questioned these.

It’s still okay males to be at the center of an outward story where we see a lot of courage, stoicism, discipline, dignity (remember the brilliant expensive Master and Commander from Patrick O’Brian’s books, by Peter Weir). Fryer goes over a couple of the several seasons and in detail a couple of episodes. We are apparently allowed to see “the harshness of Victorian life” Fryer thinks the departure from conventional unexamined stories might come from its being merchant mariners rather then characters in the Royal Navy. He suggests how the series “did not shy away from depicting the atrocities of establishing capitalist spaces abroad.” He hardly discusses the women but they seem to be in totally conventional roles inflected by making them assertive (within bounds doubtless). So where the gender aspect of reality remains conventional and undisturbed we can have a pleasant history of a film … Since I’m just now reading Poldark and the new mini-series (scripted by Debbie Horsfield) is now airing I thought about the parallels here: Graham does go into the women characters at length and shows us marriage as coerced rape, and as marginalized people and what that does to them.

Promotional shot for Onedin Line

Fryer’s essay is also about the image of the sea in British films and books — central to Poldark because the sea is central to the area of Cornwall it takes place in; Fryer points out how the film adaptations of Austen’s Persuasion bring the sea in continually; how even Downton Abbey does not neglect it in opening on the Titanic. The sea is central to British mythology even now when it seems to be superceded by other technologies. The sea has and continues to provide sites of collective identity including all sorts of hard labor and experience.


Anthony Andrews takes on realistic role (he was an Ivanhoe) in Danger UXB

Chapter 11: Bowdoin Van Riper, “Goodbye to All That: Piece of Cake, Danger UXB, and the second world war.” The title alludes to Graves’s famous book of course. Van Riper talks of how British costume dramas have embraced the interwar years (“the long weekend”) between WW! and 2, with settings that isolate them from modernity – Gosford Park, by Altman was such a film. Two extraordinary series: Danger USX (ITV, 1979: what a decade that was) and Piece of Cake (ITV, 1988). Characters heavily male focusing on work, centering on public life: tales of men defined by their knowledge and skills rather than wealth and social position. Inattentive, incompetent and inflexible characters fall and die. Individuals are framed as heroes or villains in accordance with whether they can get a job done, so characters marginalized or banished usually in costume dramas move to the center. Forget innocence, wit, virtue, charm, social graces.

These differ from previous films in their focus on combat and precise historical accuracy. Danger UXB focuses on the blitz, 9 out of 13 episodes. Piece of Cake is about the RAF Hornet Squadron transferred to France in 1939; the “phony war” comes to an end in 1939 and the Battle of Britain is the focus; few of the characters are left by the end and they do not see themselves as heroes. These mini-series then challenge aspects of the mythologies of the era. These groups of mend did not save the Old Britain but symbolize a new cultural order. Danger UBX shows characters continually pulled away from leisure time. One man goes AWOL in one episode to persuade his family to leave their bombed out house in Manchester and go live I the countryside; minutes after his arrival this house and his wife are destroyed, indistinguishable in the rubble.

Chris Hart and “Fanny” Barton treat war as a serious business (the others persist in apparent joking), something to be studied, worked at, practiced with clinical efficiency Hart is a wealthy American who flew for the loyalists in Spain; Barton mistakenly shot down a British aircraft; Hart teaches Barton how not to miss; he sneers at the self-congratulations of one kill and wreck which he claims was so easy. Hart instructs a mechanic in defiance of RAF practice to install a steel plate behind the seat of his aircraft to protect himself; someone without it comes out with shrapnel wounds in his back. Hart, Barton, “Flash” Gordon and Moggy are deeply dissatisfied with their leader’s adherence to RAF rules; it’s not important to have tight formations and the rest of the heroic claptrap as it is to look out for one another. Change comes from attrition rather than enlightenment. What matters is adapting; we see this in an Australian character; the language used is ruthless; “hammer the buggers hard;” after one inciden they are called “real killers” approvingly.

Enlisted soldiers in UXB are outsiders because they are the manual laborers and manual labor is deemed menial and despised. But they have to uncover the bombs (very dangerous) and their weapons/tools are spades, pickaxes, wheelbarrows; they have to shift hundreds of pounds of earth. Most of the time they are in working class and ordinary settings; when they do have to go to the stately country house where one of the few females in the series lives, Susan Mount (Judy Geeson yes she was the restoration lady wit who married Enys in Poldark), and her father, Gillespie, they are uncomfortable. Gillespie a man who earned his money, explosives expert, background in engineering and applied science. We see a vast network of people behind the heroes who are engaged with complexes of machines. So Susan assists her father; her husband is a cryptomanalyst and elsewhere (thus enabling her affair with Ash)

Anthony Andrews had a major role in Danger UXB; as Brian Ash, he is there to learn; it’s a story of his education. There is a guilt of comprehension between pre and post war worlds, junior from senior officers, English soldiers from people who have gone further abroad. People are lost and befuddle emotionally: Captain Francais, an executive officer incites a near mutiny by insisting his men follow a time-consuming polishing and social rituals.

Neil Dudgeon in Piece of Cake

In Piece of Cake after a while Hart is no longer so formidable. ”Skull” Skelton uses gun camera footage to see what has happened in each case (numbers of enemy destroyed, what damaged). Here it’s the senior officers who are out of touch with realities of modern warfare. Want to preserve gentility; Rex offers fine food and wine and must pay for it;he requisitions a country estate as barracks in France. Skelton the intelligence officer describes his leadership style as “feudal” – he dispenses largesse but demands absolute loyalty. Another older man, Kellaway insists using gun camera footage is an insult: people ought to be taken at their word as gentlemen. Bletchley too (so there’s that name) wants to deny war realities, describe the war as a football match. When the men go to the country house, they say this is one kind of war for one class of people and another for another. Moggy Cattermole the most effective as he casts aside rules (sho down unarmed German rescue planes, berates a squeamish man for not doing the same), Bletchley commends him for initiation but says never mention how he did what he did. Moggy bailed out of his Spitfire regardless of civilians and says he does not intend to get himself killed. Women and children cannot fly spitfires, can they? He says – he is seen as a callous self-centered bully but (says Van Riper) he is the character who speaks” the most unvarnished truth”. But there is a deeply poignant scene where Barton murders a dog who stands waiting for its dead master because there is no room on the plane.

Britain, emerged, says Van Riper, determined to hold power by developing high technologies and using them.Early warning radar, jet engines, digital computers. Pursuit of that dream seen in “Boffin” films (Sound Barrier,1947, Dambusters`1954) and novels like Shute’s No Highway (1948) and Clarke’s Prelude to space (1951). Reality far more complicated and Britain emerges in the shadow of the US, and global influence (ironically?) rests on its culture, new and old. Leading cultural figures who made Britain’s influence felt outside Britain were these technologically expert outsiders (is this so?)

Van Riper sees these films as products of Thatcher’s era, she grocer’s daughter and university trained scientist who became a politician. The men of these series embody Thatcherite virtues, Iron people because uncompromising. I remember Jim mocking a speech of Prime Minister Wilson’s which was famous at one time; it was in praise of technology as the great savior for everyone.


Cumberbatch as Christopher Tietjens’s towards the end of the last novel (by Ford Madox Ford, adapted by Tom Stoppard)

Chapter 14: Stella Hockenhull’s “Experimentation and Postheritage in Contemporary TV Drama: Parade’s End.” This mini-series (scripted by Tom Stoppard) failed with the public, which Hockenhull attributes to its departures from traditional heritage aesthetic techniques. I watched and read some of the screenplay (like his Anna Karenina screenplay published by Stoppard), and would counter that despite the increase in sexual scenes, the filmic techniques of this series are not unconventional; fancy camera work does not make this a post-heritage drama. The problem with the mini-series is Stoppard is (unlike Ford) not interested in the politics of the war and destruction of old England except as fodder for ironies; the characters are not enough developed believably (as in Fellowes’s thematically inferior Downton Abbey); the departures from Heritage drama that matter are found much earlier in mini-series e.g, The Jewel in the Crown (for politics, ethnicity, exposure of the realities of heterosexual romance) or Tipping the Velvet (focusing on lesbian sexuality). What the mini-series seemed to me was an exposure of the falseness in characters’ miseries, motives, lives, of the world of Downton Abbey — the real ugly behavior of the people upstairs and their variously desperate existences under the pressure of the break-up of the old aristocratic order (or so it seemed in WW1; it has returned in a new form since 1970). It was (as opposed to DA), often deeply hostile to its women characters — as was Ford as far as I can tell — the central heroine is utterly treacherous, disloyal, other women characters are weak, go mad, turn inward and walk away — and this is not sympathized with.

Rebecca Hall as the frivolous adn treacherous Sylvia

This hostility could account for the mini-series’ failure.  As with Stoppard’s Anna Karenina, you have to have read the book to enjoy the film adaptation, itself a response to other film adaptations of this kind of novel. But Hockenhull’s perspective teaches the reader much about film and mini-series on TV today.


Viewers, critics and scholars of historical film and historical fiction have a feast before them in this part of the book, as each essay itself has a rich bibliography in the form of footnotes.


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Kevin Kline as Matthias Gold and Maggie Smith, Matilde Girard (no she is not his mother after all) in My Old Lady 2014)

Have you ever listened
to the steps of your mother
walking around the whole house
during the night

    without putting the lights on,
    knowing her way in the dark by heart,
    quite quietly,
    step by step,
    as drop by drop
    from a leaking roof?

How she runs her fingers on the walls,
to make out the features
of her past life,
turned into a house.
Blaga Dimitrova, trans. Ludmilla Popova-Wightman, from poems to her mother, Scars

Dear friends and readers,

I went to see this film because after having been told by one of the three students left in my gothic class “don’t miss it, Ellen, I loved it,” and noticing it was play in only one theater in all my area, and that the theater which specializes in good unusual films because there is no parking around it, except maybe weekday mornings (Shirlington); after noticing all this, I say, I saw the author, director, and part producer is Israel Horovitz. Well Jim and I used to know him: Israel was enrolled in the Ph.D. program in English at the Graduate Center while I was there. I remember Jim talking to him, then telling me “we must see The Line” (we never did, nor Indian Joe wants the Bronx). I knew Israel was a gifted dramatist. As the film came to its close, I thought to myself, Jim would have said, “it’s okay, a win.” He’d have liked the movie as a whole.

It’s the story of Matthias, a sad man just over 57 who has nothing, no money, no friends, no career, but whose father has left him a large old beautiful house and garden in one of the more exquisitely preserved neighborhoods of Paris — part of the pleasure of the film is these streets, the bridges, the waters, the houses, furniture, all we see. Twice Jim rented an apartment for us and Izzy in just such a courtyard in Paris.


Matthias arrives from NYC to find his father’s aging mistress, Mathilde Girard, living there with the right to stay until she dies and to be paid 2400 Euros a month by the house’s owner (by French law). She has living with her, a daughter, Chloe, played by Kristin Scott Thomas, an English teacher, who we gradually come to see is as lost as to any joy in her life, or hope for something she finds sustaining to do, as he is. She is more than irritated by Matthias’s presence and the threat he represents (he wants to sell the place to a developer); she is angry


It was originally a stage play, and the characters emerge through their talk, with the sets (albeit real places) used symbolically,

A cultured boathouse (filled with books) on the Seine

The gradually compelling interest is the unfolding of these three characters’ pasts, especially that of aging old woman, Matilde, who puts on quite a performance as a woman of the world, all savoir faire, adjusted to all the hard truths of life, as she spends her last years in a civilized pattern of dining, drinking, reading, teaching too (young French adults to read English. specifically James Joyce), all equability. Maggie does not break down quite as far as both Kline and Thomas (I feel impelled to use their real names somehow) as they all slowly make out the features of their painful shared pasts to one another — Matthias’s mother killed herself after years of living marginalized while her husband was the faithful lover and companion of Matilde; Chloe could be the daughter of Matthias’s father and not her mother’s husband who lived not far from the house most discreetly (and mostly broke). Matilde insists her long life with Mattias’s father was a deeply happy and fulfilled one, that he was a kind, generous, tactful, loving man. Well not to me, declares Matthias. Matilde would prefer him to believe his miserable state at this point is all his fault (for being an egoistic depressive you see). Confronted with Chloe’s suddenly open feelings of how her legitimate father hated her (discreetly of course), and how Chloe has given up her life to her mother by living with her (I never asked you to, replies Matilde), Matilde has nothing to offer as compensation — except life itself. That she says is enough.

As I watched I felt that Horovitz was examining and releasing his own self-doubt, rage, hurt, and using the desperate attempts of Matthias to re-establish himself (he visits antique shops with furniture taken from the house to sell it) as part of a quiet reflection of the middle years of his life — Matthias it emerges is a failed American playright, has endured divorces too many. Chloe is reactive (during the course of the film she breaks off a long standing affair she had been having with a married man with two children and a grandchild to boot). Each of them finds old photos and brings them out to show the others. Like Christian in Pilgrim’s Progress, taking down his bundle to open and going over the things in it. There is something “old Woody-Allenish” about this film; Horovitz in this first film (he’s 75) is much influenced by Woody Allen.

Kline has the most lines, Thomas the strong sudden movements, but Smith has more presence than either. At one point she forces herself up the stairs (the first time in years it seems) to find and comfort her daughter, to take back something she has said, the walk itself bringing to mind her journey. She ends up dominating the film. We feel for her as she holds on to her cherished memories, with more effort we begin to see than she’s showing (a quiet moment shows her reading in bed, tiring, and as she falls asleep to the side, Thomas coming in and taking off her glasses, covering her). Yes, she says, she lies (a lot). Her dignity is a daily act that keeps her going.


It does fall off at the close, a “pat denouement” Glenn Kenny calls it. Of course Mattias and Chloe turn to one another, become lovers and we are in a romance; when it seems possibly they are half-brother-sister, Matilde is still unperturbed: what’s the harm (both past breeding), if you find happiness …, the film punts, and we are shown Kline collecting some DNA results from Matilde’s doctor to show Chloe is after all not his half-sister: her legitimate was her biological father. Happily this part of the film is short. The point is everyone’s better instincts are brought forth, and Mattias decides not to sell, and to stay, Chloe to cooperate, and all may build a life here among the flower beds near the Seine — where people sing songs from Mozart’s Don Giovanni as they walk.

The good and genuinely moral message of the film is give of yourself, forgive others, keep with them if they will have you and are themselves good people (not destroyers) and stay alive. The real problem may be seen by contrasting it with Allen’s better films. My Old Lady needed to be funnier. There is not enough self-irony, not enough distance nor reaching out to the audience. Delpy did that in her imitation of Allen set in Paris: reached out. Horovitz is too guarded.

The reviews have not been generous. Not enough insight into themselves is brought out; this is no Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (with Burton, Taylor, Sondra Dee tearing themselves and one another truly apart). It’s gentle, like the effective background music. (One person near me stayed through all the credits, not to see the surprise comic last scenes interpersed, but learn who sung which songs.)

As a light comic play taking a deep plunge below the surface of what has been now and again turned into a grave movie, My Old Lady will yield some analogies and parallels, like the one I find in the poetry of Dimitrova characterizing her mother. This room here had some splendid parties, that there we ate and read in, over there we played the piano … such are some of the lines Matilde murmurs and speaks aloud now and again



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A Syllabus for a Class at the Oscher Lifelong Learning Institute at George Mason University

Exploring the Gothic

Day: 8 Tuesday afternoons, 2:15-3:40 pm, Sept 24th to Nov 11th
Tallwood, 4210 Roberts Road. Fairfax
Instructor: Ellen Moody

Description of Course:

This course explore varieties of gothic and its terrain which conform to recipe format. Take one labyrinthine or partly ruined dwelling, place inside murderous incestuous father or chained mother (preferably in a dungeon), heroes and heroines (as wanderers, nuns), stir in a tempest; have on hand blood, night-birds, and supernatural phenomena, with fore-, and back-stories set in the past. We’ll read short stories, three novellas and sample films. We’ll begin with ghosts and witches, move to vampires, werewolves, and end on socially critical mysteries and stories of the paranormal (e.g., possession). We cover terror, horror, male and female gothic. We’ll also view clips from two films considered the most powerful film gothics ever made and an Oscar winning short.


September 23:   Origin, definition, history of genre, characteristics. I’ll show parts of DVD for The Haunting and The Woman in Black (if possible, otherwise substitute clip from “Afterward” from Shades of Darkness).
September 30:   Stevenson, “Markheim, ” Wharton’s “Afterward” and Mary Reilly
October 7:  Mary Reilly (possible clip) and F. Marion Crawford’s “For the Blood is the Life”
October 14:   Stoker, “The Judge’s House,” Conan Doyle, “Adventure of Abbey Grange;” Wharton’s “Kerfol”
October 21:   Vampire Tapestry (first 3 tales), LeFanu’s “Carmilla” and Oliphant’s “The Open Door”
October 28:   Vampire Tapestry (last 2 tales), Stevenson, “The Body Snatchers,” Wharton, “Mr Jones”
November 4 :  Dickens, “Signalman”’; M. R. James, “The Stalls of Barchester Cathedrale”; Bierce, “Occurence at Owl Creek Bridge”; A. M. Burrage’s “Smee.”
November 11:  The Haunting of Hill House


Martin, Valerie. Mary Reilly. New York: Vintage, 1990. ISBN 978-0-375-72599-9. It’s available as a kindle, and there have been many editions: Doubleday 1990, Washington Square Press, 1994.
Charnas, Suzy McKee. The Vampire Tapestry. Albuquerque: Living Batch Press, 1980. It’s available as a Kindle and two newer edition: Orb Books, 2008; The Women’s Press, 1992.
Jackson, Shirley. The Haunting of Hill House. NY: Penguin 2006. ISBN978-0-14-303998-3

Online short stories:

R.L. Stevenson, “Markheim”  

Edith Wharton, “Afterward”

F. Marion Crawford, “For the Blood is the Life” (scroll down)

Bram Stoker’s “The Judge’s House”

Arthur Conan Doyle, “The Adventure of Abbey Grange”

Edith Wharton, “Kerfol”

R.L. Stevenson, “The Body Snatchers”

Edith Wharton, “Mr Jones”

Sheridan LeFanu, “Carmilla”

Margaret Oliphant, “The Open Door”

Charles Dickens, “The Signalman”

M. R. James, “The Stalls of Barchester Cathedrale”

A.M. Burrage, “Smee”

Ambrose Bierce, “Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge”
YouTube for Oscar Winning Short: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GuP5kUQro40

For further materials on the gothic, see my website under Ghosts and gothics, vampires and witches and l’ecriture-femme; under Austen Reveries, the category “Gothic.”


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