Period Dramas on the Hollywood Horizon….

So… I haven’t posted in a while (but my time has been usefully spent reading tons of books, adding ever more books to my collection, watching (and in many cases re-watching!) hoards of period dramas and importantly… keeping up to date with all the exciting new ones which are due to be released this year!

For lovers of period dramas – what do we have in store?! Well! A great deal…

Firstly, fans of The Great Gatsby by F.Scott Fitzgerald have a new adaptation to look forward to. Released Christmas 2012, this Hollywood version stars Leonardo DiCaprio as Gatsby, Tobey Maguire as Carraway and Carey Mulligan as Daisy. I’m expecting a gorgeous adaptation of this classic American novel (see the trailer here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rARN6agiW7o ). Although being a HUGE Toby Stephens fan I fear my bias may mean that I think ultimately he will be play the better Gatsby… (Unfair? Maybe. Infact. Yes, definitely.)

In September, we have the Tolstoy masterpiece, Anna Karenina released, starring Keira Knightley in the title role. Supporting cast of Jude Law as her older husband, Aaron Johnson as dashing lover and Domnhall Gleeson as Levin (Bill Weasley in Harry Potter!) and many many more fantastic actors and actresses. I have to say this is one of my favourite novels. Ever. And I fear for the portrayal of these characters on screen (I have seen the 2000 Helen Mcrory version and the 1997 Sophie Marceau version and was sadly less than convinced…) – hopefully the sumptuous production and amazing cast will make it an enjoyable experience. I remain sceptical of the ability to cut down this wonderful novel into a tight Hollywood movie -style adaptation… (we shall see!) – if anyone has any good Tolstoy recommendations please do share!

For Henry James fans, we have a modern day adaptation (ok, so not technically a period drama, but I can’t miss off a James film – there are so few about!) of What Maisie Knew. This film is based on the 1897 novel by Henry James which focuses on Maisie, the young daughter of a pair of irresponsible and warring parents. The story surely translates so well into a contemporary setting with it’s depiction of a dysfunctional family and quite frankly I am so excited to see Julianne Moore and Alexander Skarsgard in this movie. More Henry James adaptations is all I can say (regardless of the era they are set in!!) See the trailer here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JE4Q_7YNlAo

Another(!) Great Expectations will also be released in December, starring Ralph Fiennes, Helena Bonham Carter (Voldemort and Bellatrix for HP fans!!) and Holiday Grainger and Jeremy Irvine as Estella and Pip. And as much as I love, love, love, this novel – I can’t help but wondering when we will get some other Dickens adaptations (Hard Times/Tales of Two Cities/Dombey & Son PLEASE?! Anyone else with me on this one?)

And finally… what I am most excited about (but which will not be coming until next year…) a biographical re-telling of Dickens’ secret love affair with actress Nelly Ternan starring Ralph Fiennes as Dickens and Felicity Jones as Nelly.

The screenplay is based on the biography ‘The Invisible Woman’ by Claire Tomalin (on my to-read pile!) and charts the intriguing love life of one of my favourite authors. Fiennes will no doubt be an amazing Dickens.. and Tom Hollander is also set to play Wilkie Collins – another of my all-time favourite authors (Dickens’ best friend and popular 19th Century novelist specialising in ‘sensation’ novels). – I have high expectations for this…!!

There are LOTS lots more (including the upcoming television dramas we have to look forward to – what would Sunday night be without some period drama excitement to keep us entertained?!) but I will curtail my enthusiasm for now and post again soon. If anyone has any exciting tips for me to look out for then please let me know!!

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Aside

Countdown until 9th September….

The new adaptation of Jane Eyre is going to be released on the 9th September.. and I can’t wait!! An exclusive trailer was highlighted in the Guardian today and it has got me super excited again!!

http://www.guardian.co.uk/film/video/2011/jun/03/jane-eyre-mia-wasikowska-michael-fassbender

Fassbender will be a great Rochester, I have no doubt (although seeing him as Magneto in X Men next week should be an interesting contrast!) I have high hopes for this version of Charlotte Bronte’s *amazing* novel. Mia Wasikawska looks to have the right measure of feisty spirit, plainness and vulnerability that a perfect Jane Eyre should have. A re-read before September is definitely in order though so I can really appreciate whether the film captures the subtleties of the text.

On the flip side though (in spite of my enthusiasm for the film!), I do wonder why it is that none of the Charlotte Bronte’s novel have merited any screen time? An adaptation of Villette or Shirley (particularly a lavish BBC version with weekly installments to get us through the winter!) would be so welcome! What is it about these other texts, (other than that they are lesser known to the wider public), that merit this neglect. The BBC adaptation of Anne Bronte’s Tenant of Wildfell Hall is proof that lesser known novels can be brought successfully to the small screen. In short then- more Bronte please!! 😀

Dangerous Liaisons with Colin Firth and John Malkovich

In 1782, Pierre Choderlos de Laclos’s epistolary novel, Les Liaisons Dangereuses was published in France to immediate public success. The novel scandalised contemporary readers with its unflinching insight into the ‘immorality’ of it’s two main characters,  the Vicomte de Valmont and the Marquise de Merteuil. I read this novel last summer and thought it was a beautifully constructed piece of writing which offers an intriugingly unjudgemental (particularly for the time it was written!) insight into the complexities of human morality.  I had been aware of the John Malkovich/Glenn Close adaptation for a while, but not the Colin Firth adaptation which was actually released a year later. A period film with Colin Firth as the leading man, that I hadn’t yet seen? A must-watch indeed…!

Valmont, released in 1989, stars Firth alongside Annette Benning as Merteuil and Meg Tilly as Madame de Tourvel, the morally pure married woman, who Valmont views as a tantilising challenge and sets about trying to seduce. The chemistry between Tilly and Firth is great, and really captures the development of their relationship as Valmont begins to realise he is not emotionally invulnerable. The acting is beautiful and totally believable, and I think this is the real challenge for any adaptation of this novel, as the characters of both Valmont and Madame de Tourvel develop so subtly and it is important not to demonise Valmont, or make him wholly sympathetic. (Incidentally I think the modernised adaptation, Cruel Intentions, with Reese Witherspoon and Ryan Phillipe in these roles also does a great job with the characters.)

How does it compare with the John Malkovich version then, released in 1988? I have to say, I actually like it better. Dangerous Liaisons is a good film, and the casting is great, but I just think the Firth version captures more of the subtlety and poignancy of the story. Malkovich is great as Valmont however, (he has that king of sinister charisma about him which is perfect for the role) and Glen Close as Merteuil is a brilliant counter-weight of unrepenting immorality. Both films however are fantastic in their own right – beautifully produced period dramas which evoke perfectly the life of French aristocracy in the 18th Century.

The purpose of the post then is to draw attention to this wonderful Firth film, which seemed to have slipped under my radar thus far. Lovers of Laclos’ novel and Firth fans alike are sure to enjoy this film (it even includes a wet-shirted-Colin-coming-out-of-a-lake scene which is always a plus!) Maybe after his recent Oscar win (YAY!), more people will start to dig out some of his old films, and I highly recommend Valmont for something a bit different from his usual roles.

The Many Faces of Mr Darcy

My recent post on the various actors who have graced our screens as Mr Rochester has inspired me to look at those who have taken on the role of Mr Darcy. Some fantastic actors have taken on the part, but who was the best? Darcy is perhaps one of the best loved fictional heros (or he is mine at any rate..!), and it takes something special to get the right mix of aloofness, haughtiness and aristocratic pride, whilst also showing his humour, warmth and vulnerability. It is that combination (mixed in with his dashing good looks and £10,000 a year!), which makes Darcy such a fantastic character.. and I think there have been quite a few actors who have got this just right…

Laurence Olivier was outstanding as Fitwilliam in the 1940 film version, starring alongside Greer Garson as Lizzy. I loved Olivier as Darcy despite the fact that admittedly the film is not completely true to Austen’s text. The costumes for example, aren’t exactly standard Georgian outfits(!) and the ending has a plot twist which I’m not sure Austen would have approved of (even though it’s actually quite entertaining). In spite of this though, I do think Oliver pulled off a good Darcy and his chemistry with Greer Garson was wonderful. He definitely set the standards high for the next generations of Darcy’s..

The BBC made a mini series of Pride and Prejudice in 1980, where David Rintoul played Darcy. I have only seen this series once, a couple of years ago and I wasn’t overly impressed generally. I think this is more to do with my constantly comparing it to the newer versions and the fact that it all seemed a little dated, rather than a reflection on the acting performances. Rintoul is actually quite a good Darcy; his performance is subtle and believable and I would definitely watch it again.

For me, the defining performance however (I know this may be cliched!) was Colin Firth’s in the 1995 BBC production. Andrew Davies is a wonderful writer and this adaptation stayed remarkably close to Austen’s text. Firth was the first Darcy I saw, and this probably is why I always compare other performances to his, but I do think he really captured everything that Darcy is. The lake scene, (whilst admittedly not being an Austen invention), was genius and the scenes with Lizzy at Pemberley are just fantastic- the chemistry between them is spot on, and the development of Darcy’s character (or Lizzy’s understanding of his character at any rate!) is played out wonderfully.

Almost ten years later then we have another performance by Martin Henderson as Darcy in the adapted version of the novel – Bride & Prejudice. This was a modern Bollywood remake of Austen’s text and is actually quite fun. Henderson’s Darcy is a bit too overly snobby for my tastes- I am not sure the character development is as good as in some of the other versions (probably largely down to the fact that it is under two hours long – I am spolit by these six hour BBC versions!)

A year later then we got Matthew Macfadyen as Darcy alongside Keira Knightley. Basing my judgement purely on the casting and performance of Darcy, I have to say, some great choices were made. Matthew has the right combination of haughty indifference with endearing shyness and vulnerability and the proposal scene is just gorgeously performed. It took me a while to come to the conclusion that I liked this version, but now I have seen it a few times, I have been converted.

Lastly then, was Eliot Cowan in the ITV mini-series Lost in Austen: another good performance, although perhaps again, the overbearing rude side to the character was a little overplayed. But then again, I suppose none of the other Darcy’s had to deal with their heroine telling them that she had had lots of boyfriends, and had even (horror of all horrors!) lived with another man…

There have been some other Darcy’s too, but I haven’t had the pleasure of viewing these adaptations as yet- I think most of them are pretty hard to get hold of. Any recommendations are as ever, are gratefully received!  I do believe there is definitely room for more Darcy portrayals in the world however.. It’s been FIFTEEN years since the last BBC version, so surely a remake is in order?! It’s hard actually to think of a perfect casting for a new Darcy – Richard Armitage springs to mind (but that’s largely down to my own obsession with him I think!)- anyone else have any suggestions?!

Toby Stephens. Period.

I recently posted on Toby Stephens’ wonderful performance in the recent BBC adaptation of Jane Eyre, and that got me thinking about all the other period dramas he has been in.. (there are so so many!) What is it about this man that makes him so deliciously suited to practically every period..?!

I first spotted Toby in 1996 when he played Gilbert Markham in the BBC adaptation of Anne Bronte’s Tenant of Wildfell Hall. He was just the perfect choice for this character! This is a lovely series (and great that Anne gets some screen time instead of just adapting Jane Eyre/Wuthering Heights-much as I love them!) I highly recommend it for anyone who hasn’t seen it!

In 1999 the lovely Mr Stephens starred alongside Ralph Fiennes in ‘Onegin’, an adaptation of Pushkin’s poem. Set in 19th Century Russia, Toby plays the idealistic young poet Lensky- I won’t give away the plot, but let’s just say it’s tragic.. A wonderful movie with a fab cast, I highly recommend this to Toby and Ralph fans alike.

Another series I can’t recommend highly enough is Cambridge Spies. This was a really clever series (and highly populated with dashing young actors – Rupert Penry Jones, Tom Hollander, Samuel West and of course the ever wonderful Toby.) Set in 1934 the series focused on the true story of four young Cambridge students who were recruited to be spies for Russia. Toby plays Kim Philby (his real-life wife also stars alongside him which is quite interesting!) and this is just Toby at his best. 😀

Films like Twelfth Night and The Great Gatsby also saw Toby strutting his stuff in some cracking period dramas, and another interesting (but perhaps slightly strange one?), is an early film “Photographing Fairies”. Set after WW1, Toby plays a photographer coping with the loss of his wife (with the help of a few fairies!) As I say, it is a bit weird at points, but Toby fans can happily overlook this I think..

Toby has also played some fantastic period villains.. a la Prince John in the BBC tv series Robin Hood, and Dodd in Sharp’s Challenge. There is something about his drawling sneer which just makes for perfect villianous viewing.

There are even more which I haven’t yet seen, but very much look forward to doing(!): Cousin Bette is a 1998 adaptation of Balzac’s novel; I haven’t read this either so not sure whether Toby has a big part but it definitely looks like it is worth a go! The Camomile Lawn is a really early series which Toby had a big part in (alongside a blonde(!) Lizzy Bennett, a.k.a. Jennifer Ehle) set just before WW2 and again I am tempted to view (I think you can watch this free on 4oD too which is a bonus!) Another interesting one is “The Rising: Ballad of Mangal Pandey” set in 1857 focusing on the Indian fight against British rule. Toby plays William Gordon and it looks as though he has a big part(?)- would be interested to hear from anyone who has seen it if it is worth a view..?! But surely anything Toby is worth a view…?! 😛 (Can you tell I’m a fan yet..)

I am sure there are also lots, lots more.. but I think the above selection just illustrates how wonderfully versatile Toby is as an actor and how amazingly he is suited to the realm of period drama.

The Many Faces of Mr Rochester

Soo……. as a huge Bronte fan, I am inordinately pleased we have another adaptation of Jane Eyre to look forward to this year! Michael Fassbender is a divine for choice for Rochester (though perhaps a little too young and handsome?!) but I thought I would pay homage to all the actors who have played the role before (and those who I *wish* had gotten the chance to play the role…

Toby Stephens is perhaps my favourite Rochester so far.. I thought the chemistry between him and Ruth Wilson was great, and he really had the brooding, surly-type acting down to perfection. Again, he was perhaps a little too handsome (or maybe I am biased?). Before Toby, we had Ciaran Hinds, who whilst is a good actor, was not for me the Rochester as I imagined.. maybe this was because this 1997 adaptation seemed so short and the characterisation wasn’t really strong? I don’t know. I just didn’t engage with the story as much (which is weird since I love the novel so wholeheartedly!)

 William Hurt in 1996 film version was a good choice; he definitely pulled off the role and casting him alongside Charlotte Gainsbourg was interesting! I have however only seen this version once before and don’t own it, so perhaps it should go on my ‘to-buy’ list..! I do have the 1983, BBC version which casts Timothy Dalton and this is another really good adaptation.. Dalton plays the part exactly as Bronte wrote it, and this series stays really close to the original novel.

And of course Orson Welles, who really set the standards high in 1943, pulling off a wonderful performance as Rochester alongside Joan Fontaine. I think this black and white version really captures the atmospheric, tense feel of the novel.

There are tons of other adaptations out there that I haven’t yet seen (though I would like to – you can never have too much Bronte!) Recommendations are greatly received. The 1973 BBC Adaptation with Michael Jayston could be interesting?

My personal choices (perhaps slightly inappropriate for Rochester) would have been Richard Armitage, Laurence Olivier, Jason Isaacs and Ralph Fiennes, among many others… Any other dream Rochesters?

Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle reunite to star in The King’s Speech

So looking forward to Colin Firth’s new film The King’s Speech, due to be released on 7th Jan 2011. The film stars Colin as King George VI and focuses on his struggle with his stammer and his relationship with his speech therapist Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush). The cast looks wonderful; Helena Bonham Carter plays Queen Elizabeth and Jennifer Ehle plays Myrtle Logue alongside Michael Gambon, Timothy Spall and Derek Jacobi to name but a few. Now I know a fab cast doesn’t necessarily equal an amazing film, but surely it helps right?

 The film has already had rave reviews after it premiered at the Toronto film festival and talk has been had of possible Oscar nominations. (My fingers are firmly crossed for Colin even without having seen the film I admit!) The trailer (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2bLxwojitxM&feature=player_embedded ) looks great and aside from my evident biased love for all-things-period-drama-especially-when-they-involve Colin-Firth(!), the storyline looks really interesting, with its focus on a monarch I know very little about.

Now I wonder how much, (if any) onscreen time Colin and Jennifer will have together…. perhaps a rewatch of Pride & Prejudice may be in order to relive their former acting days.. 🙂