New D H Lawrence Adaptation…

I am super excited for the new BBC4 adaptation of D H Lawrence’s Women in Love/ The Rainbow! It starts on Thursday 24th and is a two-part series which brings together the two novels. The cast looks fantastic, with Rosamund Pike, Rachael Stirling, Rory Kinnear and Joseph Mawle starring, so it should be a real treat for period drama fans! Pike and Stirling play Gudrun and Ursula, two sisters, who are the focus for the novel as it charts their lives and loves and their relationships with each other.

For anyone interested in the contextual backgroud of the novels, there was a really interesting article in the Guardian this weekend: http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2011/mar/19/rainbow-lawrence-rachel-cusk-rereading The articles focuses on the novels treatment of women and how it subverted traditional Victorian stereotypes of femininity, and how in reading Lawrence we shouldn’t be put off by the connotations of his controversial, ‘highly-sexed’ image. Cusk’s article draws attention to all the reasons why Lawrence’s ‘provocative’ novels should be read by modern-day readers as “a subversive, transformative, life-altering act”.. I couldn’t agree more!!

So.. high hopes for the series..! Not sure how easy Lawrence is to transfer to the screen as often with his novels it is the elegance and poetry of his narrative rather than the plot which is the most striking, but we shall see..!! Definitely think I should put some Lawrence on me to-read list his year!

Victorian Vampires, Werewolves & Soulless Spinsters…

I recently discovered a fun series of novels by Gail Carriger, which I would highly recommend as light reading for anyone with an interest in the Victorian period and vampire/werewolf fiction. As a lover of the two, I was curious about this series which focuses on the antics of Alexia Tarabotti, a twenty six year old spinster, with a forthright manner and no soul. The novels are set in a Victorian England where vampires, werewolves and ghosts are integrated members of society (so kind of like a 19th Century True Blood!) and this odd mix of comedy, period setting and the supernatural works to great effect. Alexia is a great heroine, and the relationship between her and Lord Maccon (“loud, messy, gorgeous, and werewolf”) is fabulously funny.

The first novel, Soulless, begins with Alexia being attacked by a vampire who has a shocking lack of etiquette, poor choice in clothing and no knowledge of ‘preternaturals’ (i.e. soulless individuals who have the power to neutralise supernatural powers). Alexia accidentally kills the vampire and from here the adventure starts…! With some fabulous characters (the uber-camp Lord Akeldama, a vampire with a passion for puce waistcoats, being a prime example), the novel jogs along at a great pace and is definately worth a read for anyone who likes their supernatual fiction with a heavy dose of comedy!!

I have the others in the series on my to-read pile, so hopefully they continue in the same vein! There are currently three other books in the series, (Changeless, Blameless & Heartless) with a fifth to come soon.. (Timeless) and I can’t wait to read more about Alexia’s adventures!! A great beach-read I think (I tend to pick things that are a bit too heavy normally!) so I may save them for summer holidays later in the year!

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.

Jeremy Irons in “The Borgias”, New Renaissance Period Drama Series

In the grand tradition of ‘Rome’ and ‘The Tudors’, Showtime now brings us “The Borgias” – a new historical drama series based on the intrigues of the infamous Borgias dynasty set during the Italian Renaissance.

The show will be led by Jeremy Irons, who stars as Rodrigo, the patriarch of the Borgias family and newly appointed as Pope, and will focus on the machinations of him and his children in their quest for power and status. Charting their rise and fall in politics, the show is sure to be a scintillating account of Italian Renaissance life and with a cast including Derek Jacobi, Francois Arnaud and Colm Feore, it is bound to be a hit!  

I don’t have any extensive knowledge about the period this series is set in, but I am actually really excited about the shows release(!) and there is a great website that has loads of photos and information about the cast and what not here: http://borgiaswiki.sho.com/ 

Really can’t wait for the show to start..! Although in the mean time we have the gorgeous final series of The Tudors on our screens to keep us entertained and the various trailers that have been released…

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?!

A weekend Lost in Austen…

For a while now I have had the ITV mini-series ‘Lost in Austen’ sat in my ‘to-watch’ pile. I missed it when it was aired, but had heard mixed reviews and so I wasn’t really sure what to expect.. Torn between lamenting any kind of ‘butchering’ of Austen’s characters whilst also being intrigued/generally excited about the plot premise. For anyone who hasn’t already seen it- the show was a four part mini series which sees a modern day girl (Amanda, played by the lovely Jemima Rooper), transported into the world of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice through a portal in her bathroom. Sounds kind of silly I know.. but come on, who wouldn’t love to find themselves suddenly thrown into a world occupied by Mr Darcy?!

Well, the answer is of course, not that simple.. Amanda finds herself thrown into the plot of her favourite novel, but not everything is as it seems.. The upshot is that we have a hilariously funny mash-up of all our beloved Austen characters- with plot twists ranging from Jane Bennets marriage to Collins (erlack!), Mr Wickham’s turning out to be a good guy (outrageous I know!) and even Miss Bingley coming out as a lesbian. Far-fetched it is, most assuredly, but also kind of wonderfully bizarre at the same time.

Casting is genius.. with Hugh Bonneville playing a fantastic Mr Bennet alongside a (feisty!) Alex Kingston as Mrs Bennet, Gemma Arterton as Lizzy Bennet (who finds herself enamoured with modern day technology and gets a job as a nanny)  and Eliot Cowan as everyone’s favourite fictional hero, Mr Darcy. Cowan is a great Darcy- pulling off the broody, rudely-arrogant-but-also-kind-of-endearing character whilst also not looking too shabby in his wet shirt and breeches a la Colin Firth.

In short therefore, the show was fun- a genuinely enjoyable romp which never took itself too seriously… It also posed the question- what would you do if you were suddenly teleported into your favourite novel and came face to face with a fictional hero like Darcy? Make him dive in the pool at Pemberley and parade his wet shirtedness infront of your every eyes? (I think so!)

Andrew Davies’ New Adaptation ‘South Riding’

Mr Davies is back, bringing to our screens an adaptation of Winifred Holtby’s novel ‘South Riding’. Set in 1930’s Yorkshire, the three part series focuses on the politics and romances of a fictional northern town. I for one am hugely excited about this drama (I love Sunday night period drama viewing!!) and the cast is fantastic. Anna Maxwell Martin plays the lead Sarah Burton, a spinster headmistress alongside David Morrissey as Robert Carne, a stern (but surely terribly charismatic?) farmer- two wonderful actors who have both wowed in past period pieces (Anna in Bleak House, David in Sense & Sensibility)- surely a match made in acting heaven?!

I haven’t yet read the novel the series is based on but I did see the recent guardian review: http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2011/jan/30/south-riding-winifred-holtby-review . It sounds like something I would really enjoy, maybe it is the “inevitable comparisons to Jane Eyre” which lured me in..! Don’t think I will have chance to grab and consume the novel before the series begins so may have to read post-watching. Either way, I am sure I am in for a treat..!!

As a slight aside, I am also looking forward to Davies’ other period project, a new screen adaptation of The Three Musketeers due to be released this year. It stars Matthew Macfadyen as Athos- need I say more..!?

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