Saturday, April 30, 2011

More Royal Wedding fashion...

I can't seem to help myself. I woke up this morning to a notification that the Royal Family had released the official wedding photos (for some reason it cracks me up that the British Monarchy has its own official photostream on Flickr).

I love the expressions on the kids' faces in this photo, they are all too cute! (Click to view larger image.)

The Official Royal Wedding photographs

I can't imagine having the freaking Throne Room in Buckingham Palace as the setting for a formal wedding group picture. The elegance of just this glimpse overwhelmes me! (Click to view larger image.)

The Official Royal Wedding photographs

The Official Royal Wedding photographs

I completely forgot to look for pictures of Kate's gown for the reception(s) after the wedding yesterday, so I simply had to rectify that error this morning.

Just as classy as her wedding dress. I love the fact that she went with the same designer, Sarah Burton, for both dresses. I don't know if that is the norm for royal weddings, but it provides a nice sense of continuity between the ceremony dress and the reception gown.

Sister Pippa looks every bit as classy, though I confess the neckline is a bit too low for me to be comfortable with it. *wink* I love the color, though, and the Grecian "feel" of the dress. Very elegant.

And last but certainly not least, I have got to tell you I loved Carole Middleton's evening dress. Absolutely gorgeous, so elegant and classy. It's easy to see where her daughters got their looks and poise. This may just be my favorite of the three.

Thoughts? :)

South Riding starts Sunday!

I am so incredibly excited about the next presentation on Masterpiece Classic, starting this Sunday. South Riding is a new three-part drama with a script penned by the prolific Andrew Davies and brought to life by a slew of Masterpiece veterans. Here's a bit about the story we have to look forward to:
Don't miss Bleak House's Anna Maxwell Martin as a feisty young headmistress campaigning for change and avoiding love in Depression-era Yorkshire when South Riding debuts this Sunday, May 1, 2011, on MASTERPIECE Classic. David Morrissey (Sense & Sensibility) and Penelope Wilton (Downton Abbey) also star in Andrew Davis' adaptation of Winifred Holtby's classic novel.
The above teaser neglects to mention that a favorite of mine, Douglas Henshall (yay for Primeval!) is also in this production. You can watch a short preview below:

Watch the full episode. See more Masterpiece.

Look for my review of Part One on Monday! :)

Friday, April 29, 2011

The Royal Wedding

I wasn't planning on doing a royal wedding post, but I find I can't resist. :) It's no secret that I love all things British, and back in Diana's heyday I took more than passing interest in the royal family, I confess. That interest has waned a bit over the years, but there is something about the spectacle and romance of a royal wedding that proves irresistible. I was able to watch most of the ceremony this morning while getting ready for work, and it was a gorgeous, moving service - I loved everything about it, from the music to the readings and to the Bishop of London's sermon.

I'm not one of those women who have always had this perfect idea of what I want my wedding dress to look like someday. There have been plenty of gowns that have come close, but not until today did I ever see a dress that I thought was pretty much perfect. :)

Oh well done, Princess Kate. Simple, classy, and elegant. Very reminscent of Grace Kelly's wedding dress from 1956. I just adore the throwback, 1940s-1950s feel of the dress. More pics, because I can't help myself...

Oh the kiss. How sweet. :) Best wishes to the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge!

I can't leave out maid of honor Pippa Middleton's gown - I think it has a wonderful 1930s vibe to it. I think she and Harry would make a lovely couple. Just sayin'. :)

Oh, I can't forget to mention my favorite piece of music used during the ceremony - "Jerusalem," from the poem by William Blake with music by Sir Hubert Parry.

What did everyone else think?

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows PART 2 TRAILER!

This is gonna be so good.

Jane Eyre (1944) - Guest Review

Friends, I am absolutely thrilled to welcome Laurel Ann from Austenprose to the blog today with a guest film review as part of my All Things Jane celebration! Austenprose is one of the premiere destinations in the blogosphere for all things Jane Austen related. Laurel Ann features a plethora of Austen-related book reviews (new editions of her novels, as well as the sequels they've inspired), film and miniseries reviews, Masterpiece discussions!
This year, Austenprose is playing host to two fabulous reading challenges (which I'm woefully behind on - need to work on that!) - The Sense and Sensibility Bicentenary Challenge 2011 and the Being a Jane Austen Mystery Reading Challenge 2011.
On October 11th, Laurel Ann's first book, Jane Austen Made Me Do It, a collection of short stories edited by the Austenprose webmistress, will release - and you can count on seeing it featured here. :)
Please welcome Laurel Ann and her review of the classic 1944 film version of Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre!
Jane Eyre (1944) – A Review

Tagline: A Love Story Every Woman would Die a Thousand Deaths to Live!

There has been so much discussed and written about the 1944 movie adaptation of Charlotte Bronte’s classic novel, Jane Eyre. Masterpiece, monumental and engrossing are some of the generous praise thrown at its feet. I confess to being one of its loyal admirers having been charmed at a very young age. It remained my all-time favorite movie for many years. Now, looking back at it with a more critical eye, and with many new adaptations to compare it to, it still remains my favorite movie adaptation of the novel so far. I am not a professional film critic, but I can share my reasons why this film moves me to tears even after many viewings, and many years.

Jane Eyre is by far the most popular of Charlotte Bronte’s books, and quite possibly the most well-known of any Victorian novel. Only Charles Dickens' David Copperfield may rival her tale in popularity and readership. Set in the bleak, harsh moors of North England, the story is so familiar that I fear I will repeat myself here if elaborate on it too freely, so here is a very brief synopsis: Jane Eyre, a plain and outspoken young orphan girl is thrown over by her wealthy aunt and sent to a harsh and loveless girl’s institution where she barely survives and manages to eek out an education.

Leaving at age 18, Jane becomes a governess to the French ward of Mr. Rochester of Thornfield Hall in Yorkshire. It is also a cold, mysterious environment until Jane’s constancy and spunk warm the heart of its deeply troubled master Edward Rochester. There are dark secrets lurking in the Hall, including a strange woman named Grace Pool who lives in the attic. Jane and Rochester’s friendship earns her trust and respect and she falls in love with him. Rumors that he will marry a beautiful society debutant forces Jane to face the fact of their social differences are a barrier to his love. She cannot stay and witness him paying his attentions to his new wife and tells him she must leave. He reveals his love and proposes. She accepts. At their wedding ceremony a stranger declares an impediment. Rochester drags his bride and the party back to Thornfield and up into the attic to expose the dark secret which will tear Jane and Rochester apart.

The Cast:

Each of the characters was brilliantly cast, drawn from the golden age of the Hollywood studio system at 20th Century Fox. Orson Welles’ intense, tormented Rochester brooded and boomed the requisite angst and emotion in the most eloquent of baritone tones. Rochester’s voice is so important, and that is where many of the later versions have failed. They whine and simper when they should not. My one puzzlement was with his dark makeup which almost made him look like the Moor of Othello, which he would later portray on film in 1952. You notice the stark contrast in his complexion in scenes with the fair, bewildered Jane Eyre played with delicate vulnerability and strident resolve by Joan Fontaine. This may be all for emotional affect – the dark and light – the bad and the good – contrasting their personalities as opposites, but found it one step over-the-top.

The secondary characters support the story beautifully. There are so many that I will only mention my three favorites: Agnes Moorehead as Mrs. Reed has a very minor role, but she just oozes indolence and arrogance like no other actress of this era. The young actresses in this movie really shine. Peggy Ann Garner as the young Jane is outstanding, relaying the spirit and puzzlement of her situation and Margaret O’Brien as Rochester’s French ward Adele steals every scene. Watch her eyes flash and facial expressions when Rochester returns home to Thornfield with gifts of the dancing dress and slippers. Amazing for one so young. I would be remiss if I did not mention the luminescent violet eyed Elizabeth Taylor as the doomed Helen, Jane’s only friend at Lowood School. It is one of her early roles and she just glows with early stardom.

The Production:

Jane Eyre is a gothic tale, yet few movies relay this fact as affectively as this black and white masterpiece. The use chiaroscuro, deep, long shadows and stark light, used to perfection by painters of the Renaissance, adds an eerie presence of mystery and tension to the scenes. The sweeping and dramatic music score by Bernard Herman, who also scored Citizen Kane and The Ghost and Mrs. Muir, enhances the drama at important moments. The startling garden scene where Rochester proposes to Jane with the wind howls and lightning striking a tree is all tingly terror and happiness all at once thanks to the music. The direction by the venerable Robert Stevenson was overshadowed by Orson Welles’ heavy hand and input behind the camera. Even though Stevenson is given full directing credit, so much of Welles’ unique filmatic style in imprinted in this movie that it must have been a difficult collaboration. The costuming is interesting. Jane wears only about two different demure frocks, and the gown for the elegant gold-digger Blanch Ingram (Hillary Brooke) who is trying to snag the rich Rochester, is as gaudy and flashy as her personality. Visually, this movie is all about contrasts of personalities, settings and emotions.

My Praise:

So why does the 1944 Jane Eyre remain my favorite movie version of Bronte’s classic story? Besides the amazing cast, superb art direction, sweeping music and the perceptive direction – the script adapted from Bronte’s novel by John Housman, Aldous Huxley and Robert Stevenson – though truncated and not strictly faithful to Bronte’s narrative, stands out as the most tragic, romantic and emotionally wrenching of any of the seven versions I have seen so far, including the new theatrical movie released in March staring Mia Wasikowska and Michael Fassbender. I am still strongly convinced that this tale can only be told as a Gothic one, filmed in black and white, and should supply us with two tormented characters who overcome social barriers, a tragic past and emotional upheaval to find the love that they were destined to deserve.

Jane Eyre (1944)
20th Century Fox
Directed by Robert Stevenson
Screenplay by John Housman, Aldous Huxley and Robert Stevenson
Cinematography by George Barnes
97 minutes


Laurel Ann, thank you again for your interest and generosity in contributing a guest post for All Things Jane. Thanks to your thoughtful commentary and wonderful screen captures, I'm inspired to revisit this film version of Jane Eyre - it's been FAR too long since I've seen it.

To those you have seen this film version, I'd love to hear your thoughts! And to anyone who hasn't, I dearly hope that this review has piqued your interest as it has mine. :)

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Review: The Sugar Queen by Sarah Addison Allen

The Sugar Queen
By: Sarah Addison Allen
Publisher: Random House
ISBN: 978-0-553-38484-0

About the book:

Josey Cirrini is sure of three things: winter is her favorite season, she's a sorry excuse for a Southern belle, and sweets are best eaten in the privacy of her closet. For while Josey has settled into an uneventful life in her mother's house, her one consolation is the stockpile of sugary treats and paperback romances she escapes into each night....Until she finds her closet harboring Della Lee Baker, a local waitress who is one part nemesis - and two parts fairy godmother. With Della Lee's tough love, Josey's narrow existence quickly expands. She even bonds with Chloe Finley, a young woman who is hounded by books that inexplicably appear when she needs them - and who has a close connection to Josey's long-time crush. Soon Josey is living in a world where the color red has startling powers, and passion can make eggs fry in their cartons. And that's just for starters.

Brimming with warmth, wit, and a sprinkling of magic, here is a spellbinding tale of friendship, love - and the enchanting possibilities of every new day.


Josey Cirrini lives a quiet, unremarkable life in the small Southern town of Bald Slope, NC, caring for her elderly (and domineering) mother, Margaret. When she’s not catering to Margaret’s every whim, attempting to make up for being a disappointing child, she escapes into her secret closet refuge, stocked to overflowing with romance novels and every variety of candy imaginable. Josey’s predictable existence starts to unravel the morning she discovers the bold and brassy Della Lee, a local waitress, has taken up residence in her closet and refuses to leave. Desperate to rid herself of the unwanted closet squatter and afraid Della will expose her secret affinity for sweets to the world, Josey reluctantly finds herself acquiescing to Della’s demands. Della’s unique brand of tough love gradually chips away at the carefully set boundaries of Josey’s life. For the first time in her nearly 30 years, Josey gains a friend – Chloe, a sandwich shop owner suffering from her own heartbreak, who mysteriously attracts books, and her secret crush, Adam the mailman, starts to notice her existence as more than just another stop on his route. When painful family secrets come to light, Josey must decide if she’s ready to shed the shackles of her past and live life to the fullest, embracing risk and devouring the delicious possibilities of the unknown, or remain content with the status quo. But can she take that first brave step?

Oh how I loved this book. After seeing a lot of buzz around the blogosphere about Sarah Addison Allen’s fiction, I decided to give the author a try – and I can honestly say that I have never, ever read a book that captivated me from the start like The Sugar Queen. It sounds so clichéd to say this, but it is truly magical in every sense of the word. Magical and yet heart-breaking, real and honest and authentic, brimming with Southern charm and characters so real and wonderful it almost hurts to read about them. Allen’s writing is like comfort food without the calories. For all of Josey’s quirks and her rather eccentric upbringing, Allen never makes you pity her – because she’s so emotionally honest, you can’t help but relate to Josey’s growing pains as she comes into her own. Allen deftly explores the complexities of mother-daughter relationships, the push-and-pull that can make or break them, never resorting to cardboard characters or caricatures. And she has to be one of the masters at writing restrained, but passionate romantic tension. The delicate dance Josey and Adam engage in as they slowly, hesitantly, begin to wake up to the possibilities within each other is simply gorgeous to witness.
The Sugar Queen is deceptively, beautifully simple. Allen possesses a gift for revealing the magic inherent in everyday, ordinary things – like the power of books, the color red, or the delivery of the mail. The residents of Bald Slope, from the fledgling Josey, who simply needed a little push to spread her wings, to Chloe, who had to rediscover herself after losing her essence in the overwhelming passion of love and heartbreak, are achingly real, raw and honest characters. Even the unlikable characters, that could have been cartoonish villains, are drawn with depth and richness on the page. I loved the way the chapter titles, named for Josey’s beloved candies, tie into the action that follows. The candy that once gave Josey fulfillment now chronicle her liberation – a clever touch. While this is a relatively short novel (just under 300 pages), Allen’s prose unfolds with the leisurely pace of a lazy summer afternoon, every word and action deliberately and powerfully placed in the narrative. This whimsical modern-day fairy tale absorbed me from start to finish with its charm and dash of magic. Allen’s characters are rare jewels, leaving me enriched for having spent time in their company. One thing I can promise you, it won’t be long before I lose myself in the pages of one of Sarah Addison Allen’s novels again.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Upstairs Downstairs, Part Three: "The Cuckoo"

Upstairs Downstairs concluded its all-too-short three hour run on Masterpiece Classic last night with an emotionally charged episode that saw the residents of 165 Eaton Place, both upstairs and down, experience a day of "unimaginable things." Relationships are restored, secrets are laid bare, and decisions are made that will leave an indelible impact on the lives of the Holland family and their servants. Here's the detailed summary of episode three from the PBS website:

A chance encounter with greatness goes to Mrs. Thackeray's head, and in turn annoys Rose, who, fed up with her pretensions, unleashes an insult so great that it sparks a feud. Yet despite the embattled cook and housekeeper, the downstairs staff is united in their love and nurturing of the child Lotte, who appears to need more help than they can provide. With even more than her customary authority, Maud steps up to take charge, whisking the child away for treatment even as she guards a secret of her own.

Preoccupied with the abdication crisis, Hallam attempts to buy some time from the press by hosting a special dinner for the Duke of Kent, placing 165 Eaton Street in the center of the monarchy's storm. Now preoccupied, Agnes has abdicated her responsibility of Persie, who has snapped the long leash her sister provided, and begun engaging in behavior that threatens to taint them all. Only Lotte's absence galvanizes Hallam to bring light into his home, purging it of dishonor and dark secrets that have been hidden for too long. But just as the king charts his fate, a momentous event will change the Holland family forever.
Where part two had a distinctly political feel to it and a sharp upper-class focus, this week brings the entire downstairs staff back into the picture. The episode opens with the news that famed portrait photographer Cecil Beaton (Christopher Harper) is scheduled to come to Eaton Place to photograph Agnes (Keeley Hawes) and Persie (Claire Foy). Beaton's visit integrated a fascinating piece of real-life history into the show. Thanks to his fashion and society portraits, Beaton was quite the stylemaker, with a gift that could make a "lady look like a porcelain goddess, and a servant look like a queen" (as host Laura Linney shared in her episode introduction). It is no surprise that the high-society loving cook Mrs. Thackeray (Anne Reid) is a big fan of Beaton's portraits, and simply can't resist the urge to sneak a peek at his elaborate sets. Thackeray's wildest dreams come true when she meets the famous photographer, who in a flash of inspiration and kind indulgence fulfills all of her wildest dreams by snapping her portrait. I don't know what it was about this scene, but Reid's thrill at meeting Beaton really reminded me of my grandmother (mom's side). She loved talking about the class and glamour of the 1930s, and while Mrs. Thackeray's brush with fame was played for laughs, there was something undeniably poignant about her genuine pleasure meeting a connoisseur of beauty like Beaton and not being found wanting.

Mrs. Thackeray's pride in her brush with fame balloons to epic proportions when she receives a copy of Beaton's portrait in the mail, eager to display it on the mantel in the servants' common area. Rose (Jean Marsh), insists such a display isn't appropriate, and confiscates the portrait, leading Mrs. Thackeray to insult Rose's love of tradition and memory of her service with the Bellamy family. The balance of power, even among the servants, is a delicate one to maintain. And the conflict between Thackeray and Rose brings added to tension to an environment already strained by Hallam's young ward.

The orphaned Lotte Perlmutter (Alexia James) is a source of stress both upstairs and down - a heavy burden for a young child to bear. Since her mother's death the child has continued to refuse to speak, much to housemaid Ivy's (Ellie Kendrick) chagrin - she's taken a deeply personal interest in the girl thanks to her friendship with Lotte's mother Rachel (Helen Bradbury). Sir Hallam (Ed Stoppard) remains determined to provide for the child, though it becomes clear that, at least in part, his compassion for Lotte stems from memories of his beloved younger sister Pamela, who passed away when he was a child. It's interesting, and a very telling moment, when Hallam's mother Maud (Eileen Atkins) steps in and takes charge of Lotte's future, recognizing that the child's severe psychological trauma needs professional help, more help than the well-intentioned residents of Eaton Place can provide. The voiceover, when Amanjit composes a letter detailing what little is known of Lotte's family and her past as they prepare for her depature just broke my heart. How many children lose their history because they aren't fortunate enough to fall in with people who care enough to document their story?

The political realities of the time also distract Hallam from the turmoil brewing in his home. The recently crowned Edward VIII is on the verge of abdicating so he can marry the controversial Wallis Simpson, and Hallam is called on by Edward's younger brother Prince George, the Duke of Kent (Blake Ritson) to host an intimate dinner with the goal of convincing a newspaper magnate, who also happens to be a close confidante of Wallis, to keep news of the impending controversial action out of the press a little while longer. I thought it was a brilliant move to make Hallam the close friend and confidant of a member of the royal family - one who, even in the recent film The King's Speech, was out of the limelight enough that any interactions with Hallam are made more plausible by the factor of the relative unknown. It was terrific seeing Ritson back in a Masterpiece production - he's appeared in the most recent (and utterly forgettable) Mansfield Park, as Mr. Elton in Emma, and the superb Holocaust drama God on Trial.

So, now that I've briefly introduced the dramatic threads of this episode, I have to touch on my absolute favorite storyline - chauffer Harry (Neil Jackson) renouncing socialism and getting fed up with Persie's little games. I AM SO PROUD OF YOU, HARRY! :) Yay for reformed fictional would-be socialists! The violent aftermath of the protest in part two, coupled with Rachel's sudden death, seems to have stripped the scales from his eyes and left him genuinely sickened by his involvment in the movement. There's this adorable scene where a still-silent Lotte is hanging out with him in the garage, wearing his chauffer's hat, and it seems to hint at a kindness and patience with the child that I really wish we could've seen more of. Poor Harry...I think he really cared about Persie to some extent. But as much as her rejection may sting, I loved the fact that he was the one to end their little affair, seeming more grieved by the fact that he got sucked into her shallow vortex of doom at all then their parting of ways. YAY FOR A REFRESHINGLY SMART CHAUFFER!!!

Of course Persie is more enamoured than ever with socialism, and as Harry's feelings for her cool she renews her sickening flirtation with Herr Joachim von Ribbentrop (Edward Baker-Duly). Ribbentrop is only too happy to oblige, and Persie's secret relationship with Hitler's emissary casts an unexpectedly dark cloud over the Holland home. Clearly the freedoms and privilege her sister Agnes was so eager to grant her have been very irresponsibly used. *sigh* Persie is a completely loathsome, appalling, wholly selfish character - I could seriously care less that by the end of the episode she's headed directly into the lion's den, returning to Berlin with her Nazi friends. I only hope that she's not completely written out of the show, because as the world moves closer and closer to war I would dearly love to see the selfish twit receive her comeuppance. Till that day, I'll content myself with the moment Hallam confronts her and is left rather shell-shocked by her callous disregard for the family. A harsh wake-up call, but a necessary one.

Another excellent aspect of this episode was the devastatingly emotional way in which Hallam's often-testy relationship with his mother reaches the boiling point. He's infuriated that she whisked Lotte away without so much as a by-your-leave, and after hunting up the asylum address - over Mr. Amanjit's (Art Malik) objections (and seriously, WHAT WAS UP WITH AMANJIT'S HAIR IN THAT SCENE?!) - he takes off, only to discover that Maud has sequestered Lotte at the SAME HOSPITAL AS HIS SISTER (Sarah Gordy)! Is this over-the-top and dramatic? ABSOLUTELY. But I LOVED it. This discovery shakes Hallam to the core, and forces a confrontation with his mother that ultimately brings the two closer together. We live in such a different world now, realizing that children with Down's Syndrome were sent away from their families to live in homes, because "that's just what people did" then is a harsh, heart-breaking reality. The fact that Pamela recognized Hallam, thanks to the fact that her room was covered in photos chronicling his life just tore me to pieces - such a brilliant, emotionally-charged moment, really well-played by Stoppard. Also, I have to give kudos to Ritson for his acting in the conversation with Hallam that precedes his reconciliation with Maud - the whole speech about forgiveness, the line "when there's no forgiveness, love is just...unbearable" - Heidi Thomas, that was a brilliant moment.

Sadly, Agnes's character has been more frustrating than likable for most of this series. Hawes is such a great actress, capable of bringing wonderful emotional depth to a role, and I think this script really under-used her to a large extent. Apparently we're supposed to contribute Agnes's reluctance to tolerate Lotte in her home and basically ceding control of the household to Maud to some combination of pregnancy stress and mother-in-law frustration. Her turn-around by the end of the episode was welcome, but sadly under-developed. I thought it was a nice touch to have her "bond" with Maud over the highly melodramatic birth of her child in the BATHROOM DURING EDWARD'S ABDICATION SPEECH (seriously?!). Crazy over-the-top, but it was a fantastic excuse for the unflappable Pritchard (Adrian Scarborough) to reveal some hitherto unknown medical knowledge and gain LOTS of goodwill with the Hollands, resulting in the return of footman Johnny (Nico Mirallegro), who has presumably dried out and maybe taken an anger management class or two.

Part three ends on a heart-warming Christmas note, with the entire household, sans Persie, gathered to celebrate the holidays. I am seriously saddened to see this show end, and I'm already looking forward to the new series, anticipated for 2012. I seem to recall a rumor that the 2nd series will be six hours long - this should go a long way toward rectifying the "rushed" feel of series one. So much story was crammed into so little time - while I loved every second of it, I can't help but wish we'd been given more time to get to know the residents of 165 Eaton Place, and for the intricate personal and political dramas woven throughout the story to have unfolded a more liesurely pace.

While I was thrilled to see Lotte recovered, the series would've benefited from a brief explanation of how she came to return to Eaton Place so quickly. It was absolutely wonderful to see her interact with Hallam - I love the fact that he's stepping up into the role of surrogate father, and now that Agnes has had her baby, she seems much nicer - so there's hope there too. I also loved the fact that Hallam has brought his sister Pamela into his home - one hopes that we'll see more of their relationship in future episodes.

It would be easy to focus on what Upstairs Downstairs is not, but I for one am happy the show possessed such lofty story-telling goals. I admit it, every once in a while I just want to be entertained by a fast-paced, compelling and addictive melodrama - and on that score, Upstairs Downstairs delivers in spades. The historical background of this series fascinates me, and I love the way the script has our characters interact with real-life historical figures. It makes the story, and the consequences of one's actions, that much more compelling to watch unfold. I'm really looking forward to revisiting this show on DVD. If you made it through all three installments, I'd love to hear your thoughts!

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Water for Elephants

I went to see Water for Elephants yesterday with my friend Leah, and oh my word I loved it. I've never read the novel by Sara Gruen, so I have nothing with which to compare the film. However, I have to confess I have a little-known love affair with circus films, which is probably weird since I've never attended a show. Now, I was never all that fond of Dumbo (too sad), but growing up I couldn't get enough the romance of Billy Rose's Jumbo, the melodrama of Cecil B. DeMille's The Greatest Show on Earth, or the high-flying theatricality of Trapeze. Couple a circus story with delicious 1930s sets and costumes? I'm so there. So obviously, I was already predisposed to liking this film. Now a little bit about the story for the uninitiated...

Jacob Jankowski, the only son of Polish immigrants, is on the verge of graduating with a degree in veterinary medicine when his career is derailed by the tragic death of both parents in an auto accident. When the bank forecloses on the family home (a casualty of the Depression), he takes to the road and joins the Benzini Brothers Circus, run by August, a temperamental man prone to wild fits of anger and dangerously dark moods. August is married to the show's star attraction, the incandescentally beautiful Marlena, a talented bareback rider. With the country deep in the throes of the Great Depression, the Benzini Bros. is barely getting by. August sinks all of his hopes in the acquisition of Rosie the elephant, and he'll do anything to get ahead - and I mean anything. When Jacob does the unthinkable - falls in love with Marlena and offers her a better life - August is furious, and his rage-fueled quest for vengeance threatens not only Jacob and Marlena, but the survival of the entire circus.

The film opens with an elderly Jacob, played by a wonderfully heart-wrenching Hal Holbrook, having left his nursing home to visit a traveling circus nearby. There he meets Charlie (Paul Schneider), who expresses interest in Jacob's story when he learns that Jacob was a first-hand witness to the Benzini Brothers Circus disaster of 1931. And so begins our trip down memory lane, experiencing the life-changing year that birthed Jacob's bond with the circus culture and changed the course of his life. I really loved how the film frames the story with the elderly Jacob's reminscences. There is something so incredibly poignant about the way Holbrook plays the scene, the way his face comes so alive when he finds someone interested in his story. It is a powerful reminder of the beauty of listening and the power of story, no?

I was really worried about the fact that Robert Pattinson, the face of (gag me, I'm sorry I can't take it) the Twilight movies, was anchoring this film as the young Jacob. People, I am here to tell you this movie gives me hope that one day Pattinson with be able to overcome the vampire stigma on his career. I'm not willing to say he was great, but he carried off the period piece aspect of the drama MUCH better and more believably than I expected, and he did a creditable job standing up to the star power of Reese Witherspoon and Christoph Waltz, which is no small feat. By the time the climax of the film hits, I really bought Pattinson's emotional involvement in Jacob's character and experiences, to his everlasting credit.

I just love Reese Witherspoon, and I cannot imagine an actress more perfect for the role of Marlena than her. She has the perfect personality and look to convincingly play a 1930s-era woman - in every scene I was struck over and over again by how well she fit within the world of this film. Obviously she was born to wear fabulous 1930s-era clothes (even the over-the-top performance costumes!). Witherspoon brings just the right balance of strength and vulnerability to the role of Marlena. To Marlena's credit, she remains faithful to her marriage much longer than many people would expect, given the abuse she regularly endures at August's hands. Over and over she's the victim of his violently changeable moods, and over and over again she steps into the proverbial lion's den in an attempt to calm him. While I can't condone the fact that Marlena and Jacob end up sleeping together while she's still married to her ass of a husband, I do appreciate the fact that this was not an act easily arrived at - over and over again Jacob and Marlena step back and strive to do the right thing, to not act on their mutual attraction. And surprisingly, I actually found myself buying Witherspoon and Pattinson as an on-screen couple. Especially by the end of the film - Jacob grows up a lot over the course of this movie, and I feel like Pattinson allowed his acting to convey that really quite well. One of his best moments comes when he tells Marlena he wants her to have a better life, with or without him - I loved that he was willing to sacrifice his happiness at that point for hers, whatever the decision she chose to make.

I'm not familiar with the work of Christoph Waltz, but I'd be hard-pressed to think of the last time I was so riveted by an actor's performance. August is an absolutely appalling character, but Waltz is so magnetic, he owns the screen in every single one of his scenes. It's an unsettling experience, being so riveted by such a menacing character. Even when August is in one of his affable, friendly moods, Waltz gives the character an edge, so you are always cognizant of the threat that at any moment, uncontrollable rage could burst to the surface and tip him over the edge into madness. Based on this performance, I'm looking forward to (hopefully) Waltz giving us a suitably menacing Cardinal Richelieu in the upcoming The Three Musketeers film this fall.

From what I've read about Gruen's novel, it pulls no punches in its dark and gritty portrayal of the hardships of Depression-era circus life. I would argue that the film does a stunning job accomplishing the same goal. The circus life Jacob discovers is squalid, filthy, and brutal, but somehow from these unlikely, broken pieces, the performers and roustabouts make magic happen under the big top. I loved the performance scenes, where the film allows us to see the reaction of the audience - for a Depression-era crowd, the circus was a fantastic escape from reality, and the wonder and joy on the faces of the adults and children in the audience is heart-wrenching to behold.

The "grunts" that make the circus magic possible lived an unbelievably hard-scrabble life. One reads in history books about the habit of hobos "riding the rails" from town to town, looking for work. But I'd never heard, or imagined, the dangers such transient workers faced when working for a circus like the Benzini Brothers. Workers are fired by being "redlighted" - thrown off a moving train. If you lived, you were lucky, and with August running the show, if he took a dislike to you every effort was made to decrease your chances of surviving the fall. The circus world dangerous high-wire act for Jacob to navigate - he's drawn to befriend and defend the weakest in the troupe, often to his own peril. 

As an animal lover, one of the most difficult things to witness in this movie was the multiple instances of animal abuse, and the generally harsh conditions in which the menagerie of circus animals lived. The contrast between August's brutal strong-arm tactics and Jacob's gentle, educated perspective is riveting to see play out on-screen. And though the worst of the abuse that Rosie the elephant endures occurs off-screen, it brought tears to my eyes. She is such a magnificent, gentle creature, it's difficult to fathom how only Jacob and Marlena can see and appreciate her glorious existence. (I have got to say, though, could it be any more obvious a plot twist that Rosie ONLY UNDERSTANDS POLISH?!)

I'm a huge film score fan, and James Newton Howard delivers a lush, romantic score for Water for Elephants. He captures the magic, energy, and romance of the film beautifully. The score is complemented by the judicious use of a few period songs, such as "I Need a Little Sugar in My Bowl," performed by Bessie Smith from 1931 and "Button Up Your Overcoat," performed by Ruth Etting from 1929. Period songs just add additional authenticity to the whole feel of the film. And I have to believe that this film will receive multiple Oscar nominations come next year's awards season for its gorgeous costumes and sets (at least!). The look and feel of this movie is an absolute triumph - it's so gritty, and down-to-earth, and real, but at the same time completely magical, that I would've been wholly absorbed by the world of the film alone even if a compelling story was absent. Francis Lawrence serves as director, and he keeps the pace of the film brisk, each shot gorgeously realized and expertly building toward the legendary disaster that destroyed the Benzini circus. I'm doubly impressed with the skillful directing considering that most of Lawrence's credits appear to be for music videos, which was an unexpected background to say the least - he's definitely someone to watch.

I expected to like this movie, but I didn't expect to get so caught up in the story, to fall so in love with the world of the movie and the characters' lives. This is a story about a life well-lived, and living life to the fullest - about overcoming and the beauty to be found in the midst of hardship and strife. I absolutely loved the fact that the older Jacob gets to close out the film and serve as its emotional anchor, if you will. Holbrook exudes a palpable frustration at being old, because in his mind he's every bit as active as when he first joined the circus, every bit as in love with Marlena and the life they built together that now exists only in his memories. But oh, what a memory. Jacob could easily be an embittered old man - his children aren't there for him as one might hope, and he could focus on the loss - but instead of that he remains thankful for the life he's lived, determined to continue living it to the fullest for as long as he's able. Water for Elephants is a gorgeous, compelling piece of cinema and I can't wait to see it again.

If you've read the novel and seen the movie, or just seen the movie (*grin*), I'd love to hear your thoughts!

For another take on the film, check out Charity's review.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

All Things Jane so far...

Just in case you haven't noticed (*grin*), my All Things Jane series of posts is currently on a (hopefully!) brief hiatus. I did warn you when I began this journey that I'm no good at sticking to schedules, didn't I? C'est la vie! But do not despair, fellow Eyre fans! I haven't forgotten dear Jane and Rochester...

I still have several book and film reviews waiting in the wings, as well as a guest post or two. Till then, here's the journey so far (remember, all of these posts can also be accessed by clicking the Jane button in the right sidebar):

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Review: What Angels Fear by C.S. Harris

What Angels Fear (Sebastian St. Cyr Mysteries #1)
Publisher: Penguin
ISBN: 978-0-451-21971-8

About the book:

It's 1811, and the threat of revolution haunts the upper classes of King George III's England. Then a beautiful young woman is found raped and savagely murdered on the altar steps of an ancient church near Westminster Abbey. A dueling pistol discovered at the scene and the damning testimony of a witness both point to one man, Sebastian St. Cyr, Viscount Devlin, a brilliant young nobleman shattered by his experience in the Napoleonic Wars.

Now a fugitive running for his life, Sebastian calls upon his skill as an agent during the war to catch the killer and prove his own innocence. In the process, he accumulates a band of unlikely allies, including the enigmatic beauty Kat Boleyn, who broke Sebastian's heart years ago. In Sebastian's world of intrigue and espionage, nothing is as it seems, ye the truth may hold the key to the future of the British monarchy, as well as Sebastian's own salvation...


Sebastian St. Cyr, the Viscount Devlin, returns from a stint in the Napoleonic Wars to a politically volatile England. With George III sinking further into madness and the establishment of a regency led by the pleasure-loving Prince of Wales on the horizon, fiercely opposing political forces jockey for position and power, with nothing less than the future of England and her position abroad at stake. When Rachel York, a popular actress, is found viciously raped and murdered on the altar steps of a church, the sensational nature of the crime raises the public’s ire, and pressure is on to bring the perpetrator to quick justice. Damning evidence points to St. Cyr’s guilt and with effects of the popular revolution across the channel still feared, and the peaceful transition of power to the regency at stake, the powers that be determine to make Devlin an example. With his guilt universally assumed, Sebastian runs, calling upon all the skill and intelligence that served him well as an undercover agent in the war to clear his name. But as he delves deeper into the mystery of Rachel York’s death, Sebastian uncovers a plot with political ramifications and ties to his own family beyond his wildest imaginings. The Viscount’s quest to exonerate himself transforms into a passion to give a voiceless victim justice, but with powerful forces arrayed against him, determined to bury the truth, can he survive long enough to bring the truth to light?
C.S. Harris’s Sebastian mysteries were described to me as “Mr. Darcy meets James Bond,” and anyone who knows me must realize that the promise of a character like that is a wholly irresistible prospect. I adore character-driven, multi-layered mysteries – I want to connect with the sleuth, and learn what makes them tick more than I care about the specifics of the individual cases. What Angels Fear is a promising introduction to the world of the deliciously intense, emotionally scarred, fiercely intelligent Sebastian St. Cyr. The Viscount Devlin is a fascinating hero – darkly brooding and enigmatic, Sebastian returns to England deeply scarred by what he witnessed in his military service, which leaves him with little tolerance for the peccadilloes of his fellow men. Gifted with preternaturally keen hearing and vision (along with unsettling yellow-gold eyes), and a quick wit and ready mind, Sebastian’s background in intelligence honed his natural instincts, with the result birthing a keen investigator equally capable at court or in London’s slums. I have an admitted weakness for angst-ridden heroes, and Sebastian enthralls me. He seems more self-absorbed than he actually is, the mask of emotional aloofness hiding a character capable of great feeling and strong convictions – and that reluctant hero quality is what kept me turning pages.
I loved the way Harris incorporated the history of the Regency and the Napoleonic Wars in her debut. This is so much more than a straightforward murder mystery, as Sebastian quickly discovers – Rachel’s death has far-reaching implications for both Sebastian and his country, laying bare secrets in his family and affecting the future political course of his nation. Harris’s narrative is tightly plotted, with a host of viable suspects who stood to gain from Rachel’s death, and surprise revelations and plot twists that will keep you guessing until the final chapters. She populates Sebastian’s world with memorable supporting characters that add color and flair to the storyline – I particularly enjoyed Sebastian’s friendship with Tom, the irrepressible and resourceful street urchin who “adopts” him while he’s a fugitive, and the heart-rending introduction of Kat Boleyn, the most unsuitable love of his life whose rejection drove him from the country years before. My one quibble with this novel is that the police procedures feel decades ahead of their time, which distracts somewhat from Harris’s otherwise absorbing, darkly seductive recreation of regency-era London. If you have the stomach to navigate Sebastian’s murky world (the descriptions of the crimes are stomach-turning, and there’s also some sex – tastefully dealt with), the payoff is an utterly absorbing lead and the dangerously fascinating world in which he lives. What Angels Fear is an absorbing tale, where the blackest impulses of humanity come face-to-face with a compelling dark angel – our reluctant hero and tenacious investigator, Sebastian St. Cyr. I cannot wait to see where Harris takes this most compelling character next!
About a fourth of the way through What Angels Fear, I became consumed with "casting" the role of Sebastian St. Cyr. At first I tried Daniel Craig in the role - I'd love to see him in a period piece of this type, and the tone he brought to his portrayal of James Bond would be a nearly perfect fit for St. Cyr.
However, I think I've settled on the perfect actor to bring Sebastian's intense, enigmatic character to life - Michael Fassbender! I realize I've had Fassbender on the brain for most of the last month thanks to his turn as Rochester in the latest Jane Eyre. I think Fassbender's capable of the intensity and repressed emotional vulnerability necessary to bring Sebastian to life. He's capable of this mesmerizing balance of strength and elegance necessary to the role - so someone needs to develop a film series ASAP. Just sayin'!

Any excuse to post a Fassbender picture on the blog. You're welcome. :)

Doctor Who meets Peanuts...

My boss e-mailed me this photo - I thought it was just adorable. Though the thought of Snoopy as a Dalek is a bit disturbing...

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

The King's Speech releases today!

Happy The King's Speech release day! I am so excited about getting to see this amazing film again. If you missed it in theaters, I do hope you'll check out the DVD this week. As far as I'm concerned, this film deserved every single accolade and award it received. Here's the movie trailer:

Click to read my review of the film, and let me know your thoughts!

Monday, April 18, 2011

Upstairs Downstairs, Part Two: "The Ladybird"

Upstairs Downstairs continued its three-part run on Masterpiece Classic yesterday with an hour that was even more moving and action-packed than its predecessor. After being introduced to the world of 165 Eaton Place last week, we dive headlong into the tumultuous, highly-charged political atmosphere of 1936 as those tensions impact the Holland family and their servants in unexpected ways. Here's the episode summary from the PBS website:
As fascism spreads within Europe, its threat is felt at 165 Eaton Place, both downstairs and up. A new parlormaid, Rachel Perlmutter, arrives safely from Germany having lost nearly everything, but carrying a secret. And the foreign office calls on Sir Hallam to appease the exiled Emperor of Ethiopia, whose country has been annexed by Benito Mussolini. But Hallam's diplomatic skills are also required at home — Maud continues to find Agnes lacking in her duties, as Agnes's attentions are happily occupied elsewhere. Persie takes a detour from the boring requirements of her social debut, rejecting a performance of La Bohème in favor of a flirtation with a servant and a dangerous ideology — pursuits which imperil her moral and physical standing.

A genuine companionship grows between Rachel and Mr. Amanjit, both outsiders who share knowledge of loss firsthand. Rachel tells Mr. Amanjit, "We are not forced to accept the things that grieve us," but it is Hallam who embodies that sentiment when he draws the line about who will live in his house, and how.
As you can tell, the show covered a lot of ground in this hour. Now that the household has been established, I get to focus on my favorite aspect of this miniseries - how the politics of the time are impacting the characters. Residents of 165 Eaton Place both upstairs and down seem to be settling into their roles within the household - though peace may be just an illusion. Lady Agnes (Keeley Hawes) is determined to see her devil-may-care sister Persephone (Claire Foy) make a successful debut, though she appears uncommonly distracted as regards the debut and the running of the household in general, much to her mother-in-law Lady Maud's (Eileen Atkins) irritation. Agnes, you see, is guarding a closely held secret - after years of disappointment, she's pregnant again, and her joy at the un-looked for gift is marred by fear that this child won't make it to term. The discovery of the pregnancy led to a really poignant moment between Agnes and Hallam (Ed Stoppard). They aren't a "perfect" fairy tale marriage by any stretch, but they possess a real affection and regard for each other that I love watching on-screen.

Lady Persie is, by far, my least favorite character in this ensemble. She's such a self-absorbed twit, a glaringly obvious trainwreck waiting to happen that I have very, very little sympathy (if any) for her. She's privileged and bored, and with fascism being fashionable among many members of Britain's aristocratic classes, it's easy to see where her character is headed. The glaring dichotomy between people like Persie, who are drawn to experiment with dangerous idealogies like fascism because of its seductive, forbidden lure, and those who have directly experienced persecution at the hands of fascists is one of the hour's most powerful themes. The only thing Persie had going for her in this episode was some spectacular 1930s fashion, particularly a jaw-dropping crimson evening gown. Superficial, yes, but it fits with her character (and oh my word I adore the costumes in this production!).

Chauffer Harry Spargo (Neil Jackson) is the avenue through which Persie becomes interested in the British fascist movement. It's interesting that ultimately Spargo seems capable of questioning the movement, while Persie determines to embrace it whole-heartedly. Persie and Harry finally fall into the affair forecasted in Part One, and sadly for Harry there is no doubt that their affair is merely a distraction for Persie, a way to occupy herself in her never-ending quest to avoid boredom. However, I have my doubts that the superficiality of their relationship is reciprocated from Harry's perspective. I think, or perhaps I am simply hopeful, that Harry is just naive enough to think that a shared interest in the fascist movement and its doctrine of equality is enough basis for a meaningful relationship with a woman well above his social class. (Gratuitous Harry picture alert! You're welcome!)

The downstairs staff sees a new addition in the form of Rachel Perlmutter (Helen Bradbury), who brings the painful effects of the fascist movement home to Eaton Place in a tragically personal way. Rachel is a beautiful, articulate, and refined German-Jewish refugee who fled her home bearing the secrets of her past life heavily on her fragile shoulders. At first glance one couldn't imagine a more ill-suited candidate for the position of parlormaid than Rachel. As the episode unfolds, so does Rachel's history, and we learn that she came from a privileged background, stripped of her rights in Germany simply because of the "crime" of her Jewish heritage. I really admired Rachel's character and loved her storyline - she exudes a quiet strength and kindness, all in the face of unimaginable horror and loss, that one cannot help but admire.

Rachel manages to strike up a friendship with Maud's secretary, the elusive Mr. Amanjit (Art Malik). Prior to Rachel's arrival, Amanjit occupied this solitary sort of "in between" status in the household - not a member of the family, and not quite a servant, he took all of his meals alone. No one thought to question this status quo until Rachel's arrival, when she proffers the hand of friendship and the two discover a shared understanding of heartbreak and loss. It is to Amanjit that Rachel confesses her greatest secret - she brought her young daughter Lotte (Alexia James) with her to England, and pays caregivers to watch the child so she can work.

The action of this episode builds towards opposing ideologies coming to blows at a fascist rally in London. When Harry appears for breakfast dressed in his blackshirt uniform for the rally, Rachel's reaction is shocking, powerful, and extraordinarily well-played by Bradbury. While the other servants sympathize with her horror at being confronted with fascism given her history, it's fascinating to see how none of them can really get where she's coming from since they haven't experienced its terrors firsthand. I particularly loved the scene when Rose (Jean Marsh) attempts to comfort Rachel after Mrs. Thackeray (Anne Reid) urges everyone to simply ignore Harry's uniform in favor of resuming their meal. Rose is genuinely compassionate towards Rachel's emotion, but I loved Rachel's explanation of why she couldn't simply pretend the ugly reminder of her past in Germany away. It was a powerful reminder of the saying "evil triumphs when good men do nothing" - and in spite of all she's endured, the idea that fascism could encroach on her new start in England spurs Rachel to take a stand as one of the anti-fascist protestors.

It was interesting to compare the political riot scene in this episode with a similar scenario from Downton Abbey. While Persie and both Sybil in Downton are superficially similar, their motivations for political involvement couldn't be more different. Persie is wholly selfish and maybe even a bit power mad, and the tragedy of her character is that the violence that erupts during the rally doesn't dissuade her from becoming more involved in the movement. The riot scene was brilliantly staged in my view. It was a genuinely frightening scene, moreso because I had become so emotionally invested in Rachel's character that I found myself seeing the protest through her eyes, and realzing in a fresh way what an extraordinarily brave thing she was doing in making her stand.

The results of the rally/protest will rock the Holland household to the core. It was fascinating to see Hallam, burdened by his work at the Foreign Office, indulge his wife's desire to ignore radio coverage of the rally. That highly domestic scene was a stark contrast to the violence erupting on London's streets. Rachel is deeply shaken when she sees Persie at the rally, and barely makes it home accompanied by Amanjit before succumbing to a violent asthma attack. Persie, meanwhile, has a sort of shell-shocked reaction to the rally - instead of the violence proving a deterrent, it's almost as if she's excited by it, but doesn't know how to process her emotions - so she drives off in the family car. Harry's reaction to the rally is what gives me hope for his character - instead of acting defiant in the rally's aftermath, he seemed genuinely troubled. (Side note: the filmmakers were able to put Jackson's background as an amateur boxer to excellent use during the riot scene - see above.) I loved the fact that he calls the police on Persie for stealing her own family's car. Not only does this reveal that he was worried about her, and the effect her reckless behavior could have on others, but it led to a fascinating confrontation with Hallam, who is understandably furious when he  gets the call that he has to bail out his sister-in-law. When Harry falls back on the excuse that he "had" to take Persie to the rally since he's "only" staff, it reveals an interesting tear in the fabric of the master/servant relationship. Between Hallam and Harry, the lines of expectation and responsibility between master and servant have become somewhat blurred.

Tragically the stress of the protest proves to much for Rachel, and she dies - her time at Eaton Place was all too brief, but her short stint as a member of the household has left an indelible impact. The scene where Amanjit weeps over her body TORE ME TO PIECES. Very well played, Mr. Malik. I only wish this series was longer, so I might have seen the secretary's friendship with Rachel unfold at a more liesurely pace (versus six months crammed into a hour runtime). One of this hour's best developments concerns Rachel's now orphaned daughter. Hallam, absolutely disgusted with the way fascism has touched his household, decrees that Lotte can live with them as long as she needs to - much to Agnes's chagrin. I was really annoyed with Agnes at this juncture - if Hallam can so bluntly realize the need to step in to save the child from being sent back to Germany, Agnes's hostility toward this addition to the household was quite hard to stomach. I really hope she has a turnaround next week.

Hallam really starts coming into his own as a character in this installment. He's a man who takes his work very seriously and wants to excel. But he finds that the expectations of his position with the Foreign Office are increasingly at odds with his own personal beliefs about the dangers of fascism and what his country's response should be to the growing threat. When Hallam is tasked with appeasing the exiled Ethiopian emperor, whose country was just annexed by Mussolini, he finds himself disgusted with his role of spouting meaningless platitudes to a man whose lost everything. I feel as though Hallam is a character on the brink of making some momentous changes in his life - and while ultimately they will be for the good, as is so often the case they are apt to be misunderstood by those closest to the individual in question. Witnessing the impact his work with the Foreign Office is taking on his personal life, and his growing understanding of and aversion to the fascist menace is turning Hallam into one of the show's most compelling, sympathetic characters. I cannot wait to see where the show will take him next as the world move closer to the advent of World War II. After last week, I was left wondering which character would emerge as the heart of the "upstairs" world - and after this installment left me literally cheering for Hallam's brave stand, I suspect I know.

Rachel's presence was felt in a very intimate, personal way through her friendship with the young housemaid, Ivy (Ellie Kendrick). Ivy can be so immature it's easy to forget just how young she actually is, and how her experience as an orphan has left her in sore need of anything resembling a mother's love and positive female role models. While she initially resents having to share her room with Rachel, over time the two become friends, and it's heart-wrenching to see Ivy begin to look on Rachel as a sort of surrogate mother-figure. The closing scene, when Ivy take's Rachel's daughter Lotte under her wing and begins to comfort her by singing the lullaby Rachel shared with her had me bawling. That's the type of beautifully-realized character maturation that I love to see, and Kendrick plays the scene with a poignancy that belies her age.

I can't wait until next week's installment - but I'm really crushed that next week is "the end" of this show that I've found to be wildly enjoyable. Once I made the conscious decision not to dwell on the fact that this series is far, FAR too short, it's been easy to marvel at just how much the filmmakers have been able to pack into each installment. The impact the tumultuous years just prior to World War II is having on these characters makes for fascinating television. Kudos once again to Heidi Thomas for delivering a smart script that packs an unbelievable amount of detail and character development into a too short timeframe, and to director Euros Lynn for keeping the action of the story moving at a brisk pace.