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Posts Tagged ‘heroine’s text’

LadySatdinner

Violetappreciatesit
Lady Sinderby (Penny Downie) winning the first round against Lady Flincher (Phoebe Nicholls), with Violet, Lady Grantham (Maggie Smith) alone registering appreciation

Lady Flincher: ‘Tell me, do you find it difficult these days to get staff’
Lady Sinderby: (observant of the Flincher’s desperate state): Not really but then we’re Jewish, so we pay well
Violet, Lady Grantham smiles in enjoyment

Dear friends and readers,

It’s unfair and inaccurate to declare the fifth season of Downton Abbey was so much treading water, even if the experience often felt that way; but if so, it’s fitting that this season’s penultimate episode is Rasselas-like in that we have Resolutions, in which little is resolved. How did Fellowes manage this? By making important not what the principals in each drama said or did, but how what had just happened was brought about by other people enigmaticallyas the curtain went down on all left standing or walking towards Downton Abbey.

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Far shot of nearly (but not) everyone walking back to the Abbey

For example, did you imagine Lady Rose McClaren (Lily James)’s wedding to Atticus Aldritch (Matt Barber) was about hopeful youthful love, or showed how intolerance can be overcome (pace Mrs Hughes’s “Hurrah for intolerance on both sides”), or even about Lord Sinderby’s (Daniel Aldritch) apparent intransigence (a theme of the episode as heard in Violet telling Prince Kuragin “Don’t proclaim your intransigence as if it were a virtue”). No. What happened is Lady Sinderby won, but not just over Lady Flincher who at the last moment said publicly she and Lord Flincher (Peter Egan) are getting a divorce, just what Lord Sinderby said he would not tolerate, as divorce is a degradation, a confession of weakness, failure (he was intensely strong on that), but also over Sinderby himself:

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Lady Sinderby: Thank you, Lady Flintshire. Or may I call you Susan? We are forewarned and so now we will be forearmed.
Lord Sindeby: You can’t mean
Atticus: Father, I beg you …
Lady Sinderby to her husband: Do anything to stop this marriage, anything at all, I will leave you, and then you will have a scandal worthy of the name! (HUSHED CONVERSATION) …

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The camera focused on Lady Sinderby’s intense trembling satisfaction first and returned to shots of her during the ceremony. Mr Carson (Jim Carter) was not the only one to remark on something odd going on. Like others he focused on the lack of a veil: “it was a funny marriage. No proper service, no veil! You’d have thought one of them was divorced.” But that was not it. We have yet to see the 30 year old young woman brought to Alnwick Castle Christmas time with her young boy. She comes because by Thomas (Rob James-Collier, a kind of avenging angel in this latest phase) as a mode of getting Lord Sinderby to dislike his spiteful steward-butler for exposing Lord Sinderby. But how did Thomas know about her? Something wants explanation. Mrs Hughes (Phyllis Logan) says she wishes the young couple “well.”

Anibundel was correct to suggest not the new characters introduced in the first episode of this season, but those on board towards the end are the most intriguing.

Surely it will be said we have a resolution for Mrs Patmore (Lesley Nichol) and the whole of Downton Abbey for closure for World War One. WW1 began the last episode of the first season went on through the second (WW1), and lingered past the third (Mrs Patmore’s nephew killed by the British army for not killing as ordered). The fourth season saw the disappearance of Michael Grigson. This fifth season there was the memorial committee and the widow in the village. Robert, Lord Grantham (Hugh Bonnevile) despite all bumbling, disregard (called “Donk” by his grand-daughter with Lady Mary’s [Michelle Dockery] encouragement), has had a memorial plaque put up for Mrs Patmore’s nephew too. We watched the ceremony of all the characters (but our true heroine, Anna Smith Bates, Joanne Froggart) sitting and standing as group remembering those who died and the war.

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Mrs Patmore is closer to feeling a resolution than the others. But her tie is now to Daisy (Sophie McShera) as we see when she walks back after gazing at the plaque; here is her daily life and future. How it grieved her to think Daisy would be giving her notice in so she could remain in London with all its advantages. She could not stop crying.

Is Daisy going to stay? The farm and her all-wise (better than Fielding’s Allworthy who was not all-seeing too) guiding spirit, Mr Mason (Paul Copley), win out for the moment:

Mrs Patmore: ‘At her age, it’s right she should have a new adventure, isn’t it?’
Mr Mason: ‘Is this true, Daisy?’
Daisy: ‘No, she’s just teasing! At least, I did think about it, but I’ve decided I’m not going anywhere, or not until after I’ve passed my exams.’
Mr Mason: ‘I’m glad. I hate it when people who love each other must be far apart.’

Another beautiful moment occurred when Mr Moseley (Kevin Doyle), Miss Baxter (Raquel Cassidy) and Daisy walked back from the Wallace Collection together.

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I know it’s absurd when Mr Moseley laments that he comes to London and never manages to see anything, as if he were not a full-time servant but a modern tourist; still it’s touching when he quotes an art book and shows he can respond as much to a reproduction (anachronistic again) as the pictures in the gallery. The point is Daisy with her Vanity Fair will not forget. Nor Miss Baxter who however rings in a new form of doubt about the future: “You’re never safe ’til the ring’s on your finger,”

Mr Moseley: ‘Do you want to be safe, Miss Baxter?’
Miss Baxter: ‘I might … ‘

To return to that last walk back to the Abbey after the Memorial ceremonies, Lord Grantham reveals he has guessed that that Marigold is Edith’s (Laura Carmichael) child by Michael Grigson, but is that the end of her story? (or his?). Tom (Allen Leech) tells Lady Edith that she should go back to London to run her publishing business and write; he’s going to take his Sybbie with him to Massachusetts. Why not take Marigold?

Does anyone believe he’s going for sure? Oh he’ll stay until Christmas, and then there are the houses he wants built on the estate. Lady Mary (Michelle Dockery) vows to stop him.

The worst is what has happened to Anna and Mr Bates (Brendan Coyle). She has held out against the Inspector Vyer’s (Louis Hilyer) bullying attempt to get her to admit she was raped by Mr Green, advised by Mr Bates to keep their secrets until they must reveal them. The upshot: she is arrested.

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Mr Bates says ominously to Lady Mary on the walk back to the abbey she won’t be convicted. In those words are a threat he’ll confess and prove himself guilty first.

Reversals too. Near the close it’s Mr Carson who tells Mrs Hughes as she reveals her intense anxiety about the Bateses’ future and for once her own:

Mrs Hughes: ‘Sorrow seems to shadow them both and in their wake, it shadows us.’
Mr Carson: ‘Come, Mrs Hughes. This isn’t like you. Take courage for their sake. We must always travel in hope.’

In previous episodes we’ve heard how hope is a treacherous distraction, hurting more when the illusion is done.

But has not Mrs Crawley (Penelope Wilton) made up her mind not to remarry Lord Merton? we saw as she came away from one dinner table the hurt Lord Merton’s sons were able to inflict her on, the tension between Merton and her they could cause. It’s been reinforced by watching what has surrounded Lady Rose’s marriage. But she looks grim coming back to the Abbey. She had expressed surprise at Violet’s disappointment for her in an earlier walking scene between the two of them late one evening as they were off to bed befoe the others

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Mrs Crawley: ‘You’ve changed your tune.’
Dowager: ‘I’ve been reminded recently that one is not given many chances in life and if you miss them, they may not necessarily be repeated… ‘

Mrs Crawley was not been at yet another scene between Kuragin (Rade Serbedzija) and the Dowager where Violet wavered:

Kuragin (2)

Kuragin (1)

And on this final walk, it seems what is holding Violet back is the existence of the Prince’s wife. Lord Merton’s wife is dead. Yet there they are walking and talking the true companions.

Is there anyone who does not either waver or express doubt about the future or act enigmatically or suddenly change their tune? Miss Denker (Sue Johnston) has it in her to be an unscrupulous lapper-up of alcohol, and we begin to wonder if Spratt (Jeremy Swift) is not right about her, though unable to do anything about her but hide his mistress’s case under the bed to get her into trouble. The Dowager caught that.

Who believes Lord Gillingham (Tom Cullen) will be happy with Mabel Lane Fox (Catherine Steadman) who has returned to her supercilious self, so her thought about her wedding is her preference for the city over the country where there will be less mud, while he carries smoldering with resentment against Lady Mary Crawley.

Beyond “Uncle Thomas” (! he calls himself) rescuing another male footman so generously (in character that; he rescued Jimmy more than once), I found myself feeling for Lady Mary at the close of the episode because Mr Carson observed underneath her aloofness a bleakness. Carson may overrate her, but she is not a fool, and she will miss Tom.

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Carson: ‘Is everything all right, m’lady?’
Lady Mary: ‘I thought I’d sneak away. I don’t think I’ll be missed.’
Carson: “Oh, I wouldn’t say that.’
Lady Mary; ‘I feel as if our household is breaking up, Carson, but I suppose that’s what happens. People grow up and move away and things change.’

She showed much feeling when mourning Matthew, unable to turn to someone else. Now she may be left with Edith and (as she jokes) get sent away for murder.

This episode was more Thackeray than Trollope.

Ah! Vanitas Vanitatum! Which of us is happy in this world? Which of us has his desire? or, having it, is satisfied? — come, children, let us shut up the box and the puppets for our play is played out.

After all since Lady Sinderby was introduced, she has been my favorite puppet this season.

Ellen

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Greer Garson and Walter Pigeon as Mr and Mrs Miniver with their children in a locally dug-out air raid shelter with their children, Toby and Judy (Christopher Severn and Clare Sandars)

Dear friends and readers,

If you read my other blog, Austen Reveries, you know I’ve been working on a paper on the importance of screenplays to be given this March at the ASECS, part of my larger project on Austen films, and just enjoyment of, interest in screenplays.

This week I’ve been reading great and powerful screenplays, chosen mostly as a result of what’s in print and well-prepared in two sets of what ought to be famous collections (John Gassner and Dudley Nicols, 10 Best Film Plays, 1942, and Best Film Plays [10] of 1943-44; and George Garrett, Jane Gelfman, and O. B. Hardison Jr’s Film Scripts 1, 2, 3, 4 (1970s). This to help me demonstrate the centrality and great power of them when well-prepated, and how they are a new changeable experimental genre, worthy reading and study in their own right. When I read Dashiell Hammet’s Watch on the Rhine adapted from Lillian Hellman’s stage play of the same name, the experience was gripping, almost as good as watching it. When I read Graham Greene’s screenplay for The Third Man this week (once again), maybe it was better in some ways. To my surprise, and not meaning at all to have Downton Abbey in mind (though Fellowes has been smart enough to publish the screenplays of the first three seasons completely annotated, with omitted scenes, stills, the works), I discovered a real provable source for one of the striking episodes of the first season: The Flower Show. Here is a still from that in Mrs Miniver:

TheflowerShow
Probably not one of the more remembered scenes of the movie, though it leads into the tragic climax

First let me suggest just a few of the characteristics of screenplays that put them apart from other genres that I’m working on: The writer writes with camera visualization in mind, and an awareness of there will be a world created by the hallucinatory screen from production and costume designs: screenplays presuppose encompassing specific worlds constructed so the viewer shall suspend disbelief, and within this assumed imagined environment the scripts present bits of dialogue, descriptions of movements of setting, suggestions for actors and silent moments, and camera angles as a quick succession of fluid and suggestive experiences with movement involved, freed of the time and space of a literal stage. In recent contemporary films what happens in this film is conveyed through a continual movement back and forth between past and present time, with lingering voice-overs that spill voiced thoughts across the interwoven obsessively remembered past and present time in quick change montages. Studying film adaptations alongside the scripts has taught me the films are made of dislocated series of images which can be moved about; Sarah Cardwell demonstrated these are not in the present tense, but tenseless or timeless (in her essay “About Time”). The relation of the words, the dialogue and voice-over, crucially tell the relationships in time between the images. They are concentrated, the feel is intimate because of the close-ups, split seconds of visualization brings us close-up and magnifies the experience. From this comes fan groups for cults of stars. If you know who played the parts and have not seen the movie, you try to visualize the actors and actors; if you don’t know who played the parts, or the screenplay was never filmed, you try to cast it with favored actors and actresses.

In the second Gassner and Nicols volume the screenplays are accompanied by stills from the films dropped it (like illustrations for 19th century novels) at the spots in the screenplay they visualized. That’s also done in the New Market paperback shooting script series, and in many publications of screenplays — often the better ones will have essays by the writer, or a journal of the filming, or particulars about production design, costumes, houses …. Mrs Miniver is in the first volume so I went onto the Net to find stills. I was not surprised to discover I could not find shots for the most traumatic and best scenes — that’s typical. What one finds are stills where the people look beautiful. It’s also hard to find stills of landscape, and the encompassing world which is so central to films. I did find this one of her compassionating the German soldier after he terrified, threatened and was ready to kill her but then sat to eat and wait, and collapsed:

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Helmut Dantine played the part of the German pilot forced down

First the 1940s screenplay is extraordinary. It is not by Joyce Anstruther (also a poet) whose columns in the 1930s were a precursor of The Egg and I, or Bridget Jones, the self-deprecating woman, here quietly ironic about much of her life, but herself the cynosure of competence and complacent assured middle class life (discussed extraordinarily well by Alison Light in Forever England). I can see from just reading the screenplay, how it could have the effect on its viewership it did. It subscribes to the most appealing myths of what England is. Paradoxically at the same time like so many movies of the 1930s and 40s the central characters are upper middle class and as a matter of course have servants (This is true of the characters in Watch on the Rhine, it is not true of the characters in screenplays starting in the 1960s, then we are no longer in firm middle class households, no servants anywhere, e.g, Darling a 1965 screenplay and movie, The Apartment, same era). Mrs Miniver opens in an expensive men’s club in Pall Mall; they are going about their business undisturbed as yet. She is the wife of such a man; we see her first jumping off a bus and rushing back to an expensive shop to treat herself to an unnecessary concoction of a hat. Yet as the story went on, and we go home with her, are introduced to her servants (whom she treats well but keeps in good order by her benign orderly ways herself) I believed in her and these children. Her grown son home from Oxford. The girl he meets and falls in love with — but lacks her upper middle class rank (Orwell would find all the careful nuancing par for the course).

Well emotions are worked up as this orderly life begins to fall apart, but everyone is stout together. I found myself coming close to tears, especially when the family was in the bomb shelter under their house, intensely engaged when the German soldier broke into Mrs Miniver’s house (of course she dealt with him, a bit of luck too, which Mrs Miniver ever has). One of its authors was William Wyler, and apparently some of the lines he wrote for the screenplay were used by Roosevelt in one of his speeches. The sense of the characters are turned far away from Anstruther then.

What startled me though is here is an important story in the first season of Downton Abbey. Remember that Flower Show and how the dowager at the very end gave the prize for roses to Mr Moseley’s father. It had been assigned her as always. The way you can tell if something is a source is if the source has something idiosyncratic which is repeated. In Mrs Miniver the movie the prize is again award to the great dragon lady turned women-with-heart-of-gold, Lady Beldon and similarly when up there Lady Beldon lies and gives the prize to the man who deserves it.

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Dame May Whitty as Lady Beldon

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Maggie Smith as the Dowager doing precisely the same generous act — we might ask why we should be so charmed after she has been taking the prize for years (Miss Obrien [Siobhan Finneran does ask]

It was then I asked myself if Mrs Miniver had a first name. Had Anstruthers and now these writers gone so far as to imitate earlier novels and not give us a first name for this lady. I hunted and found that at night when they talk (in separate twin beds of course) Mr Miniver who is referred to as Clem often calls her Kay.

Much is left out by Fellowes from the original: Mr Ballard (Henry Travers) who grew the beautiful rose wanted to name it Mrs Miniver and that had angered Lady Beldon as no rose should be named after a non-aristocrat. She had learned to accept that, and was about to about to accept seeing her granddaughter become engaged to Mrs Miniver’s son; Fellowes instead has Mr Moseley’s father accepting that he will always win second place though it breaks his heart. But Lady Beldon has always gotten it the way the Dowager had. The moment is much stronger in Mrs Miniver because of this secondary story of love and because the sirens have begun to wail loudly that the German bombers had been seen on their way.

Mrs Miniver is an important source text for a significant Downton Abbey the first season, and the attitude towards war in the second. In Mrs Miniver we see how class barriers break down and how everyone is valued together as they fight — so too in Downton Abbey season 2. (Sigh … .). Flower shows and the beauty and science in Kensington Gardens (its world-wide reputation alongside the Bronx Botanical Gardens) remain important symbols for middle class English-speaking people today. Another story in the first season, about Carson’s past was modelled on a story about Hudson’s past from the 1970s Upstairs/Downstairs. But using Mrs Miniver exposes how Downton Abbey repeats all the myths of this movie — other images in the movie reappear in Downton Abbey.

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All applaud the Dowager for her tremendous act

Let me bring up another unlikely or unexpected collocation: Dora Bruder, the autobiographical meditation by Patrick Modiano who won the Nobel this year. One theme of his book is how Dora Bruder, this young girl was just thrown away, powerless flotsam and jetsam when things got at all rough — or when the establishment decreed. Well in Mrs Miniver at said Flower Show we see a group of working class children from London who have been parceled out to people like Mrs Miniver. Of course not quite living in the great houses, or put in an attic, but that is not mentioned. We are to look quite sentimentally at them and think what an opportunity to get into the country. When the reality is these children in this movie are Dora Bruders. Who cares what happens to them as individuals, who considers it? how they got back home? if they got back home? why these were sent?

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I did come across two other more general sources for Cora, Lady Grantham: I’m following a Future Learn course on British imperialism (on which much more in another blog) and came across the name of Mary Leiter, Lady Curzon, the first American wife of a Viceroy of India during the Raj, and aspects of her life reminded me of Cora, Lady Grantham. I like reading memoirs, someone recommended to me Consuelo Vanderbilt Balsan (1877-1964), who wrote a readable autobiography, The Glitter and the Gold.

(c) BRIDGEMAN; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation
Mary Leiter, Lady Curzon in her famous super-expensive peacock feather dress — her expression reminds me of royal people in Goya’s paintings

Mary’s book is a slender volume of letters selected out of volumes and volumes by John Bradley. Once Mary Leiter marries and becomes the viceroy’s wife her life is endless showing of herself for spectacle, and having babies and caring for them. She becomes less open too, much less. The glimpses of a worthwhile person become rare. She begins to sound like Jane Austen’s cousin, Eliza de Feuillide when she poses, and registers no sense at all of what she (as a symbol and to keep up in this life style) is costing everyone else. Mary Leiter died of disease, sick and ailing by her early 30s, probably childbirth at the age of 36-37. Her mother-in-law died young too, similarly.

A biography by Nigel Nicolson tell you that Mary Leiter had been the daughter of a man who was a partner in one of these huge luxury-serving department stores that opened in the 1880s in NYC, London, Chicago — a Mr Selfridge (!), and Nicolson’s book opens with the portrait of such a store. These are a dying breed; now we get these cavernous warehouses of mostly junk. There are still a couple of them around: Lord and Taylor’s on 37th and 5th was still practicing making the person shopping feel as if he or she were a rich guest and all the objects important art, the experience somehow home-y, comfortable — complete with coffee for free at 9:30 (this was only 3 years ago). Anyway all her life she lived in a privileged environment, a glass box — only her real body she could not escape nor diseases. She was thought Jewish or half-Jewish because some names in the family “seemed Jewish.” In fact they were Memnonites. So she fits Cora, Lady Grantham — a link between one costume drama and another.

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Consuelo and Jacques Balsan, her “commoner” husband

CVB reminds me of the Mitford sisters; she has that strong sense of what she deserves, who she is, and while she was wholly tyrannized over as a child (she was even whipped), and when a young adult could be coerced into making bad important decisions (like marrying the super-rich Duke of Marlborough), give her time and she gets out of it — and married a nobody Frenchman who she lived happily with in France until WW2 when they escaped to the US. Lady Carnavon, the turn of the century owner of Highclere Castle who wandered about the world as an anthropologist of sorts, was a strong independent individualist iconclastic too — none of them stayed home to obey any gongs for dinner ….

Long ago at the close of Caleb Williams William Godwin had his imprisoned driven-insane servant hero, ask why are these people numinous (he had actually told the truth about his employer killing a man), why is are they so much more valued than others. The interest of Modiano’s book is how hard he tries to discover her life and what happened to her, and that he does find a trail. It’s much more than a detective story.

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Here is one of Joyce Anstruther’s poems — about whom I’ll write one of my foremother poet blogs next week, the first I’ve done in a couple of years:

Dedication to an Unknown Reader, from The Glass-Blower (1940)

Like rays shed
    By a spent star
The words of a dead
    Poet are,
That through bleak space
    Unchecked fly on,
Though heart, hand, face
    To dust are gone;
And you who read
    Shall only guess
What thorn-sharp need,
    What loneliness,
What love, lust, dream,
    Shudder or sigh
Lit the long beam
    That meets your eye:
Nor guess you never
    So well, so true,
Shall comfort ever
    Reach from you
To me, an old
    Black shrivelled sphere,
Who has been cold
    This million year.

She was nowhere as uncomplicatedly competent and cheerful as she made her Mrs Miniver to be. See my preliminary foremother poet blog: Joyce Anstruther.

Ellen

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Violet, Lady Grantham (Maggie Smith) explaining to Lady Mary (Michelle Dockery why the prospect of Isobel Crawley’s (Penelope Wilton) marriage to Lord Merton (Douglas Reith) hurts so

Mary: Granny, I know why you’re finding this difficult.
Dowager: Do you?
Mary: Yes, but you mustn’t give in to it.
Dowager: What? Give in to what?
Mary: Isobel has always been your protege. She looks up to you and you have kept her from harm in return.
Dowager: Have I?
Mary: Yes. So of course it’s difficult that she is to take her place ~ among the leaders of the county.
… you simply have to be bigger than that.
Dowager: Is that what you think of me? That I care about her change of rank?
Mary: Well, you’re not exactly pleased, are you?
Dowager: No. But that is not the reason … If you must know … I have got used to having a companion.
A friend. You know, someone to talk things over with … You have your own lives … Isobel and I had a lot in common. I shall miss her.
Mary: Granny, you’re quite dewy-eyed ….
Dowager: You’ve made me regret my confidence… And for your information I don’t think Isobel has EVER looked up to me.

Dear friends and readers,

Soap operas when they do their work right root their suggestive believable characters into the daily memories and feelings of their viewers. That Fellowes has achieved this may be seen in his continuing audience for a group of stories that he lacks any new material for; one never needed new material for As the World Turns. This week I found my face was wet, the tears had overflowed beyond my eyes over fleeting scenes of decently felt emotion most of us struggle against or want to feel. Some were less tenuously set-up than others. The finest and slowest-fully built up to is above: the Dowager explains to the obtuse Lady Mary that she will miss her friend.

Robert Lord Grantham’s (Hugh Bonneville) close relationship with his dog, Isis, has been before us from the opening credits (much mocked) where we see the dog from the back, presumably walking alongside Robert back to Downton, to the incident where Thomas (Rob James-Collier) ruthlessly locked the dog out in the wet cold wild so he could gain Lord Grantham’s trust by rescuing her, to her just being there, with him. Even that quiet boss-lady, Cora, Lady Grantham, oblivious as she was to the twisting of Lady Edith (Laura Carmichael), her second daughter’s character and pregnancy, and much else seemed to notice the dog’s decline, and opened her bed so the suffering creature need not be alone and feel unloved in her last hours:

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Daisy continues to gain in skills and self-respect from the time we first saw her when the series began and she was making the fires in the house, filthying herself in the cold. She’s now reading Vanity Fair under the tutelage of that thwarted teacher, Mr Moseley (Kevin Doyle). While I wish we didn’t each time have to re-assert the justification for learning for Daisy, and this time it was to enable Fellowes to take potshots at the labor gov’t, I enjoyed the visit to Mr Mason (Paul Copley) engineered by Mrs Patmore (Lesley Nichol) so as to keep Daisy’s spirits up. At his dinner table no one insults anyone. He wouldn’t allow it — all is generosity and decent social thought:

Miss Baxter: Are we all finished? How lovely, Daisy, to have such a beautiful place to come to.
Mr Mason: She’s always welcome is Daisy.
Daisy: I’ve not been here enough lately.
Mr Mason: You’ve been busy I know. With your books. That takes up time.
Daisy: I think I’ll stop it now. So I’ll be able to visit more.
Mr Moseley: Do you think she’s right to give up her studies, Mr Mason?
Mr Mason: I do NOT.
Daisy: Don’t you want to see more of me?
Mr Mason: You know I do. But education is power.

Miss Baxter (Raquel Cassidy) had been startled to find herself invited, and once there, perked up, looked like she had some self-respect, enjoyed herself guiltlessly, and held Mr Moseley’s hand as they comfortably came home after a comfortable meal.

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HomewardBound (1)

Things were quite otherwise in the dinner scene closely juxtaposed next. I felt for Isobel as those wretched sons of Merton made themselves obnoxious again (to Edith too).

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I loved Tom Branson for getting up and calling one of them a “bastard.” They did throw a stink bomb at any coming happiness in marriage with them in the Merton house. I don’t know why anyone eats dinner at that place: it is a landmine.

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Of course dinner tables have ever been places where you dramatize social agons, it’s inherently theatrical.

The ball of agon has not left the Bates’s residence either. I did love the scene of Anna (Joanne Froggart) and Mr Bates drinking tea so comfortably at home together.

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Here I just wish Fellowes didn’t think it necessary for me to suspect one of the pair is a murderer. I have realized (from reading one of the Downton Abbey facebook fan pages where they regularly take the most small-minded positions, siding with the worst people) that we are supposed suddenly to suspect Anna. This is surely out of character. What would she feel in a prison? horrified. so humiliated and mortified and filled with inculcated self-hatred she’d wither up with shame.

Alas I’ve covered the fine moments and have now to turn to the absurdities and offensive omissions. I omit the condescension enacted towards the Duchess’s adult servants, Spratt (Jeremy Swift) and Miss Denker (Sue Johnston) as children squabbling. To this is Fellowes driven for material you see. Mrs Drewe gets to have her say to Cora, Lady Grantham, but we are not allowed to see or hear her, and doubt we’ll ever be permitted to develop some sympathetic imaginings for the Drewes at home now.

Implications: When told by Robert that Isis has “cancer,” and Cora replied: “Poor old thing … Oh, how I hate that word,” she for a moment redeemed herself, but like Anibundel whose recap is again worth reading, I cannot grasp how Fellowes expects us to take seriously her indignation at her mother- and sister-in-law, Lady Rosamund Painswick (Samantha Bond) at having not told her what she should not have needed telling to know. She will never forgive them, never trust them for not having informed her her daughter had a baby while away on a suddenly “mysterious” 10 month trip to Switzerland:

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Yet worse there was Edith, since Episode 6 closed, set up at last, running a business she owns (left her by Mr Grigson), a job to do, writing she does well, a place to live, a nanny on the spot, with money to pay her:

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And what does she do? return to the Abbey where she hides from Mary and her maid at the station giving up her baby once again to the conveniently there Mr Drewe (Andrew Scarborough)

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in the library again overridden by Mary (coolly despising Edith’s generous impulses to take “an orphan child”), look like some rabbit or deer staring at headlights lest daddy say no to adopting this strange child until mummy declares it is right. The family obtuseness passes to Edith’s father. There’s more than a hint that Tom (Allen Leech) suspects (he asks her more than once to be open with him about her troubles over many episodes). Mary of course couldn’t be bothered to figure anything out about anyone, least of all Edith. Psychologically for Edith it does fit: she is the bullied, over-sheltered, super-ego driven ugly daughter. I hope she never marries, because surely she’ll end up abused — and we saw in the fourth season that Grigson saw this and refrained.

Is there any more to add? I fear Fellowes enjoys inflicting pain on Edith because he likes Mary’s meanness, identifies, triumphs with it. So more obnoxiousness from Lady Mary supported by the complacent Charles Blake (what ever happened Julian Overdeen as the man who worried about the average person’s housing in Britain): if it was so little trouble for Mary to get rid of Gillingham (Tom Cullen) by a kiss in public of Overdeen, why did we have that scene in the park? Fellowes gives away how he manipulates shallowly to milk scenes.

Lady Rose’s (Lily James) continuing charitable impulses and her hurt and fear she will lose her suitor, the good-natured bright Atticus Aldridge (Matt Barber), are a decent note and rightly rewarded by Lady Sinderby’s (Penny Downe) generous liking of her despite her being a non-Jew; Lady Sinderby and her husband showed real awareness of the prejudice against them, he that he needs to fight to maintain respected space to thrive in, and thus is not eager for a daughter-in-law who will not be Jewish (conversion never mentioned), but their son’s total lack of any consciousness of what it was to be a Jew in England in the 1920s brings us back to the incredible. Someone on a Jewish news on-line page suggested he is modeled on Prince William (Charles’s son); so when he kneels to this princess, far from an intermarriage, we have a simulacrum of revered English royalty:

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(Jim was one of those who wanted to see their huge fortunes taken from them, lamented when again the Queen was no longer to pay taxes.)

I suggest Fellowes is moving time so slowly because he does not want to reach the 1930s. He frequently gives Violet quips which are designed to obscure hard truths, this time it was “My dear, men have no rights.” In the real world of 1924 or so the men were in charge, servants were beginning to flee these places for work for money and freedom. There was a general strike in 1926.

But allow me to end on another of the good moments: Tom leaning over a bridge in the green landscape of the Abbey (one of its attractions for him, one he is at work on as steward in his fine office daily), with his daughter, trying to get her used to the idea they will perhaps leave for another country where he will fit in, be able to maintain his identity (and hers) better:

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Now if we could just get a message to Miss Bunting (the show is a continual fantasizing so why not?) to meet him at the New York docks.

Ellen

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Joanne Froggart accepting Golden Globe as best Supporting Actress in a TV series, 2015

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As Anna in Edith’s bedroom — after the fire, finding a photo of Marigold under Edith’s pillow — in this episode she is continually ferreting out, enabling her employer’s sex lives

Dear friends and readers,

This blog covers episodes 2 (with a forecast of 3) as I will not be here next week; there is retrospective, crystal ball work on what’s to come, and like last week’s, I take into account the whole arc of this season, which now includes the Christmas episode filmed partly at Alnwick Castle, Northumberland.

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As famously painted by Canaletto in 1747 — the very basis of the Christmas episode is an old master painting

No one more involved with some of the characters in Downton Abbey than I. After rewatching Episodes 2 & 3 on Sunday night, last night I watched the Christmas Episode as it played on British TV (a region 2 DVD purchased from Amazon.uk): I became that distressed as I watched Lady Mary (Michelle Dockery) go through grim gate after grim gate to reach Anna behind bars in a rough cotton, knee length smock I could hardly bear the distress. I am filled with perplexities. Why does Mrs Hughes (Phyllis Logan) not come forward and say Anna was raped? is it that then there would be all the more reason to accuse Ann? is the rape nothing? Mr Bates (Brendon Coyle) visits her and we learn that her background will be held against her: it seems she picked up a knife (how was this recorded and remembered) when as a child her mother’s second husband, her stepfather did attempt sexual coercions of all sorts.

When at the Golden Globe, Joanne Froggart accepted (at last) the well-earned statue and said how gratifying it had been to her to receive a letter from a woman (which she read aloud) who said the depiction of the rape had helped her endure, cope with a rape she had had inflicted on her and the aftermath of that, I felt good for Froggart. Poor Anna, she’s never had a decent dress in the series for 5 years, the best they’ve done for her is a couple of snazzy hats with feathers along the brim.

Nonetheless, the word aftermath is unfortunately the state of things this season. Now that the initial flurry of the whipped-up first episode is done, we are rightly I should say back to the quiet diurnal patterns of the first season. Life’s like that and the original appeal of the series first five episodes of the first season is gestured towards.

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Lord Merton (Douglas Reith) is lost in the room his wife built as he tells the dowager (Maggie Smith) and Mrs Crawley (Penelope Wilton)

Trouble is, this is not the first season, and a mini-series is art, not life, and these quiet diurnal events are too many of them mopping up operations of the previous three seasons or some off-stage pre-history (Raquel Cassidy as Miss Baxter’s excruciating ordeal as the reluctant thief and her need keep Kevin Doyle as Mr Molesley on her side). How can Laura Carmichael as Edith play mother to Marigold (indeed how does she endure being Edith) for yet another year? what is Mrs Crawley to do about Lord Merton’s lonely frustrated existence in that room with his mean sons? who will Lady Mary fuck and will Anna manage to buy a set of condoms for her?

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The conventional tryst photo — faux aggression and glamor (complete with alluring hat band) — are we really supposed to take this seriously?

Where does Allen Leech as Tom belong? But we’ve heard it all before. Then life’s little troubles. Since the new turns are so resolutely pro-establishment, they fail to grip: Lady Rose (Lily James) is doing charity work among Russian aristocratic “refugees,” helping them back into “ordinary life: dancing and shopping and seeing one’s friends” (says Charles Blake, Julian Overden). Lady Rose is not permitted to be other than “a sweet young thing;” she is a sheltered virgin whose lost her way to her 19th century novel. Her anguish is for a wireless. The dowager (Maggie Smith) meets her old love, Prince Kuragin (Rade Serbedzija, embarrassing, the scene absurd). For more comedy we have: Miss Denker (Sue Johnston) and Jeremy Swift as Spratt vye for pre-eminence in the household of the dowager.

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Where to place the memorial provides conflict with Lord Grantham refusing to give up his meadow devoted to Cricket for a memorial, and preferring the middle of the village where we do have a moving moment with yet another (this time lower middle class) widow and her student son walking past in the middle of the village, but then the moment is over and we are not involved with the potentially interesting story of widow and son. Our great climax is Robert agreeing to rent a wireless for a day so everyone can hear the King’s first speech to the nation over it, and however possible we get this stiff re-enactment of court behavior.

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Portrait shots abound in these episodes

As it was not creditable that Cora, Lady Grantham would not pick up that her second daughter was pregnant and had a baby so Mrs Drewe (Emma Lowndes) is another mindless woman who does not begin to guess that Lady Edith is Marigold’s mother. She does not even come up with the theory that Mr Drewe (Andrew Scarborough) is the father. What are we to make of this? Well in the Xmas episode Lady Sinderby (Rachel Aldritch) joins the group of wholly undeductive women: Cora, Lady Grantham who never wondered where Lady Edith went for 10 months. A woman in her thirties (not too young) turns up at the castle with a young boy in hand and Lord Sinderby (Daniel Aldritch, in real life Lady Sinderby’s husband too) becomes mortified and runs away in shame to sit in a chair far from all; everyone seems to “get” who this person is (his long-term and now supported mistress? and son?), except Lady Sinderby who is characterized as not understanding who the inexplicable woman is. In context Barrow’s (Rob James-Collier) purpose is to expose Sinderby so Sinderby will stop castigating his daughter-in-law’s parents for their divorce and also to revenge himself for the way the same snobbish insulting butler (Alun Armstrong) has been treating Thomas: Lord Sinderby will blame the butler for having his (ex-?) mistress and son (?) come to the castle.

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Walking outside Alnwick Lady Sinderby does not seem innocently naive

It seems to me that Fellowes saw as a boy growing up many of these privileged women turn a blind eye to the doings of their husbands — just as down south white women pretended not to know about their husband’s concubinage (and whatever cruelties went on). They knew, of course they knew, but they pretended not to to save face — as they could not do anything about it and keep their position. He has deliberately made a pretense into a reality in order to avoid showing us the anguish beneath. We could say the women are enigmatic and know more than they admit — Lady Sinderby does suddenly threaten to divorce Lord Sinderby if he will not allow Lady Rose to marry their son in Episode 7, but her awareness is not in the script, not a hint.

Curiously Fellowes is willing to show upper class young women’s anguish (Edith’s) over babies and of course women who don’t count like Ethel. He is also willing in this season to show us Anna’s anguish once again – -this time from a stepfather’s advances however muted. And last year spectacularly over the rape — though again Lady Grantham is not permitted to notice. Anna is — really strongly dramatized — is our real heroine and there he slams hard. As he did over Sybil who died of childbirth young.

I suggest there’s a twin thing going on: 1) if Fellowes were to show the anguish that would rip open the power and cruelty of males in charge and the compromises women supposedly with power (and they do have some Lady Grantham showed it in episode 1 and over when she learns Edith’s baby is her grandchild). 2) that he does see this and it’s a continual bemused undertow of the series (with hints that Lady Rosamund (Samantha Bond) had a child out of wedlock and gave it up, that Lady Grantham in this season had no happy marriage and made many compromises) shows that in fact he does look at these stories form the woman’s point of view (no matter how conservatively) and thus can write soap opera so appealingly for women. The number of widows mounts up season by season.

The distastefulness of blaming butlers for snobbishness, lady’s maids as semi-crooks and the like with their masters vindicated as amused egalitarians needs no comment beyond observing this I hope.

So what can we fall back on? I wish there was something interesting filmically innovative, musically, some apt filmic thought embodied in a techique, voice-overs (nothing of this, nothing at all in any of the seasons): all stage playlets, mostly faux theater. The actors carry it all in their faces. The audience watches the costumes and decor and fetishized objects and places (however rich, beautiful or picturesque). What there are this season are lovely pictures: many of the scenes are conceived as old-master paintings, glimmering with soft lights, and subtextually that’s a self-reflexive theme.

This photograph is (C) Carnival Film & Television Ltd and can only be reproduced for editorial purposes directly in connection with Downton Abbey, Carnival Film & Television Ltd or ITV plc. Once made available by ITV plc Picture Desk, this photograph can
Note Elizabeth McGovern’s painfully thin shoulder and arms … (I keep it small so as not to dwell on the anorexic diet she’s been following all these years to keep herself a viable “beautiful woman ‘of a certain age’)

Perhaps the visit of the art historian, Mr Bricker (Richard E. Grant) to see a genuine old master painting Della Francesca (a bit of self-reflexivity here) and his flirtation with Elizabeth McGovern as Cora, Lady Grantham and Hugh Bonneville, Robert’s jealousy holds some new line of development but Robert’s pathetic complaint the man is flirting with his dog, is not exactly Othello.

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I am happy Daisy (Sophie McShera) is continuing her studies in arithmetic now with Miss Bunting’s help (Daisy Lewis) and has become such a splendid cook (and anticipate her trip to the Wallace collection where she will see old-master paintings). Were this life it’d be touching and in the first season it might have worked well. It is pleasing development in the spirit of the 1st season, which of course is that a big fuss is made; deliberations carried on by Mr Carson (Jim Carson), Mrs Patmore (Lesley Nichols) and Mrs Hughes (Phyllis Logan): shall they permit it? is it good for her to improve herself? get aspirations. Would you believe it? And we are given modernized old master pictures.

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A symbolic moment, a climax of Episode 2: they turn the wireless on …

The series’s central action was laid before us towards the end of the third year after the death of Sybil (Jessica Brown-Findlay), with the death of Matthew (Dan Stevens) tacked on and thus providing grief, sorrow, and mourning for season 4. Season 5 we are watching them play on with no new material since Fellowes is not going to dramatize the new social change, but stick with Britain as a tourist attraction, and a commodified fetishized past. Now they have been inexorably tempted to keep salaries coming and revenue by selling products and advertisers/sponsors to a sixth season. So shall we predict how all will end up?

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I have bought the scripts for the third season, which come with far more annotated notes by Fellowes than the previous two and more cut scenes fully written out. In effect a dense encyclopedia. And I restudied Season 4 – which I liked very much.

I discovered what Fellowes had intended for Dan Stevens had he stayed: in the 3rd season it’s clear that not long after Matthew and Lady Mary’s marriage he begins to become alienated: most strikingly by his discomfort over the way she continually denigrates and hurts Lady Edith, but the way she prefers her father, the older Downton way of life. Fellowes writes (elsewhere too), he intended them to separate slowly and Matthew go to the US. By the 4th season in place are the coming marriage of Mr Carson and Mrs Hughes (remember them holding hands at the close), Mr Mason’s farm for Daisy, Miss Baxter has arrived for Mr Molesley (Miss Obrien flees to the appropriate upper class witch, the Marchioness of Flintshire – play allegorical name — at the Christmas episode of the 3rd season she has taken over the Marchioness from the present lady’s maid), Mr and Mrs Bates have his house from his mother in London, their undoubted abilities to carry on. Perhaps Grigson would have returned, and Tom off to America.

At the end of the fourth season Lady Mary, Tom and Grantham together with their one tenant farmer, Mr Drew (also the fireman of the place, are making the place thrive; 5:3 they begin to plan to build houses on the estate. 5:3 also showed me I may have been wrong to assert so unqualifiedly that Mr Bates killed Mr Green, as now we see Fellowes left himself wiggle room for yet more denial as after all Mr Bates’s ticket to London on the train was uncut! Therefore he stayed in York all day. The only way he could have gone to London was to have bought 2 tickets. This is beginning to stretch it. But as they say, from the 2nd season on, Fellowes began to jump the shark regularly.

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Anna’s trip to the pharmacy will provide a new turn in Episodes 3-4: she has Mary Stoke’s book and this and a version of Lady Mary’s cervical cap (?) is found by Mr Bates. Anna is utterly unfree. If she goes to the pharmacy, she is confronted by a demand on the part of the clerk that she prove she is not immoral. She has to state she’s married. In the 1950s when women went to doctor’s for contraceptives, they would be similarly condescended to. When Mr Bates finds this stuff in her drawers, he accuses her of preventing conception. Is it her body? Mrs Hughes did not seem to think Edna Braithwaite’s body (she who seduced the hapless Tom, MyAnna Buring) was hers when Edna said she was pregnant and in effect threatened to attack her, felt she had the right to intrude into her body. It’s such moments one can watch Downton Abbey for now.

So how will the life of the country house itself be brought to an end or turned into a tourist place with offers to the BBC to do radio shows from (TV shows will come later)? It’s being prepared for, and the death of Isis is the foreshadowing. Christmas time Robert is short of breath; can’t hold his liquor and is told he has angina pectoris. Robert will die. Yet another widow. Then the house will fall apart; it will no longer be needed. Silly as we never saw it properly used as the political linchpin it should have been, but Cora will go into a smaller place, maybe travel (why not? — she is still attractive, the false stereotype of the rich widow on cruises will do here). Lady Edith at last rid herself of her nemesis Mary by taking Marigold to London where she runs Grigson’s press. A new suitor appears for Lady Mary in the Christmas episode and Matthew Goode as Henry Talbot really does fit into a character who seems insouciantly up to Lady Mary; Fellowes must have said to himself, Why didn’t I see this before? the actor once you see him just is “it” for Lady Mary. Perfect for little George’s cool new father — another generation of heartlessness in the offing.

Violet, Lady Grantham and Mrs Crawley’s marriages do not come off – too much baggage and life does not always have happy ending; so they settle down to doing lunch with Lady Shackleton (Harriet Walter). Miss Denker will improve her culinery skills.

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From the Christmas episode: Poor Mr Barrow. He will have to find another place – he’s not allowed to have a partner or open life.

We are never sure who killed Mr Green — I doubt Anna so back to Mr Bates even if sleuthing by Mr Molesley and Mr Baxter turns up an alibi for him — once again:

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Our enigmatic heroine and her beloved tough husband discussing how that day in London will be understood but giving away nothing themselves (Episode 7)

Ellen

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Final shot of the house in darkness: the trajectory of the episode: unfolding before us its crowded life

Dear friends and readers,

So here we are, another season. What you notice the first time watching is how the film-makers hit the ground running. Speed: most scenes far less than a minute long. This costs. They were concerned people would say ho-hum, this is getting tiring, are we going to have this again? They do have to keep the characters in character. So a couple of strong star types were brought in: Anna Chancellor as the lecherous widow (she’s even eager for a drink before dinner) Lady Anstruther after the handsome young — harried anxious — Jimmy, 2nd footman (Ed Speleers)

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She puts hand into Jimmy’s waistcoat

And Harriet Walter as the widowed Lady Shackleton who steals every scene she’s in, adding a grace note of real melancholy as she conveys something of the conditions of her widowhood to Lord Merton (Douglas Reith): relegated to a cottage she didn’t want to go into, she bears up:

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She’s telling him she’s warm for the first time in her life

They returned to the old wittiness and sense of quiet routine of the first 5 episodes of the first season (where they were not worried about further seasons or setting up arching stories of melodrama). There are numerous funny dialogues, arresting quips, and not all are Maggie Smith’s (though some are). At the same time there is strong melodrama, ending in a climactic fire.

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That’s Thomas (Rob James-Collier) rescuing Lady Edith (Laura Carmichael) in fetching nightgown: she fell asleep after throwing a book of poems left her by her beloved Grigson over towards the fire (a death-wish it seems)

For a suggestive recap of the plot, see I should have been a blogger (Ani Bundel).

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Watch a second time, though, and you see something else, something many have noticed before: The mini-series goes on to develop some of the same patterns and in a realistic enough way that three minutes thought ought to bring to mind the troubles and miseries of the servants and women. Each story line that matters and is melodramatic treats of some real cruelty in the lives of servants and women at the same time as it obscures the real motives for it and why the treatment of the person is so unfair.

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The excruciatingly painful scene of Miss Baxter (Raquel Cassidy) confessing her crime, with only a proviso of

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“I’ll see what I decide,” from that site of power, Cora, Lady Grantham (Elizabeth McGovern)

Is there any more painful depiction of abjection than Miss Baxter confessing her theft to Cora, Lady Grantham? As with Mr Bates in the first season (where he is discovered), there was a prison sentence; also like Mr Bates the story of explanation, she is anguished, can make no excuse but something evil in her (in Episode 2 we find it was a seductive male servant who “drove her to it” and was “no good”), not that servants were paid so abysmally, exploited so harshly with long hours and severe disciplined patterns, and expected to live among these luxurious super-rich. Who would not steal these fabulously wealthy people’s things? Far from being driven by others, you’d be almost superhuman not to want the comfortable warm beautiful things around you. Today too those who commit crimes are depicted with savage lack of empathy (I don’t know sheer statistics of petty robbery, whether it has gone up with the on going depression in the US with terrible or no jobs for vast numbers of people).

Downton Abbey repeatedly touches on these real subjects but always from the employers’ point of view — the question is how Cora, Lady Grantham, feels is the issue; and if she will see if she can endure to have such a low “felon” in her intimate room. Mr Molesley (Kevin Doyle) it was who counseled Miss Baxter to confess in order to stop the fierce bullying of Thomas (once aqain playing his part of the spiteful gay) so it’s patriarchy which may save poor Miss Baxter, if Cora condescends to keep her. One almost longs for Miss Obrien’s strong sarcasms (Siobhan Finneran): we later hear she lost her place when the Marchioness of Flintshire (Phoebe Nicholls) got her comeuppance (not enough money to keep a lady’s maid). Not that Thomas is immune from the power-lady of this hour: when he goes to snitch on Miss Baxter, he finds he is too late: Cora, Lady Grantham tells him, she knows, and uses the opportunity to threaten to sack him too, for what what she doing recommending such a person to her? She so dim over Lady Edith has guessed Thomas was using his power over Miss Baxter to find things out.

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She’ll think about what she’ll do to him (remember he needs a “character”)

Well, yes there is another, a second an equally painful depiction of abjection. As the series begins again, wesee that privileged ice-princess who makes it a hobby to throw corrosive darts at Edith, Lady Mary (Michelle Dockery) riding on her bike away from Downton:

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who turns into Lady Edith careening near an old deserted church(where she will meet Mr Drewe (Andrew Scarborough), that super-loyal and therefore impeccable tenant-farmer. There they plan and plot how they will find a way for her to live as if she is child’s mother without telling, all the while using Mrs Drewe as their front. Before it was Ethel Parks (Amy Nuttall), a servant, driven to prostitution, driven to give up her child, whom we watched pacing everywhere with her baby clutched to her bosom; now (as a third watch-through proves) it will be Lady Edith, similarly holding tight to her child and near hysterical tears.

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Lady Edith (first shot) watching

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Mrs Drewe (Emma Lowndes) playing with Lady Edith’s baby, Marigold (uncredited)

As Anibundel pointed out, Mrs Drewe is our latest dimwit not to pick up the obvious: Edith is the baby’s mother (well, duh): it must be Mr Drewe Lady Edith is drawn to, or she is very sick indeed (well something somewhere is sick). Wouldn’t the natural inference be this child is Edith’s by Mr Drewe? This pattern of a mother giving birth out of wedlock is seen in later 19th & early to mid-20th century novels (Bronte’s Shirley to East Lynn to Poor Cow); here it is presented in such as a way as to make exceptional a pattern of deprivation and grief.

Anibundel also feels for Lord Grantham (Hugh Bonneville): on the second time round, he certainly seems to be the figure everyone else can ignore or look askance at. He is “donk” to his grandchildren because he once played “pin the tail on the donkey” and apparently was the donkey. He is not wanted to head the installation of a memorial on his own land (!), and is given a position as patron only because his butler, Mr Carson (Jim Carter) makes it a condition of Mr Carter’s accepting as chair. Lord Grantham is told off by the village schoolteacher, Miss Bunting (Daisy Lewis), and knows he looks bad for bullying her in his indignation that she should have the temerity to disagree with him — most strongly on the issue of the WW1 memorial

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Let us stop at the memorial. Some of the loyal older viewers of Downton Abbey may remember the 1970s To Serve Them all My Days (scripted Andrew Davies, with that salt of the earth good man-teacher, David Powlett-Jones), based on the arch Tory Delderfield’s 1950s novel of the same title, a nostalgic look at the upper class schoolboy hood of the 1930s. The terms in which this memorial is debated in 2014 is precisely that of the 1950s novel. Miss Bunting is against spending money for a memorial to a war that uselessly killed millions and left the establishment in power; says she we can do something but not waste money on that. Lord Grantham’s allies around the table (Lord Gillingham, Tom Cullen) has produced the usual pieties about comfort for those who died and a symbol of gratitude. Even in the 1970s Andrew Davies did more justice to the Miss Bunting point of view as creditable and even right. Of course people have to be rude to voice it. But Miss Bunting does not have Tom’s approval; she is not exactly welcomed by the kitchen staff whom she hen wants to thank (ostentatiously) — though her coming downstairs does lead to Daisy, now a cook-kitchen maid (Sophia McShera), finding a teacher to help her with her self-improvement studies.

And note Lord Grantham’s misinterpretation of what is happening between Jimmy and Lady Anstruther is the one that decides what happens to Jimmy: having seen Jimmy in bed with the lady, Grantham sacks Jimmy because he cannot accommodate Jimmy’s ambitions. There is no guarantee whatsoever that Lady Anstruther will do anything for Jimmy but use him. If Jimmy could find it in himself (he can’t) Thomas would be the better partner (as he recognizes). Lord Grantham, like Cora, gets to decide who will be sacked; in discussions over the land, it is Lord Grantham Lady Mary and Tom must convince to build houses on the land for more rent. And it is Lord Grantham who leads everyone to put out the fire, who congratulates Thomas (who thus wins back Cora, Lady Grantham’s favor — too easily), and Tom Bransom (Allen Leech): back again as this deeply remorseful muddled liberal Irishman who seems to believe that leftism is a movement based on hatred, and has to ask permission to have his friends stay. He does still see to the cars (Lady Anstruther); maybe he does need to get out more.

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So paradigms of abjection and looking askance at those who are powerful still.

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Watch a third time (preferrably after having watched all 8 episodes) and you see: several overarching storylines are set up: the first, whose emphasis is not lost from sight throughout: Edith’s need to build a life for herself: the study of Edith: yes just such an environment would foster her kind of dependence and love and despair when the one attempt for liberty she grasped at was destroyed. Parallel is Tom’s need to separate himself from these people, find himself.

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Daisy striking out to become personally emotionally by knowledge gained independent. She has become an artist of a cook, and now she wants to ready herself for a life outside the house, perhaps in charge of Mr Mason’s farm. (And ho-hum who will Lady Mary marry in the end. Does it matter? as she might herself say ever so coolly. Later her grandmother will tell her she’s overdoing it.)

The sub-stories attached which are used to create feeling states, the communitarian ideal that is projected is that of Mr Molesley who emerges as a reader: we did see signs of this when long ago he gave Anna Smith, now Mrs Bates (Joanne Froggart), a copy of Von Armin’s Elizabeth and her German Garden (which true to her anti-intellectual practical spirit she never found time to read). Mr M is champion of good feeling. Mrs Patmore’s (Lesley Nichols) concern for Daisy’s self-esteem — like Edith’s character, this makes sense given Mrs Patmore’s background, where you learn you will be hurt more by the failure because the trying may get you nowhere.

As yet we only see Mr (Brendan Coyle) Bates and Anna marginally (they live in another house), enough to see the aftermath and results of the rape are not at all gotten past. They remain wary, she aware how vulnerable they both are, he on the alert for anyone suspicious of them who can hurt either. Why haven’t they had a child he asks; she doesn’t know. They fear Miss Baxter as a weak informer.

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Secrets, many of the characters have secrets to keep to themselves (for some stills of them much later in the series at home [from Episode 7]).

A new note: we do see Barrow’s real loneliness and lack of life — a rare case where we see what happens from the exploited and marginalized person’s point of view — he cannot make a life for himself that he wants to live he tells Jimmy. And Violet, Lady Grantham (Maggie Smith) is considerably softened: she is as pessimistic and wry as ever, but more willing to admit her need of others, e.g., Mrs Crawley (Penelope Wilton’s) friendship

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How many widows this series has had … they walk through a graveyard as they discuss Mrs Crawley’s relationship with Lord Merton: it’s a matter of companionship

Characters are cast aside to make room for the new feeling states and developments of over-arching stories across the seasons: Dr Clarkson (David Robb) who will not now marry Mrs Crawley; and characters are brought to the front, the supposed amusement of the snobbery of Violet, Lady Grantham’s butler, Spratt (Jeremy Swift) who Violet, Lady Grantham is supposedly ruled by — not very.

And in each episode we’ll have self-contained stories of characters not seen again (as here, Anstruther and Jimmy, Lady Shackleton), or stories which last 2-3 episodes and conclude (TBA). Even Isis, the dog, is being readied to play her role when the time comes.

There is a darker palette this time: I have enlarged several stills because unless I do that you won’t be able to make out the guarded people.

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Mrs Hughes (Phyllis Logan), the last shot of someone in the opening: she knows Lady Edith has a painful secret she has shared with Mr Drewe (now fireman he makes an appt with Lady Edith to discuss matters)

Ellen

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Emily Blunt as the Baker’s wife going it alone …

The way is dark
The light is dim
But now there’s you, her and him.
The chances look small,
The choices look grim,
But everything you learn there
Will help you when you return there.
— from the Choral Into the Woods

Dear friends and readers,

Jim loved Sondheim’s musicals, and I’ve just spent an hour or so perusing my and Yvette’s Christmas gift to him one year, the tall beautifully bound, Look, I made a Hat! (covering the years 1981-2011),

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most of which is by Stephen Sondheim, and contains full and partial accounts of many musicals (not all produced, some just in the idea stage, some extant just as a coupe of songs, a costume design), but for Into the Woods enough of the dialogues, most of the songs, and thinking and ideas behind the stage productions to enable the reader to re-enjoy and understand what he or she has just seen and heard.

Of Into the Woods Sondheim begins by writing that the first act is farce and the second tragedy. As many people know by now, the matter consists of at least 6 folk and fairy tale figures conceived as ordinary people who (like Six Characters in Search of an Author) must enact quests, all of which require them to go into the woods where they collide with one another, and do not exactly live happily ever after by the end. Many may not know Sondheim and James Lapine also saw the characters as “first achieving their goals, and then dealing with the consequences of what they did there.”

They did not follow Bettelheim’s Uses of Enchantment: Sondheim says this book is cited as their source by many people because it’s so well-known. Sondheim seems to dislike Bettelheim’s book and refers to Bettelheim’s terrible behavior at his aslyum. He says what James (who wrote the book) was interested in: “the little dishonesties that enabled the characters to reach their happy endings;” he was “sceptical about the possibility of ‘happy ever after'” (so could not be a Bettelheim person as Bettelheim justified the cruelty of the tales by the happy endings, which he insisted children believed in).

James’s play, Twelve Dreams, shows he was drawn to Carl Jung; they talked to a Jungian psychiatrist; learnt all the tales they chose were known in versions virtually around the world. The exception is “Jack and the Beanstalk” which seems to be a British Isles folk tale. Sondheim much preferred Grimm versions to those of Perrault (and says Disney and US school vesions come from the French). The gimmick was to mash the tales together. Sondheim gives Lapine credit for the elegance of the interweave. They ended up giving 3 midnights for the Baker and his wife to supply the witch’s demands before she’d give them a child:

The cow as white as milk,
The cape as red as blood.
The hair as yellow as corn —
The slipper as pure as gold.

As to himself (he writes the lyrics and music, the core of all opera), he sees the result as a musical about parents and children, about their relationships. Songs are about the experience of learning and gently ironic about what’s learnt. Sondheim remarks that the Baker and his wife are a contemporary urban couple trying to survive and to have a baby. What remains in my memory from Disney’s version is the Baker’s wife seeing Rapunzel’s hair rushing madly to the tower to wrest it, climb up and scissor it off. So Disney captures a current US obsession one finds in married women (they must become mothers).

The photos chosen are from a 2011 production done in Regent’s Park, London. The pages include sample scores, and handwritten notes and songs first written out in fairish copies reproduced. One of the photos is so large but scrumptious because of the park setting; the witch’s outfit is superb. There were no children in any of the parts; adults give the roles more depth.

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“Our Little World:” Rapunzel and her mother-witch clinging and rocking

Onto this year’s Disney movie: I didn’t need to read the the songs and dialogues and outline to recognize that Sondheim and Lapine’s stage play had been changed well beyond the needs of a film. the movie is directed by Rob Marshall, and the credits for writing are to James Lapine. There is a name given to someone else for the screenplay on the film credits, but it does not appear on IMDB. So like a translator a central person responsible for the movie is not named — perhaps he worked his screenplay from Lapine’s to Disneyfy it, and then they collaborated?

When we got out of the theater, Yvette recounted to me all the many literal large literal changes: while on stage and in the movie the baker’s wife (Emily Blunt) and Jack’s mother both die, in the movie Rapunzel (Macknzie Mauzy) does not kill herself after having a nervous breakdown from those years in the tower, but rather has a short episode of PTSD and is rescued by one of the princes.

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The Disney film Rapunzel is at least not altogether well

In the movie the evil witch (Meryl Streep) self-destructs rather spectacularly; in the play she lives on. Each of the changes has the effect of making for more (however serendipitious) justice and less misery. The play is further disneyfied by an over-production that overpowers, prettifies, drowns out the striking moments of exceptional embodiments of some of the characters (e.g., Johnny Depp as the wolf capering into nothingness) and the singing and acting of the lyrics smooths out to make neutral witty lyrics that mock heterosexual romance.

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Promotional still of Johnny Depp as the wolf, and Lilla Crawford as Little Red

As I watched the movie reminded me of our last year’s time with the Disney Saving Mr Banks: two child stars at the center; the anguish of frustrated husband-hero (here the Baker, James Corden, last year Mr Banks).

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At Regent’s Park an adult actor played Jack

There was not one seat unfilled in the auditorium (and yet the movie was playing on two screens) of this house meant for a mass audience I don’t usually sit among so the laughter at inanities further got in the way, not to omit an opening nerve-wracking full half-hour of tremendously noisy, flashing trailers for action-adventure fantasies and crude teenage sequels.

Nonetheless, not all disquiet could be removed, and this masterpiece retains some of its power and intense vivacity: by the middle of the second hour, I was sufficiently intensely engaged that I was surprised by grief when Cinderella (Anna Kendrick) burst into the song lyrics of “No one is alone:”

Sometimes people leave you
Halfway through the wood
Others may deceive you.
You decide what’s good.
You decide alone.
But no one is alone …
Cinderella to the Baker (in original version sung to Little Red who suddenly misses her grandmother)

Jim has left us halfway through the wood. At the moment of that song, of the plangent music, I was reminded of how strangely filled with his absence the world everywhere now is, the very air I see registers he’d not there by its color, wherever I go I wish what even this fairy tale wouldn’t grant, wipe away death, the past year and one half and return to the comfort of his presence. He would not have liked this movie adaptation but would have gone for the sake of the day’s togetherness.

I began to cry and Yvette & I held hands. She felt and knew too. This is not the only passionate adult number. There’s the witch’s sudden appeal to Rapunzel, “Stay with me:” “Don’t you know what’s out there in the world? … Stay at home … Who out there could love you more than I? …

Stay with me
The world is dark and wild
Stay a child while you can be a child …

Or the “Agony” of the two princes (Cinderella’s and Rapunzel’s, Chris Pine and Billy Magnussen). What can have caused this “disdain”? or her vanishing? Not every thing in life revolves around love and human need for company. Jack’s mother (Tracey Ullman) worries about starving; Jack (Daniel Hutttlestone) is attached to his cow:

Exclusive... Tracey Ullman Films "Into The Woods"
Jack is fonder of the cow than his mother

The “indecisive” Cinderella (the wittiest moment of the whole experience) does not trust to anyone, “The skies are strange/The winds are strong.”

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She realizes her dress and shoes are stuck in sticky-pitch the prince has laid across the steps to halt her nightly flights

Even the plucky Little Red is not unflappable. Indeed the the sky’s air is filled with a fearful giant who stands for whatever you want. Sondheim’s characteristic staccato rhythms keep interrupting with aphoristic fragments that linger in the mind: “how do you say to a child who’s in flight./Don’t slip away and I won’t hold so tight.” “Children will listen,” and the lyrics from the musical’s secondary big and repeating number, are justly famous:

Careful the spell you cast,
Not just on children.
Sometimes the spell may last
Past what you can see
And turn against you.

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The five characters left to leave the wood and live together at the close: Baker, new baby, Cinderella (who doesn’t mind some cleaning she suddenly says), Jack and Little Red

There is much sheer situation comedy too: the vexed characters argue at cross-purposes, accusing one another of being at fault.

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The Baker attempts to reason Little Red into giving up her red cloak

As to romance, it seems Chris Pine is a new heart-throb (Disney people know what they are doing when they cast roles):

INTO-THE-WOODS-Chris-Pine

It’s significant to note that there is not one African-American actor on the screen who is visible — except perhaps fleetingly in non-speaking walk-on roles.

I thought Disney ruined Streep’s ability to perform when her aging face was transformed into a youthful mask of such thick wrinkle-free flesh it was clear they didn’t want anyone to identify her as a 50+ year old woman who has some realities of aging. Can’t have that. Of all the performers she seemed least able to overcome the Disneyfying all around her. Maybe she was trying too hard.

Still, especially if you’ve never seen the musical before, or haven’t seen it for a long time (my case), I recommend going, perhaps on off-hours and with a determined attempt to come in just as the actual movie is starting (avoiding attached trailers).

Like so many people in my area (and as far as I could see from the TV news across the US), Christmas day has become a day to go to a movie. The parking lot of our local huge 12 screen movie-house was filled by the time Yvette and I left at 3:30 pm.” Two movies were sold out: The Imitation Game (I do mean to go by myself next week) and Unbroken. If the holiday is still centered in the family, the family no longer spends the whole day home together. Probably wise. Hard to say how many do this as the roads were fairly empty. The streets quiet. I like the quiet of the streets, few people about, later in the day in pairs or little groups or alone, walking with pets.

It may be becoming commoner to do “a Jewish Christmas:” She and I went to an Chinese restaurant I remember going to nearly 30 years ago (not on Christmas), a small one which has Peking duck and well-cooked other dishes at a reasonable price; and while we didn’t need a reservation, by the time we left (after 5 pm) there was a 20 minute wait for a table. We enjoyed talking of the movie afterwards: Yvette has a good memory and regaled me with the details of a production she said she, I and Jim had seen some years ago at Mason University and we talked of the individual actors’ careers and performances.

In the evening my cousin just my age (woman, like me, many years married) phoned me and I was good hour on the phone with her catching up. A planned tentative Boxing Day with my other daughter, Caroline, at the National Gallery (the museums in DC on the day after Christmas are most of them open and crowded with shows mounted for just this holiday time) did not come off today. Among other things, I had the time wrong: Georgian Cinema begins January 12th. But the place will have this unusual early film exhibit, which I will go to in a couple of weeks.

I will ever remember the summer the Kennedy Center allowed Eric Schaeffer to take over the place with his direction of some 8 Sondheim musicals. How Jim, I and Yvette went to 6 (at a high price). How at the end of the summer, the day of the last performance of A Little Night Music (the last of all the performances), there were acts going on all over the building, some seemed spontaneous. How Jim loved best Passion and A Little Night Music and Merrily We Roll Along (not enough well known, a bitterer one about the cost of a successful career whose gimmick is to tell the story backwards). Jim nonetheless wanted to see them all and if any came into our area, or we were in any place where one was showing, he’d choose it as one of the theatrical events we’d go to.

As I read the book last night I found myself regretting I had not sat down and read it with him, nor the one I bought him the year later for Christmas, Finishing the Hat (covering the years 195-1981),

finishing-the-hat

more and earlier musicals told of, younger photos of him, with an essay on Rhyme and Its Reasons, which I will today.

I regret all the time I spent at my computer, on the Net, and not with him. I feel an irony in that I deluded myself I had company, made myself not so alone by my time here; well here I am condemned to do it for life, or until I can’t any more when I’m too old. Like some fairy tale.

Once in a while he’d say “you don’t pay attention to me,” half-teasing. I have to tell myself if he had wanted me to spend more time with him, he’d have asked for it and because he had a way of putting things that compelled my immediate assent if the utterance was serious, I would have. Sometimes I think he didn’t want me all that close. Anyway that’s what I tell myself (the little dishonesties the characters tell themselves in the tales) in this great absence I must live with everywhere and all the time.

Ellen

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Vivien Leigh as Blanche DuBois (1951 Kazan/Williams Streetcar Named Desire)

Dear friends and readers,

Another announcement of a publication. (Rest assured very soon this will stop and I will return to our regularly scheduled programming mostly about films and books.) I’m happy to say my review of Nora Gilbert’s Better Left Unsaid: Victorian Novels, Hays Code Films and the Benefits of Censorship is now published on-line in Cercles: Revue pluridisciplinaire du monde anglophone

Better Left Unsaid, reviewed by Ellen Moody

Those who read this blog more than occasionally may recognize a few of the films I’ve written blog reviews of: Preston Sturges’s Miracle of Morgan’s Street, Cukor’s Philadelphia Story and Gaslight, Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life. I’ve been enjoying myself mightily watching (and re-watching) a selection of the films covered by this book and also reading for the first time (Thackeray’s Catherine: A Story) and rereading (Bronte’s Villette) a selection of its Victorian novels, not to omit material on actresses and other people centrally involved in film-making.

The book is significant because aspects of its thesis, its assumptions may be found in many recent and older publications. Perhaps among the more interesting of the secondary books I read was the collection by Kucich and Sadoff called Victorian Afterlife (about historical fiction too), and some of the individual screenplays and books on these films; also James Chandler’s The Archeaology of Sympathy comparing 18th century sentimental novels with (among other film-makers) Capra.

I would not have thought comparable Austen’s Mansfield Park with Cukor’s Gaslight:

BergmanGaslight
Ingrid Bergman as Paula Alquist readying herself virtuously for bed (1944 Cukor/John Van Druten Gaslight).

I also liked following trails away from the main movies and books under consideration; one of these I’ve seen before included a commentary on the famous scene between Rod Steiger and Marlon Brando in On the Waterfront where in the make-believe cab seat we and Charlie Malloy (Steiger) are made to feel Charlie’s terrible betrayal of Terry Malloy (Brando)

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(Kazan/Schulberg, 1954 On the Waterfront)

I wish I had made more time to develop separate blogs on these books and films but do urge my readers to read and to watch or re-watch these books & films.

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See some Christmas commentary coming out of It’s a Wonderful Life this year – Jimmy Stewart as George Bailey pleading with the inexorable banker to give him more time (it’s the banker who has been able to steal the money George had been saving to pay his debt).

Ellen

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