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AttheBallHeLeadsHerIn
Demelza (Angharad Rees) taken in by Ross (Robin Ellis)

TomlinsonDemelza9
Demelza (Eleanor Tomlinson) walking down the stairway by herself
A young lady’s entrance into “le monde” who has not the status of a lady (1975, Paul Wheeler scriptwriter and Paul Arnett director, 2015 Debbie Horsbield scriptwriter and William McGregor director)

Dear friends and readers,

Another comparative blog but from another angle than those previous. This blog looks differently than I have before at the distinctively different characterizations of the 2015 mini-series (especially Francis and Elizabeth Poldark, both Paynters, George Warleggan) and the marginalization and lack of individuality given secondary characters (Jim and Jinny Carter, Dwight Enys) from Ross Poldark and Demelza and the 1975 mini-series, which also evidenced strong departures from the book (again, Elizabeth, though in the earlier film version, a very hostile presentation, Ross himself made far more domestic, less an angry radical Jacobin). What lies between most books and the films based on them is a mainstream audience, few of whom (in comparison with numbers watching the movies) have read or might like the books, most of whom conform to mainstream social norms of the year in which a film is made. Experience shows the way to understand a given film is to study the other films made by the screenplay writer and/or director.

So, as far as this was possible, one should look at Horsfield’s previous films. She’s been the writer of six TV series (and stray episodes), one panned (True Dare Kiss), all contemporary, respected. One has gained real praise, All the Small Things, and is available as a DVD so I’ve bought it and hope to compare it with her Poldark. It’s much harder to find distinctive material for directors of BBC films as the linchpins are the writer and producer who often hire directors after they have decided central aims for themselves. One of the volumes one of my essays on Trollope films appeared in had as its perspective filmic intertextuality (Victorian Literature and Film Adaptation edd. Abigail B. Bloom and Mary S. Pollock): all the essays (including mine on the Palliser films) showed how intertextuality among films helps explain them (Simon Raven’s other film adaptations of Edwardian material helped explain his Palliser films). Intertextuality also brings into play the screenwriter’s politics, themes and use of genres in other films. For now I have to wait until All the Small Things arrive.

So here we study the distance between the book and its film adaptation as this 2015 episode like the first, third and fourth, basically covers the same material as the 1975 equivalent episodes, only having 8 minutes more. I am using as a jumping off point Graham’s Demelza, Book 2, Chapter 5 (when Ross becomes aware that Jim is dying in the prison) to Chapter 14 (when after the ball, George and his father, Nicholas, determine to break the Carnemore Copper Company by calling in the loans of those of its members who banks with them, Anibundel’s mainstream blog showing how people who have not read the book nor seen the first film adaptation react to the new mini-series, and my own memories as well as three essays I’ve read on the subject of the 1975 audience’s reaction (remarkably uniformly favorable including those who had read the books, far more than today).

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Demelza (see also A Young Lady’s Entrance into the World)

The novel dramatizes the heroine’s difficult entrance into the upper class world for the first time. She cannot hold her own against the upper class males who show little respect for her because she lacks any status or rank even if married to Ross Poldark. This is the spine of the part. The ball is preceded by Ross’s attempt to save Jim Carter from death, with the help of Enys. The book makes it clear (as historical research does) that in this era prisons were increasingly critiqued and regarded as hellholes – they became a central bone of contention for the French revolution and in England in the 1790s. I own two facsimiles of books published in the era exposing the horrors of such places. Making Carter’s crime poaching is like Hugo choosing to make Jean Valjean’s crime stealing bread: everyone know that the Draconian poaching laws were a disguised war of the propertied against the propertyless and justice was meted out laughingly unequally. Verity’s presence at the ball is minor; Francis is rather troubled by the money he owes the Warleggan bank and lost to the cardshark, Sanson; he is troubled by Elizabeth’s obvious love for Ross. Verity and Francis have been close and he is hurt by her defection from him too. Elizabeth is there, but avoids Demelza (intensely jealous, but ever the upper class woman of integrity it’s the tactful and easiest thing to do). Demelza can hold her own against the spite of Miss Teague, now Mrs Treneglos, and the treatment of the Brodugans of her as a slut, but cannot manage the aggressive males because she does not understand the card signing system is an instrument to do that. Instead the men use her card against her. The powerfully theatrical lenghthy gambling scene is an invention of the 1975 film (by Wheeler), Ross does not risk his mine (he’s not a fool) and does not carry on to near bankrupt lengths, nor does he throw Sanson into a trough of water (Sanson is a Warleggan, not a servant like Jud). Halse is there as depicted in the 2015 film (he does not appear in the 1975 one), but the evening ends on Demelza breaking down under the pressure of harassment, finally Ross coming over to her to put with his authority as her husband to put a stop to her misery. At first he blames her (as men blame women who have been raped) but recognizing how she was at such a disadvantage, and how it was his duty as her husband to be by her side this first time, he apologizes.

In the book there are no remarks from any of the characters but Halse (who embodies the ancien regime) that Ross did wrong to pull Jim Carter out of prison. Jim Carter matters — as black people today in the US think they matter. A huge issue for the 3 revolutions in the era was the criminal justice system and how it threw individual away. The great act of 1789 were when the soldiers joined the people to open the Bastille.

As to the other additions in the films.

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Verity (Ruby Bentall) made very unhappy by Blamey’s accusations and pressure on her

2015: The Verity scenes in the ball are from Austen’s Persuasion. Nowhere in the book does Blamey accuse Verity of timidity. Wentworth is angry at Anne Elliot for not rebelling. Blamey does not see Verity as timid. She is not. When I’ve taught the books girls in the class cannot stand Verity because she is obedient to family norms and does not seek power as an individual. You can see her type in Philippa Gregory’s Mary Boleyn (only Mary is easy about sex), Austen’s Fanny Price: it’s a very real character type in the era from the early modern period to the middle 19th century. In the ball Francis does see Blamey but he is all caught up in the gambling and never forbids Verity to see Blamey again nor outright insults him. Blamey is beneath Francis in Francis’s mind; he wouldn’t bother; he does want to control his sister because that’s part of his place or manliness in his house. A different issue. Horsfield rewrote the central Demelza scenes, making them marginal. Her Demelza holds her own against the man asking her to dance with no trouble. Horsfield cannot stand to have her women character not behave in superficial strong ways. She cannot stand to have the ones she wants us to identify underdogs. But Demelza is, and Verity must be as a spinster.

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Clive Francis as a caged, grated upon man in retreat at the ball (1975)

1975 film. Wheeler also degrades Francis. Neither the 1975 nor 2015 audiences were expected to have any sympathy for the aristocratic types of the later 18th century. Francis does not work in the fields (he wouldn’t and how useless), nor Elizabeth go about in servants’ clothes looking self-righteous. They both carry on in their aristocratic clothes and ways, just shabbier and bleaker in expression. Wheeler has the prostitute Margaret insult his way of love-making. No where in the book does that happen. In the book not only does Verity value Francis, many of the other characters do for his gaiety, savoir-faire; he gilds experience for others. Elizabeth openly snubs Demelza at the 1975 ball; the 1975 team did all they could to make Elizabeth “awful” as they perceived their audience would find this; she remains regal yes, and in the 1975 and 2015 scenes great play is made of George dancing with her. She is succumbing to his insidious blandishments. The 1975 film also does not permit Demelza to be harassed. Apparently it was felt in both eras the female audience would not empathize with her. (And women often do not empathize with the particular women who have been raped in courtrooms.) Wheeler does more justice to the secondary parallel story of Keren & Mark and Enys. Keren’s desperation is understandable: we see Mark is illiterate, she is asked to spend hours, her life, alone in a dark hovel. Enys is far more active in the liaison as he is in the book.

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The drunken prisoner-physician who has destroyed Jim (lying by his side) by his bleeding techniques (1975)

The scenes of the prison in book, 1975 and 2015 film are all effective. Unfortunately in 2015 Horsfield does not bring out the individuality of Jinny nor Jim. In 1975 he is brought home to Jinny still living and we see them together (albeit briefly) and all they have had taken from them. In 2015 Horsfield wanted to emphasize the risk taken when Jim’s arm was amputated; in the book Graham continually shows the limits of medicine in the 1780s to 90s to reflect the limits of medicine in the 1940s.

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Turning to the films in their own right: This time first the 1975 episode 6. Part of the fine quality of the 1975 film series is its unstressed tone. Nothing is overdone or melodramatic, no overproduction, and thus everything feels believable. Also the slow development of each story and longer scenes.

Much happens in this episode, all well prepared for. We have a different writer (Paul Wheeler) and he is writing a transposition while Jack Pullman wrote more of a commentary type adaptation and freely reworked plot-design so as to bring Elizabeth centrally in earlier.

It opens with the alluring music, the cliffs of Cornwall, crashing waves, high winds, and we see Ellis on his horse (it helps the series that he really does ride, it’s not a stunt man), and the starving men we saw last time standing before the mine. They have just been fired. We are to remember how they then tried to take corn and bread and were beaten and sneered at by the hired soldiers.

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The ticketing scene (1975): Ross cool and collected, Zacky Martin takes the lead calmly

The economic part of Graham’s novel is woven in thoroughly. We are at a ticket auction and we witness a direct hard struggle to buy up enough ore to smelt with in a meeting of the hitherto uncontested monopolists (English) who buy and sell copper when they find this new company, Carnemore Copper is outbidding them. They grow indignant when the banker at the head of the table says the company is within its rights not to tell shareholders. To tell shareholders would invite their enemies who own the other banks to call their loans in. This would be like (in Godwin’s Caleb Williams where we see this) forcing people to vote your way because as tenants you can throw them off your land. Zacky Martin takes the heat to hide that the new company is Ross’s — Warleggan and others banking with him indignant, Ross sits quietly smoking: ticket auction: Carnemore Copper Company

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Jinny grieving for Jim, tells Ross what has happened

Ross on horse comes home to Ginny washing floor intensely, weeping, Jim is ill, arm wounded and arm gangrene, no one taking care, they are sneering. She tells of how they laughed at her and said now he won’t be risking getting thrown into prison again. We see how little humanity people with power often have to eon another. Demelza comes down from her nursery and wants to know what has happened in the business. Ross says he has with 5000 pounds bought enough ore to smelt for months. Graham invites us to admire the entrepreneurial spirit as well as nerve, daring, and ruthlessness.

Next scene: when Ross visits Pascoe for this 5000, the banker says they are risking a lot, and also that Ross is taking liberties in the way he does not try to negotiate more slowly. Ross promises him drafts enough to cover; Pascoe assures Ross the secret list of men will reside safely with him. The banker actually approves this bold move on behalf of copper industry in Cornwall. So anti-colonalism as well as anti-monopolies and anti-classicism and cruel prison conditions. The banker says remember though there are many Cornish too who only seek to turn a profit.

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Keren living her life in the dark and cold with Mark

A second romance plot-design (separate set of stories or characters) begins to develop. We see Karen’s dissatisfaction with her dull husband who works long hours: it’s so cold in that hand-made house, no window,night after night on her own, asks him to stay, to get another job, those on top come home regular times. He has no skills, no ability to do anything else, and says soon it may coome he’ll have no job at all so they must make as much money as they can to preserve it for harder times. We wee her walking on the wind-torn landscape visiting Enys in hs house apart, Enys’s intense attraction, it’s physical, but also his guilt. He does not lie and pretend to love her, and asks, Does she know what she wants. Well, not a man who’s never there and a house like a graveyard. She wants Enys, she wants to go back to Bristol, he sometimes people have to settle for less. She replies she is doing so, for she knows Enys doesn’t love her. Ross comes in, and she flees upstairs.

Ross tells Enys of of Carter and how he, Ross, intends to get into the prison, care for Carter and perhaps “bring him out.’ Enys agrees to come with him and do whatever is necessary — like break the law. On his way out we see Ross see the scarf and cape. So Ross sees that karen, Mark Daniel’s wife is upstairs. Ross says they’ll go Friday.

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Keren’s gesture to Dwight repeats Demelza’s to Ross’s on the first night Ross and Demelza made love

Another tryst: Enys tries to say they should not, but she replies, Mark will be away till morning, and they close the door on us, their audience. Here we see a masculinist point of view where the man presented as moral and the woman sly, disloyal, really worthless if her boredom understandable.

A violent scene from Demelza: the servant Prudie with Ross’s baby daughter, a drunken resentful Jud comes in. He proceeds to curse, to insinuate Ross goes to bed with every woman (including Jinny Carter), sneer at Demela (now she’s in his bed like a queen and he doesn’t see why he should obey her), Ross comes in the throws them out as Jud accuses Ginny of being slut to Ross, insults Demelza Ross also throws out Prudie who (I did not quite expect this but it’s probably) defends her husband as “just the drink.” They are now out of work.

Blamey and Verity meeting on horseback in a beautiful day, and we meet George Warleggan for first time spying, vaunting over them; he introduced as son of Nicholas, smiles too much. Bates comes across as biting, someone you should not trust. It is hard to remember he is only introduced briefly in Ross Poldark, hardly appears at all until near the ball in Demelza.

A sweet scene where George’s invitation to the Warleggan Ball comes for both of them while Demelza with baby. She brings it in to Ross, she wants to go, and he concedes. The relationship is one of girl to older man and again it’s a masculine comfort myth. For my part I like Ellis as Ross so much by this time that I find him attractive and (naive but real response) imaginatively at any rate, a wish fulfillment of a girl, envy her.

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Elizabeth (Jill Townsend) taken in by George (Ralph Bates)

Over to Trenwith; we see the elegant Elizabeth fine sewing. George Warleggan comes and we watch their first courtship scene. George wins her over not by sex but interest: he’d like to help Francis. For her sake, he says. Sure. (We the viewers are supposed to see through him and see Elizabeth does not.) She says he should discourage his urge to gamble, he has no influence there he says; he gives word as a gentleman no debt collector will set foot in the house. Unknowing it’s Elizabeth who gives away that the Carnmore Copper company is Ross. Verity arrives and George does not leave after all, but sits down with them. He has something over Verity but like Ross she refuses to be ashamed.

A powerful scene of the terrible dungeon, begins with rats. Ross and Enys arrive, the jailer who scoffs and then will not let them in. He puts me in mind of people hired to interview others for jobs, petty miserable tyrants. They do get through the stench and horror, and pull Carter out. A mountebank doctor, Dr Morris (saturnine sairic moment) has made Carter much worse. We hear Jim’s voice as they are carrying him: “they won’t get me Jinny if I run they won’t catch me”;’ Then from a high hill a working man watches wagon bringing him to Enys; then the next morning we see him brought to Ginny, his arm amputated. Says Ross, “No one will take him back there.” And no one does. Ross does have the power of his position and class.

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Jim dying by Jinny’s side

But Ross is grim before the fire that night. He is shamed of his own class, and finds his despises his own kind. When he blurts out, Wilberforce weeps over black slaves’ but no care for workers, this comes from Graham. He then says were he to expose this scene it would do no good, for perhaps most peopel would look and laugh.

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Ross’s speech against the ancien regime as experienced in Cornwall

Now Trenwith at night as people arrive. A moment or so to watch the lovely dancing. Milton Johns has his great scene as the open sordid cheating cousin (at cards): he is a parallel, the underside of George and Nicholas Warleggan. Many scenes: Francis is now after Margaret whom Ross used to visit (he paid her for sex), but it appears now she is married or she says he is. Elizabeth sees this enconter, and Margaret needles him after he insults her (you told me your troubles “during” sex; that’s a bore).

We see the gambling begin and Francis sit down. Gorgeous waistcoat, high vanity of the man. Clive Francis continues his portrait of a man who hates himself more and more all the time, living down to his lack of self-esteem. He will try to kills himself: one reason for killing yourself is you hate yourself; he will also be reckless and do himself in because he finally he does not value himself enough — the 1975 film accounts for this by the father’s denigration of him. (Graham’s book makes Francis’s death an accident, part of the meaningless of life’s hardnesses).

George to Elizabrth dancing: it is attractive of him and she is allured.

Ross and Demelza arrive. We see the coarse squire Hugh Bodrugan who chases Demelza in the book and his nasty wife: calls Demelza a monkey who stays that way no matter what she wears. The unstressed quality makes this scene effective.

Margaret comes over to Ross and we get too much praise for the hero (a false note). Nicolas comes over and Ross open and indignant, insulting him and we get choral voices (banker, Pascoe) saying Ross should be more conciliatory, he is making enemies.

Demelza holds her own dancing again. Verity and Blamey arrive; Ross welcomes him as no one else does and Demelza asks him to dance. We see our chief couple on a wave length, compatible in values.

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Far shot

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Sanson

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Ross

Then the long gambling between Samson and Francis who loses, Ross takes Francis’s place and proceeds, evening wears on. We see all watching this pair and Ross’s sudden exposure of Samson as Samson has gathered too many aces by this time to hide them. Then Ross throwns Samson into trough — a parallel to Ross throwing Jud in the mud.

George assures Francis he will be reimbursed — we know that George has in his mind to undermine Francis’s relationship with Ross as he has asked Elizabeth if the cousins get along. We saw Francis (cowardly in a way) refuse to join the Carnmore venture and Francis fire his miners as a result. Francis a failure because he doesn’t have the nerve Ross has.

George then making (pretend) overture to Ross who says (sincerely partly) in reply, he wants to be friends too. The ball ends on George watching Demelza and Ross leaving, then a scene with his Father over trough (they were shamed and laughed out over Samson) telling father that the men in Connmore copper company bank with them.

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The two Warleggans at dawn over the trough

The long shot comes as they move over to the horses. The music begins again. Dawn sky. This is fine art.

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KyleSoller
Although wholly unlike Graham’s character, Horsfield’s Francis as played by Kyle Soller continues to be the most interesting character in the films — here he is here in his troubled vexed household

2015: This is powerful successful episode because of the intense dramatic tension kept up throughout; Horsfield’s intention seems to be to depict a growing strain between Ross and Demelza before Verity with her help flees. In the book Demelza is not angry with Ross at the close of the ball as she is in this film. She is disappointed with herself and tells herself that she needs to learn more about Ross and his world’s ways before she can manage both more effectively.

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The 2015 differs by opening on the prison, showing the horrors. We move to Jinny and Demelza hanging out clothes with their babies on their arms, talking of Jim: this is quintessential 2015; you just would not have this “earthiness” (so-called) in 1975. Demelza is not seen holding her baby all the time in 1975; in fact she seems relatively baby-free with Jinny caring for the baby much more so she can visit Karen and give Karen her discards. We then go to Trenwith to find Francis threshing the fields — this is absurd, completely unprepared for. What good would this do him? Elizabeth is wandering about looking wounded with a basket on her arm. Ross happens by on his horse; he wishes he could help. Francis responds with a sneer at Elizabeth and walks off.

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Elizabeth (Heidi Reed) looking back at him — it is notable how many scenes in Horsfield have the POV the woman

The ticketing scene with Turner as Ross appearing angrier and angrier as the Carnemore Copper Company is protested against. Zacky Martin keeps his cool.

We move to Keren and Mark outside the house Mark has built. Keren is her usual sarcastic and insinuating self; Mark protests he does all he can. Why they sit out of doors is a puzzle, except maybe there is no set inside the shell of a house. Upon Mark leaving for work, Keren notices some children playing nearby (you’d think this was a public playground) and she goes over and deliberately breaks her ankle; we see her at the door of Enys’s house; he cannot refuse her entrance as she walks in. Enys is completely deprive of any pro-active character in this mini-series thus far. Switch to Demelza and Verity discussing the coming ball, with Demelza telling Verity she must tell Francis (in the book Demelza knows this is the last thing Verity should or can do). This is reinforced by the next scene of Blamey somewhere outside also pressuring Verity to tell Francis.

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Ross questioning Demelza who evades his question; Graham’s Ross does ask Demelza and she falls silent

The troubled household at Trenwith juxtaposed to Ross and Demelza in bed with him asking Demelza what she knows about Verity (he had some rumors told him during the ticketing). Next scene Demelza practicing her dancing in the meadow; Ross rides by on a horse; further along Keren goes to Dwight’s house, either he is not home or refuses to bome to the door. She looks disgusted.

The long powerful sequence of going to the prison, rescuing Jim, amputating the limb, and his death. These scenes are too dark to present stills for. Jinny’s grief. Move to Nampara later that night and Ross’s fury at what was done to Jim. Ross does not want to go to the ball, and Demelza understands, but suddenly Verity is there, all social wisdom: Ross must go or he’ll be in trouble over rescuing Jim. We see Keren get into Dwight’s house and the door shut.

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A shamefast Enys against an insistent Keren

Back to Verity scolding Ross; she does urge Ross to go in the book but not emphatically and Ross decides to go as much for Demelza’s sake and his pride.

Then the long ball sequence. Two of the features of this episode which make it good are the lengths of the ticketing scene, the prison rescue and death of Jim and this ball (with the gambling scene as central). Horsfield’s Episode 4 also had long connected scenes (if little original or interesting dialogue). Here (as in Graham’s Demelza) the Rev Halse sits down to play and is angered at Ross’s cavalier insouciance and defiant anger at Halse as a wholly unjust man:

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Rev Halse (Robin Ellis, again inimitable in the role)

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Ross openly assailing him

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For the moment Sanson not paid attention to

In this ball we see Francis’s anger at himself and then Verity as a convenient surrogate, Blamey’s anger at her, Elizabeth’s graciousness towards Demelza who nonetheless is very angry at Ross for over-gambling, drinking and not paying sufficient attention to her. He seems unrepentant; we are to understand he drinks for five days straight — this is disapproved of by Horsfield strongly (the mainstream audience of 2015 is much more anti-alcohol than either the readers of 1945 or viewers of 1975 because of automobile accidents). A key moment in the ball scene is given over to Halse’s threat and warning to Ross he can try to imprison him (in reality in this era he would not find a sympathetic jury to commit Ross at all), with a scene of the women outside being put into the coach.

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Ross in anguish, Demelza kneels

The episode concludes on the burial of Jim and once again Ross and Demelza standing over the landscape together, vowing once again to love one another in the face of this tragedy and whatever is to come.

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In reality in this period huge numbers of people hated the authority figures as tyrants (tyranny and superstition were the outcries of the era – -what you wanted to get rid of).

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In 1975 a scene of apparently the regular meeting of Verity and Blamey to ride: they glimpse George Warleggan from afar and it is our first look at him fully

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The 1975 scenes are unbeatable, fully done, precise, moving. Yes they are slower and less is happening during each episode, much less switching back and forth. They do justice to the growing love of Keren and Dwight so we have three marital triangles. They also include Jud beating up Prudie, throwing at Jinny the rumors that her baby is Ross’s and Ross firing them. So again the 1975 film includes more even though it’s only 50 minutes to Horsfield’s 58.

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At the ball it is telling how the camera focuses on George (looking anguished from the red around his eyes) not Elizabeth when he comes to ask her to dance

Except Halse’s all the remarks given characters saying Ross did wrong are from Horsfield. Horsfield is deeply pro-capitalist, deeply pro-work ethic: that’s one reason why she cannot develop ideas interestingly from Ross’s point of view. Her gut instincts lie against it. That’s why she brings in George Warleggan early and doesn’t make him the bully and really insidiously treacherous man to Elizabeth and Francis he is in the book. I will be interested to see Horsfield’s All the Small Things to confirm or maybe contradict this surmise. This new one grates — I’m beginning to think that the way Horsfield sees Francis resembles the way so many fans see Mr Bennet: failed in his responsibility to his family; the way Anibundel is led to praise Elizabeth for the mainstream audience today (in the book Elizabeth is not pious she) comes out of a deep adherence to the capitalist work ethic and notion of manliness.

Both mini-series substituted male confrontations for the center of the matter of Demelza at this point: the humiliation and hurt of the heroine. This is bowing to the audience’s mores. Both were over-melodramatic in comparison with Graham; both tried to do justice to the exposures of prison and throwing away of Jim Carter. Horsfield re-inforced her male hegemonic point of view by turning Keren into an aggressive heartless slut; there Wheeler showed some understanding of Graham’s proto-feminism. Horsfield modelled her gambling scene on Wheeler’s 1975 one though more accurate literally by including Halse, she emphasized him too much and shaped the scene so that Halse appeared to be right!

Ellen

Dear friends and readers,

I hope I may be pardoned for linking in a review of my Trollope on the ‘Net. Each time (there have not been many) someone has written a review of my book where they show they enjoyed the book I feel so gratified. I especially like the emphasis on the 50% of the book on the experience of reading and discussing books with others on the Internet (via a listserv). The book is set up as pairs of chapters so that one is on a novel the group of people elected to read and discuss together, and how they read it; and other other a researched context, e.g., a Trollope sub-genre, or the original illustrations, or his Autobiography. She chose to display what is my favorite illustration in my book too:

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From Orley Farm: ‘”Tell me, Madeleine, are you happy now?”‘ (John Everett Millais)

For my scholarly chapters I’m proudest of my original research into the illustrations of Victorian novels in the era; Mark Turner singled out my chapte on these as singularly valuable for my analysis of the pictures too

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Another revealing one, not in the idyllic style of Millais above — it’s by Mary Ellen Edwards for The Claverings; “Mr Saul Proposes.”

Ellen

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Poster for Happy Few The Winter’s Tale

Dear friends and readers,

I went for a third year to a We Happy Few production: 3 years ago they managed to present a remarkable take on Hamlet in 90 minutes; last year a sophisticated modern-feeling Webster’s Duchess of Malfi. I can’t say that this year’s The Winter’s Tale is memorable for a uniquely perceptive view of the play. The play’s two parts (as cut), joyfully lightly transgressive comedy (Act 4 in Shakespeare) sandwiched between wild (Acts 1 & 2) tragedy and redemptive (Act 5) fairy tale does not leave a lot of room for psychological nuance (see Morgan Halvorsen’s review). Hannah Todd’s director’s notes in the pamphlet that serves a ticket and program showed she only came up with the idea this play is faery tale material we are supposed to believe in. An opportunity lost.

Still, they held the audience’s attention — it was a small area, they were very close to us, and they cleverly handed people sitting in the first seats props to make us all part of play. I held a tambourine for a while. The actors all had strong moments, but Nathan Bennett as Leontes, Raven Bonniwell as Hermione, Katy Carkuff as Paulina, Kerry McGee as Autolyclus (trying hard to be amoral but since she was also Perdita, not quite distinguishing the role clearly), and Kiernan McGowen Antigonus, with William Vaughn as Clown and Florizel provided the most effective ones.

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MGowan as Antigonus having brought the baby in a basket to a far away seashore feels the coming tempest and hears the hungry bear

What was most striking was how six people jumped in and out of at least 18 different roles, but while in each maintained strongly projected full-blooded acting. They also had such minimal costumes, the same scarves and capes were whisked about doing duty for several garments in tandem. Laughter came easier, and the actors played for laughs where they could; it therefore seemed more spontaneous than pity, which we were not given much time for. If you were listening to what Leontes and Polixenes threatened to do to others at the turn of a coin, and remembered that monarchs could torture, kill, starve, and make a life excruciating if they pleased and sometimes did so in Shakespeare’s period, there was more to the content than manipulative metamorphorsis. There is real terror in Shakespeare’s words, real anguish and now and again this came out, especially I think from Raven Bonniwell as Hermione.

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Bonnwell as Juliet in the final moments of Happy Few’s Romeo and Juliet (I could not find any photos of her in this Winter’s Tale; she doubled as Camillo and there were none of her as Camillo either)

Since I’ve been reading and listening to Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall, I was again struck by the parallels between Henry and Leontes and Hermione and both Catherine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn, especially his sexual anxiety and distrust towards the latter precisely because she held him off (humiliatingly) and then showed she knew sexual acts that he could not believe a virgin would figure out herself. Shakespeare’s Henry VIII is a bold portrait of the tyrant Tudor in old age and nowadays I’m thinking that instead of placing WT with the dramatic romances from Greek stories, chronicles, and poetry (Pericles, Cymbeline, The Tempest), we ought to see it done as a pair with Henry VIII the second half. Have the same actor play Leontes and Henry, the same Hermione and Catherine.

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Nathaniel Bennett in one of Leontes’s wild murderous moods

Unfortunately, there is only one performance left but (sadly) unlike the previous two years, it seemed half the seats were empty. In the previous years, there was not one empty seat both times. I felt the actors felt this lack of people, especially given how hard they were working to make too few props and costumes go very far. So if you read this tonight and live in the DC area, consider this one. Unlike too many of this year’s events, it is located in a place in the city close to a Metro stop so you really can get there by public transportation and on foot! There was no hope of my reaching Gallaudet College I now know. I would have seen the Guillotine Theater do an adaptation of Middleton’s Second Maiden’s Tragedy as Cold as Death, but (like It’s What We Do A Play about the Occupation), it appears to have been under-rehearsed.

The move of the festival to real fringe areas of DC, with venues where there is no nearby Metro stop or frequent bus, and more scattered hurts the festival feel that a center with people selling tickets, socializing, late night cabarets gives. Maybe for those going to the cabarets and musical events on Florida Avenue (in the Brookland area of DC) the experience is as good

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Two years ago (2013) on a preview party was held in Baldacchino Tent on H Street

Two of the plays I went to and a third and fourth I couldn’t manage but was told about as awkwardly performed by a friend (Shakespeare’s The Life of King John, done as goofy comedy) seemed more minimally staged and costumed than previous years. In early years the venues were in condemned spaces with no air-conditioning; I hope I am wrong but this year has seemed more strapped for funds than the previous couple.

So for me ends my second year of going to the Fringe Festival on my own. I enjoyed this play and Ellouise Schoettler’s The Hello Girls.

Ellen

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

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

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

Dear friends and readers,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The party scene in 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The play scene: Jud to the left making undermining comment

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

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

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

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Francis helplessly self-destructing

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(2015, Horsfield’s most interesting couple)

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

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

Ellen

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

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Dear friends and readers,

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

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

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Close-up of hat

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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satire
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.

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.

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.

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

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

HelloGirls
Poster Image for the show

Dear friends and readers,

Last night I went to the first of five plays I mean to attend, just a small number of the many events sponsored by the Capitol Fringe Festival this summer. It was a one-woman story-telling play: The Hello Girls: A Tribute to Women Veterans of WW1 written and performed by Ellouise Schoettler. I was attracted to it because I so enjoyed The Bletchley Girls (a BBC mini-series) about young women hired to break codes during WW2: I did not realize this show was also about women doing hard important work who are not recognized for it. Schoettler is a professional storyteller whose plays include Eloise, I presume an amalgam of the Eloise books which my older daughter when she was 11-12 just reveled in.

Eloise

In this 75 minute play Schoettler enacted three historically real women who around 1914 volunteered for military duty as switchboard operators in France in WW1. What happened is when the war was over, and the women came home, an official person phoned each and told them they were not regarded as veterans, were not therefore entitled to benefits, and the only recognition or thank they would be getting was the parade of ceremony General Pershing went through once when all the women from all the stations (over 100) were brought together and thanked. Each was chosen as representing a type: Schoettler could not know what was their personality so I assume she extrapolated from what she could find out about their previous and subsequent jobs, their education and what they did precisely when they were in this military corps.

She began as Olive Shaw, the least educated and most timid of the three, the most trained to acccept, who had been, working in some kind of shop and had taken French in high school. She was one of the ordinary switchboard operators. Then we met Grace Banker Paddock, the most upper class of them, had gone to Barnard College, and put in charge of the first group of 33 women. These first told us where they were right now: it’s 1989 and Olive is in assisted living and is just thrilled because at long last she was visited and thanked by a general; she had been told that she was recognized as a veteran as a codicil to a GI Improvement Bill of 1977, but after that heard nothing about it. Alas all her friends from the corps had died, one two weeks ago; there were now only 18 women left. It is 1938 when Grace is talking to us; she is now married and has tried to find out why the women were not recognized as vets — and presumably denied benefits, thought this was not said. An unfortunate lacuna. As part of their riveting stories (as told by the story-teller actress), we heard of the hardships, the way they were treated as in servitude (the way men in the armed forces are especially when of lower rank), the real dangers, the moving about, never told where they are going, warned everything is a secret (or they will be in trouble), and briefly about their return.

The third woman, Merle Anderson had the shortest speech. It is 1977 and she is exultant. She is clearly a pushy kind of woman, mid-western accent (from Montana she tells us) and tells much less of her experiences in the war; but rather how she led the political fight to get the women recognized and managed it in 1977. How indignant she was when she was told she would not be recognized (no talk about money again). How she lobbied and fought with this and that other group, how the bills they brought up were buried before they got to the congress floor. She told us about the group leader, Grace, who died in 1938 and so will not know. She regrets that.

When she was done, she asked if we had anything to say. There were but two minutes and I was not quick enuogh to ask a question.

The problem with the play was it was conceived as a tribute to being “feisty,” and the moral was that if you fight for something steadily (like Merle) did you can move mountains or some such idea. Its subtitle is A Tribute to the Women Veterans of WW1. That’s why I regret not asking if they got any money for pensions. But I’m not sure that this was not a ploy on the part of Schoettler because what her playlets showed was the exploitation, lack of respect, the (I presume) lack of compensation at least until 1977 for these women. Perhaps afterwards for those still alive. Her title does emphasize that the women were endlessly greeted by a “hello” and their job of sending on and receiving needed information began with a “hello.” This was a feminist play but the feminist was muted because of the way it was conceived. The only woman of the three given some words talking about the power relationships exposed and exploitation and lies was the third.

Among the incidents told about how these women were treated and the risks they were made to take (several unnecessary) was one by Grace that struck me most because I have a personal identification or similar experience. Grace shows how the women were often forgotten (she was organizer and would know), and once in a building about to burn down where they were at first hesitant to flee though everyone else did (all men), she gets a phone call just before a bomb did hit, and she was told to get these women out or she would be disciplined. This reminded me of how when my husband was dying of cancer, very weak, emaciated, and I was similarly traumatically pressured as well as treated disrespectfully and without any regard for my or my husband’s true interests.

So I admit their hardships are not just experienced by women who as a group didn’t (and most still don’t) matter, but anyone without power who others treat as if they don’t count because they don’t count. Jim counted even less than me. But there was only one man in the audience, and he was there as one woman’s husband. Most of the women in the room were past forty and somewhat older. Schoettler looked in her sixties. She said on the stage after she had finished she was pleased to see so many younger women. Maybe it was 20%? Wasn’t she pleased with women over 50? don’t we count too?

I now have a preponderance of older women in the classrooms am teaching in with me — in their 50s to 60s. At Oscher Lifelong Learning Institutes, the women outnumber the men full-stop, and in literature and art courses, there is one man for every 7-8 women. Most people avoid the world feminism; it is now a word that stigmatizes. Most are reticent to speak of oppression as this is “complaining,” and may ostracize them, or (heavens forfend) make a man in the room uncomfortable; some will deny the meaning of what they see if you make it too clear. But these women older women having had much experience of the world (unlike younger ones) at least are quick to see misogyny, recognize it and remark on it, or conversely feminist stories. They are not fooled by faux feminism (apparent strength, mainstream capitalist behavior, imitations of men), and not fooled by presentations of women as violent as necessarily positive. In a way they don’t wouldn’t need explanations for The Hello Girls. Except without explicit talk, it is not clear who understands what. Not everyone can go further than experiencing their instincts since they too are reticent to speak — as if it were complaining (a no-no), not protest, reluctant to be seen “as feminist” as that’s now a stigma, want men about and men don’t come back when feminism begins to be discussed openly too often. You can only stand up for yourself if you are “feisty,” not questioning any deeper values that give rise to the situation.

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The Iconic Ending of the first episode of the first season of The Bletchley Circle

I don”t know how many other events were on at the Fringe at this time — there is a perpetual cabaret in a tent this year. There are raw caucus kinds of plays going on, electronic music. I doubt any young men would come to a play like this on their own; this helps explain why despite good ratings The Bletchley Circle was cancelled after the second season (they were told the ratings weren’t high enough; or the new Upstairs Downstairs similarly cancelled.

The Fringe Festival does have here and there real feminist pieces in its at least 50 events — I don’t know how many they put on, it goes on for 3 weeks, a few starting at mid-day, most at 6 pm and ending around 11 pm, most about 1 to 2 hours at most, one after another in numerous venues. This is the only one I picked out — the other political play is about the Israeli soldiers who refused to carry on slaughtering Palestinians and spoke out against the slaughter last summer. Then I chose 2 Shakespeare and one Middleton play (transposed to the French revolution). Mine is actually a staid and conservative taste aesthetically (see Season 1; Season 2).

They seem to be in different venues this year from previous — few in the center of DC, hence harder to find the first time. The Hello Girls was done in a seemingly gentrifying neighborhood in northeast Washington — I say seemingly as it was also clearly poor, many of the shops in open air hovels below high-rise buildings, most though art stores, for and selling painting, some book stores too, two theaters in not bad shape, people sitting out on the sidewalk in front of cafes. I was almost late getting there because my pro-quest map gave me unnecessarily and puzzling instructions once I got off the Metro stop: Brookland-CUA (Catholic University of America). Luckily I had the nerve to ask people and several directed me aright. Then when I got there, the doors on the building were all locked. I almost left in despair, but went next door which was a building decorated with signs from the Fringe Festival. Yes it was next door and I was told to go back. I said the doors are locked. It transpired the doors are kept locked and someone was supposed to be sitting by that door with nothing else to do but let patrons in. A young man got a key from a chain of them and crossed over with me and let me in. Just in time.

I did not have the kind of acute anxiety and STUGS I experienced last summer. I think about what Jim would have said (making the second man); he might have remembered key incidents in his life from his time as a day boy (ages 11-17) wearing a different colored shirt so as to stigmatize him as there because he was so smart but could not pay, much less board. When I got back by Metro and car, I bought myself some penne (pasta) from a nearby Noodles and Company and settled down with wine in front of my computer to watch Amy Goodman’s DemocracyNow.org. Had Jim still alive we would have gone to one of the bookstores, eaten out in one of the cafes.

Normally I would have “filed” this blog under My Reveries under the Sign of Austen blog as about women’s art, or my Sylvia one as partly autobiographical and political, but I thought I’d put all the Capitol Fringe reviews I do on this blog site so they may be found together.

Ellen

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