English Trifle

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Below is an article about the English dessert known as the Trifle:

ENGLISH TRIFLE

Trifle is an English dessert that is made from thick custard, diced fruit, sponge fingers or thin layer sponge cake that is soaked in fortified wine, sherry or fruit juices and topped with whipped cream. The ingredients are usually arranged in three or four layers, while suspended in fruit-flavored jelly or gelatin.

The dish can be traced back to the later years of Queen Elizabeth I’s reign. The earliest recipe for trifle consisted of a thick cream flavored with sugar, ginger and rosewater. The recipe, which was published in an 1587 English book called “The Good Hyswife’s Jewell” by Thomas Dawson. Sixty years later, eggs were added to the recipe and the custard was poured over alcohol soaked bread.

It was not until the mid-18th century that something like the modern trifle began to emerge. Biscuits soaked with wine were then in place at the bottom of the bowl, and custard was on top of them, while the topmost layer could be achieved by pouring whipped syllabub froth over all. When this froth was replaced by plain whipped cream, the process of evolution was virtually complete. While some believe the addition of jelly to the recipe to be recent, the earliest known recipe to include jelly dates from 1747 and was featured in “the Art of Cookery”, authored by Hannah Glasse. In her recipe she instructed using hartshorn or bones of calves feet as the base ingredient for the jelly.

Below is a recipe from the Food.com website for a traditional trifle:

English Trifle

Ingredients

1 packet single trifle sponge cakes (or a ready-made pound cake or similar)
1 pint English custard, made from bird custard powder
1⁄2 pint whipping cream (heavy)
1 package frozen berries (better than fresh)
100 g jar of strawberry jam
1 can sliced fruit or 2 very ripe fruit, skinned and sliced
1⁄4-1⁄2 pint cooking sherry
50 g sliced almonds, toasted

Preparation

Slice the cake into slices measuring about 3 x 2 x 1/2 inches, or whatever is convenient, and spread each slice with a little strawberry jam.
Layer in a glass dish, leaving no significant gaps.
Pour sherry over to soak sponge.
Spread frozen berries over sponge, followed by sliced fruit.
Make up custard, cool slightly and pour over all.
Allow to cool in fridge.
When set, whip cream and layer on top of custard.
Chill for at least half an hour.
Toast the almonds and scatter over.

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“WUTHERING HEIGHTS” (2009) Review

 

“WUTHERING HEIGHTS” (2009) Review

I have no idea how many times Emily Brontë’s 1847 novel, “Wuthering Heights” was adapted for the movie or television screens. I do know that I have seen at least three versions of the novel. Although the 2009 television adaptation is not the latest to have been made, it is the most recent I have seen.

The beginning of “WUTHERING HEIGHTS” veers away from Brontë’s novel in two ways. One, the television production is set forty years later than the novel. Instead of beginning at the turn of the 19th century, this movie or miniseries begins in the early 1840s before it jumps back thirty years. And two, the character of Mr. Lockwood, who appeared in both Brontë’s novel and William Wyler’s 1939 version, did not make an appearance in this production. The novel and the 1939 film used Earnshaw housekeeper Nelly Dean’s recollections to Lockwood as a flashback device. This production also uses Nelly as a flashback device, only she ends up revealing her memories to Cathy Linton, the daughter of Edgar Linton and Catherine Earnshaw . . . and Heathcliff’s new daughter-in-law.

Do not get me wrong. I personally had no problems with these changes. With or without the Lockwood character, Nelly Dean is used as a flashback. There were other changes from the novel. Heathcliff left Wuthering Heights and Yorkshire and returned three-and-a-half years later, six months after Catherine’s marriage to Edgar. In the 2009 production, Heathcliff returned on the very day of their wedding. Well . . . I could deal with that. What I found interesting is that screenwriter Don Bowker seemed dismissive of the 1939 film adaptation, claiming that the movie’s screenwriter succeeded because “with classic Hollywood ruthlessness they filleted out the Cathy/Heathcliff story and ditched the rest of the plot. It’s a great film but it does the novel a disservice.” I realize that many fans of Brontë’s novel would probably agree with him. I do not. Wyler’s film may not have been as faithful as this production, but I do not accept Bowker’s view that it “filleted out” the Catherine/Heathcliff story or did the novel any disservice. This version included the second generation story arc and to be quite honest, I was not that impressed.

There were some problems I had with this production. I also found myself slightly confused by the passage of time between Heathcliff’s departure and his return. I also felt equally confused by the passage of time between young Cathy’s first meeting with Heathcliff and her marriage to the latter’s son, Linton. The Nelly Dean character barely seemed to age. And once the miniseries or movie refocused upon the second generation, the story seemed to rush toward the end. Both Bowker and director Coky Giedroyc seemed reluctant to fully explore Heathcliff’s relationships with his son Linton, his daughter-in-law Cathy and his ward Hareton. I could probably say the same about the friendship and developing romance between the younger Cathy and Hareton.

“WUTHERING HEIGHTS” is a visually charming production. But I can honestly say that it did not blow my mind. There was nothing particularly eye-catching or memorable about the production staff’s work, whether it was Ulf Brantås’ photography, Grenville Horner’s production designs or Fleur Whitlock’s art direction. If one were to ask my opinion on the miniseries’ score, I could not give an answer, simply because I did not find it memorable. The most noteworthy aspect of“WUTHERING HEIGHTS”, aside from its writing, direction and the cast is Fleur Whitlock’s costume designs. I admire the way she made every effort to adhere to early 19th fashion from the Regency decade to the beginning of the Victorian era.

I had very little problems with the cast. Tom Hardy – more or less- gave a fine performance as the brooding Heathcliff. He certainly did an excellent job of carrying the production. My only complaint is that once his Heathcliff returned to Wuthering Heights as a wealthy man, there were times when he seemed to portray his character as a comic book super villain. His later performance as Heathcliff brought back negative reminders of his performance as Bane in the most recent Batman movie, “THE DARK KNIGHT”. I was also impressed by Charlotte Riley’s portrayal of Catherine Earnshaw, the emotional and vibrant young woman who attracted the love of both Heathcliff and Edgar Linton. Riley gave a very skillful and intelligent performance. I only wish that she had not rushed into exposing Catherine’s jealousy of Heathcliff’s romance with her sister-in-law, Isabella Linton. Another remarkable aspect of Riley’s performance is that she managed to generate chemistry with both Hardy and her other leading man, Andrew Lincoln. Speaking of Lincoln, I felt he gave the best performance in this production. There were no signs of hamminess or badly-timed pacing. More importantly, he did an excellent job of balancing Edgar’s passionate nature and rigid adherence to proper behavior.

I have no complaints regarding the supporting cast. Sarah Lancashire was first-rate as the Earnshaws’ housekeeper, Nelly Dean. I wish she had a stronger presence in the production, but I am more inclined to blame the director and screenwriter. Burn Gorman did an excellent job of balancing Hindley Earnshaw’s jealous behavior and fervent desire for his father’s love and attention. Rosalind Halstead gave a steady performance as Edgar’s sister and Heathcliff’s wife, Isabella Linton. However, I must admit that I was particularly impressed by one scene in which her character discovers the true nature of Heathcliff’s feelings for her. As for the rest of the cast – all gave solid and competent performances, especially Kevin R. McNally as Mr. Earnshaw and Rebecca Night as Cathy Linton.

Overall, I enjoyed “WUTHERING HEIGHTS”. Mind you, I believe it had its flaws. And I could never regard it superior to the 1939 movie, despite being slightly more faithful. But I would certainly have no troubles re-watching for years to come, thanks to director Coky Giedroyc and a cast led by Tom Hardy and Charlotte Riley.

“SENSE AND SENSIBILITY” (1971) Review

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“SENSE AND SENSIBILITY” (1971) Review

For some reason, I still find it hard to believe that until recently, very few people were aware that the first adaptation of Jane Austen’s 1811 novel, “Sense and Sensibility”, dated as far back as 1971. After all, people have been aware of other Austen adaptations during this same period or earlier. Even the Wikipedia site fails to mention it, except in connection with one of the cast members. What was about this four-part miniseries that eluded so many Austen fans?

In “SENSE AND SENSIBILITY”, a wealthy landowner named Mr. Dashwood dies, leaving his two daughters and second wife at the mercy of his son by his first marriage, thanks to the rules of inheritance. When the son fails to financially help his sisters and stepmother, the trio are forced to live at a meager cottage, thanks to the generosity of Mrs. Dashwood’s cousin. The miniseries follows the love lives of the sisters, while they deal with their new penniless status.

I could have went into greater detail about Elinor and Marianne Dashwood. But what would have been the point? Austen’s novel and the other adaptations have made both their story and characters well known to fans. Everyone knows that the Dashwood sisters’ penniless state have made them undesirable as potential mates among the English upper-class. And many know that Elinor Dashwood is the older and more sensible sister, who kept her emotions suppressed behind a facade of stoic behavior. They also know that Marianne is the younger sisters, whose romantic enthusiasm led to emotional excesses and irrational behavior. Was there something unique about this adaptation of Austen’s novel? Hmmm. Other than it was probably the first version of the 1811 novel and the first of four versions to exclude the character of the youngest Dashwood sister, Margaret.

Overall, I believe that “SENSE AND SENSIBILITY” turned out to be an entertaining and well-paced television miniseries. But it was not perfect. One, I felt that screenwriter Denis Constanduros made a few missteps in his adaptation. I wish that Constanduros had included a scene featuring John Dashwood’s last conversation with his dying father. I felt that his eventually betrayal of his promise, due to his wife’s capriciousness would have possessed more bite. I also felt that Constanduros could have included more scenes featuring Marianne and John Willoughy’s courtship. The period between their first meeting and Willoughby’s decision to end their romance seemed to go by in a flash. It happened too soon for me to understand Marianne’s grief over his rejection of her. Although there were a good deal of exterior shots of the English countryside, I wish there had been more exterior shots of early 19th century London, during the sisters’ trip. The London sequences made the miniseries feel more like a filmed play. And why on earth did Constanduros allowed Elinor to pay a visit to Edward Ferrars’ London rooms alone? What was he thinking? He should have allowed Elinor to summon Edward to Mrs. Jennings’ home in order to deliver Colonel Brandon’s news about a new job. I have one last major problem. Why on earth did costume designer had Elinor and Marianne wearing identical traveling outfits? They were not twin sisters. And no siblings from an upper-class family – especially of the female gender – would be caught dead in this manner:

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What was costumer designer Charles Knode thinking?

I also had some problems with the casting and performances. I had a real problem with actress Ciaran Madden’s performance as Marianne Dashwood. How can I put it? It was over-the-top. I realize that she was at least 25 years old at the time this production was filmed. But did she and director David Giles really thought an exaggerated performance was necessary to portray the emotional 17 year-old Marianne? Was that their idea of portraying an emotional adolescent? And why would actor Michael Alderidge use a strong, regional accent for his portrayal of Sir John Middleton? I realize that his mother-in-law and wife came from a middle-class background. But Sir John and his cousin Mrs. Dashwood, did not. Both actresses who portrayed the Steele sisters – Frances Cuka and Maggie Jones – seemed at least a decade-and-a-half too old for their roles. And Kay Gallie’s Fanny Dashwood seemed like such a major disappointment. Her Fanny struck me as too passive-aggressive and nervous in compare to the other actresses who portrayed the role.

But despite some disappointments, I must admit that “SENSE AND SENSIBILITY” turned out to be a pretty good production. Hell, I like it a lot more than I do the 1981 television version. Thanks to Constanduros’s script and Giles’ direction, the four-part miniseries struck me as well paced – aside from Marianne and Willoughby’s courtship. Aside from the traveling outfits, I must admit that I found Knode’s costume designs both colorful and elegant. And like the 1995 movie, I was happy to see that the screenplay allowed Marianne to become aware of Colonel Brandon before her meeting with Willoughby . . . allowing the pair’s eventual romance in the last episode very credible.

There were also some very good performances in “SENSE AND SENSIBILITY”. I found myself surprisingly impressed by Richard Owens’ performance as Colonel Brandon. At first, I barely paid attention to him. But I must admit that his performance actually grew on me and I thought he did a credible job of slowly revealing Brandon’s passion for Marianne. Despite his strong regional accent, I must admit that Michael Aldridge was perfectly cast as Mrs. Dashwood’s gregarious cousin, Sir John Middleton. And despite her age, Frances Cuka did a very good of conveying Lucy Steele’s manipulations regarding Edward, Elinor and the Ferrars family . . . even if I found it a bit obvious. I was very impressed by Milton Johns’ performance as Elinor and Marianne’s spineless older half-brother John Dashwood. In fact, I feel that he gave one of the better performances in the miniseries. Robin Ellis gave a solid performance as Edward Ferrars. However, I must admit that I was not that impressed by his screen chemistry with Joanna David’s Elinor. In an ARTICLE I had written about Jane Austen’s rogues, I stated that I found Clive Francis’ portrayal of the caddish John Willoughby unmemorable. I take it back. On a second viewing, I found myself surprisingly impressed by his performance. I think I may have been distracted by the so-called Regency wig he was wearing . . . or the speed of the Marianne-Willoughby courtship. But I thought he gave a very complex performance.

But there were two performances in “SENSE AND SENSIBILITY” that I found outstanding. One of them belonged to Joanna David, who was perfect – well . . . almost – as Elinor Dashwood. She was one of the few performers who managed to restrain from “playing to the second balcony” as many other stage-trained actors tend to do. Mind you, there were moments when she seemed incapable of projecting Elinor’s passionate nature behind the sensible facade. But more than any other person in the cast, she did a superb job in carrying the miniseries on her shoulders. The other outstanding performance turned out to be Patricia Rutledge’s portrayal of the vivacious Mrs. Jennings, Sir John’s mother-in-law. She was in her early 40s at the time and technically, too young for the role. But I cannot deny that Rutledge seemed like the very personification of the verbose and interfering, yet warm-hearted widow. Of the four Mrs. Jennings I have seen, only Elizabeth Spriggs from the 1995 movie seemed her equal.

“SENSE AND SENSIBILITY” is not the best adaptation of Jane Austen’s 1811 novel, despite being the first. And it possessed certain aspects in both the script and casting that I found questionable. But thanks to David Giles’ direction, Denis Constanduros’ screenplay, and superb performances especially from Joanna David and Patricia Rutledge; I feel that it turned out to be a pretty damn good adaptation in the end. I would highly recommend it.

JANE AUSTEN’s Rogue Gallery

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Below is a look at the fictional rogues – male and female – created by Jane Austen in the six published novels written by her. So, without further ado . . .

JANE AUSTEN’S ROGUE GALLERY

John Willoughby – “Sense and Sensibility” (1811)

John Willoughby is a handsome young single man with a small estate, but has expectations of inheriting his aunt’s large estate. Also, Willoughby driven by the his own pleasures, whether amusing himself with whatever woman crossed his path, or via marrying in order to obtain wealth to fuel his profligate ways. He does not value emotional connection and is willing to give up Marianne Dashwood, his true love, for more worldly objects. Although not my favorite rogue, I feel that Willoughby is Austen’s most successful rogue, because he was able to feel remorse and regret for his rejection of Marianne by the end of the story. This makes him one of Austen’s most complex rogues. Here are the actors that portrayed John Willoughby:

1. Clive Francis (1971) – I must admit that I did not find him particularly memorable as Willoughby. At first.  In fact, my memories of his performance is very vague.   But upon further viewings, I was impressed by his subtle portrayal of the roguish Willoughby.

2. Peter Woodward (1981) – I first became aware of Woodward during his brief stint on the sci-fi series, “CRUSADE”. He was also slightly memorable as Willoughby, although I did not find his take on the character as particularly roguish. His last scene may have been a bit hammy, but otherwise, I found him tolerable.

 

3. Greg Wise (1995) – He was the first actor I saw portray Willoughby . . . and he remains my favorite. His Willoughby was both dashing and a little bit cruel. And I loved that he managed to conveyed the character’s regret over rejecting Marianne without any dialogue whatsoever.

 

4. Dominic Cooper (2008) – Many television critics made a big deal about his portrayal of Willoughby, but I honestly did not see the magic. However, I must admit that he gave a pretty good performance, even if his Willoughby came off as a bit insidious at times.

 

George Wickham – “Pride and Prejudice” (1813)

George Wickham is an old childhood friend of hero Fitzwilliam Darcy and the son of the Darcy family’s steward, whose dissipate ways estranged the pair. He is introduced into the story as a handsome and superficially charming commissioned militia officer in Meryton, who quickly charms and befriends the heroine, Elizabeth Bennet, after learning of her dislike of Darcy. Wickham manages to charm the entire Meryton neighborhood, before they realize that they have a snake in their midst. Elizabeth eventually learns of Wickham’s attempt to elope with the young Georgiana Darcy. Unfortunately, he manages to do the same with her younger sister, Lydia, endangering the Bennet family’s reputation. He could have been the best of Austen’s rogues, if it were not for his stupid decision to elope with Lydia, a young woman whose family would be unable to provide him with a well-endowed dowry. Because I certainly cannot see him choosing him as a traveling bed mate, while he evade creditors. Here are the actors that portrayed George Wickham:

1. Edward Ashley-Cooper (1940) – This Australian actor was surprisingly effective as the smooth talking Wickham. He was handsome, charming, witty and insidious. I am surprised that his portrayal is not that well known.

 

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2. Peter Settelen (1980) – He made a charming Wickham, but his performance came off as a bit too jovial for me to take him seriously as a rogue.

 

3. Adrian Lukis (1995) – His Wickham is, without a doubt, is my favorite take on the character. He is not as handsome as the other actors who have portrayed the role; but he conveyed all of the character’s attributes with sheer perfection.

 

4. Rupert Friend (2005) – I think that he was hampered by director Joe Wright’s script and failed to become an effective Wickham. In fact, I found his portrayal almost a waste of time.  And I especially believe that Wright had wasted his time.  For I believe he could have been a first-rate Wickham.

 

 

Henry Crawford – “Mansfield Park” (1814)

I think that one of the reasons I have such difficulties in enjoying “MANSFIELD PARK” is that I found Austen’s portrayal of the roguish Henry Crawford rather uneven. He is originally portrayed as a ladies’ man who takes pleasure in seducing women. But after courting heroine Fanny Price, he falls genuinely in love with her and successfully manages to mend his ways. But Fanny’s rejection of him (due to her love of cousin Edmund Bertram) lead him to begin an affair with Edmund’s sister, Maria Rushworth and is labeled permanently by Austen as a reprobate. This entire storyline failed to alienate me toward Henry. I just felt sorry for him, because Fanny was not honest enough to reveal why she had rejected him. Here are the actors that portrayed Henry Crawford:

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1. Robert Burbage (1983) – As I had stated in a review of the 1983 miniseries, I thought his take on Henry Crawford reminded me of an earnest schoolboy trying to act like a seducer. Sorry, but I was not impressed.

 

2. Alessandro Nivola (1999) – In my opinion, his portrayal of Henry was the best. He managed to convey the seductive qualities of the character, his gradual transformation into an earnest lover and the anger he felt at being rejected. Superb performance.

3. Joseph Beattie (2007) – His performance was pretty solid and convincing. However, there were a few moments when his Henry felt more like a stalker than a seducer. But in the end, he gave a pretty good performance.

 

Mary Crawford – “Mansfield Park” (1814)

Ah yes! Mary Crawford. I never could understand why Jane Austen eventually painted her as a villainess (or semi-villainess) in“MANSFIELD PARK”. As the sister of Henry Crawford, she shared his tastes for urbane airs, tastes, wit (both tasteful and ribald) and an interest in courtship. She also took an unexpected shine to the shy Fanny Price, while falling in love with the likes of Edmund Bertram. However, Edmund planned to become a clergyman, something she could not abide. Mary was not perfect. She could be superficial at times and a bit too manipulative for her own good. If I must be honest, she reminds me too much of Dolly Levi, instead of a woman of low morals. Here are the actresses who portrayed Mary Crawford:

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1. Jackie Smith-Wood (1983) – She gave a delightful and complex performance as Mary Crawford. I practically found myself wishing that “MANSFIELD PARK” had been a completely different story, with her as the heroine. Oh well. We cannot have everything.

2. Embeth Davidtz (1999) – Her portrayal of Mary was just as delightful and complex as Smith-Wood. Unfortunately for the actress, writer-director Patricia Rozema wrote a scene that featured a ridiculous and heavy-handed downfall for Mary. Despite that, she was still superb and held her own against Frances O’Connor’s more livelier Fanny.

 

3. Hayley Atwell (2007) – After seeing her performance as Mary, I began to suspect that any actress worth her salt can do wonders with the role. This actress was one of the bright spots in the 2007 lowly regarded version of Austen’s novel. Mind you, her portrayal was a little darker than the other two, but I still enjoyed her portrayal.

 

 

Frank Churchill – “Emma” (1815)

Frank Churchill was the son of one of Emma Woodhouse’s neighbors by a previous marriage. He was an amiable young man whom everyone, except Mr. George Knightley, who considered him quite immature. After his mother’s death he was raised by his wealthy aunt and uncle, whose last name he took. Frank may be viewed simply as careless, shallow, and little bit cruel in his mock disregard for his real fiancee, Jane Fairfax. But I find it difficult to view him as a villain. Here are the actors who portrayed Frank Churchill:

1. Robert East (1972) – It is hard to believe that this actor was 39-40 years old, when he portrayed Frank Churchill in this miniseries. He did a pretty good job, but there were a few moments when his performance seemed a bit uneven.

2. Ewan McGregor (1996) – He did a pretty good job, but his performance was hampered by Douglas McGrath’s script, which only focused upon Frank’s efforts to hide his engagement to Jane Fairfax.

 

3. Raymond Coulthard (1996-97) – In my opinion, he gave the best performance as Frank. The actor captured all of the character’s charm, humor, and perversity on a very subtle level.

 

4. Rupert Evans (2009) – He was pretty good as Frank, but there were times when his performance became a little heavy-handed, especially in later scenes that featured Frank’s frustrations in hiding his engagement to Jane Fairfax.

 

John Thorpe – “Northanger Abbey” (1817)

I would view John Thorpe as Jane Austen’s least successful rogue. I do not if I could even call him a rogue. He seemed so coarse, ill-mannered and not very bright. With his flashy wardrobe and penchant for mild profanity, I have doubts that he could attract any female, including one that was desperate for a husband. And his joke on Catherine Moreland seemed so . . . unnecessary. Here are the actors that portrayed John Thorpe:

1. Jonathan Coy (1986) – He basically did a good job with the character he was given. Although there were moments when his John Thorpe seemed more like an abusive stalker than the loser he truly was.

 

2. William Beck (2007) – I admit that physically, he looks a little creepy. But the actor did a first-rate job in portraying Thorpe as the crude loser he was portrayed in Austen’s novel.

 

Isabella Thorpe – “Northanger Abbey” (1817)

The lovely Isabella Thorpe was a different kettle of fish than her brother. She had ten times the charms and probably the brains. Her problem was that her libido brought her down the moment she clapped eyes on Captain Frederick Tilney. And this is what ended her friendship with heroine Catherine Moreland, considering that she was engaged to the latter’s brother. Here are the actresses who portrayed Isabella Thorpe:

1. Cassie Stuart (1986) – She did a pretty good job as Isabella, even if there were moments when she came off as a bit . . . well, theatrical. I only wish that the one of the crew had taken it easy with her makeup.

2. Carey Mulligan (2007) – She gave a first-rate performance as Isabella, conveying all of the character’s charm, intelligence and weaknesses. It was a very good performance.

 

 

William Elliot – “Persuasion” (1818)

William Elliot is a cousin of heroine Anne Elliot and the heir presumptive of her father, Sir Walter. He became etranged from the family when he wed a woman of much lower social rank, for her fortune. Sir Walter and Elizabeth had hoped William would marry the latter. After becoming a widower, he mended his relationship with the Elliots and attempted to court Anne in the hopes of inheriting the Elliot baronetcy and ensuring that Sir Walter never marries Mrs. Penelope Clay, Elizabeth Elliot’s companion. He was an interesting character, but his agenda regarding Sir Walter’s title and estates struck me as irrelevant. Sir Walter could have easily found another woman to marry and conceive a male heir. “PERSUASION” could have been a better story without a rogue/villain. Here are the actors that portrayed William Elliot:

1. David Savile (1971) – He made a pretty good William Elliot. However, there were times when his character switched from a jovial personality to a seductive one in an uneven manner.

2. Samuel West (1995) – His portrayal of William Elliot is probably the best I have ever seen. He conveyed all aspects of William’s character – both the good and bad – with seamless skill. My only problem with his characterization is that the screenwriter made his William financial broke. And instead of finding another rich wife, this William tries to court Anne to keep a close eye on Sir Walter and Mrs. Clay. Ridiculous.

 

3. Tobias Menzies (2007) – I found his portrayal of William Elliot to be a mixed affair. There were moments that his performance seemed pretty good. Unfortunately, there were more wooden moments from the actor than decent ones.

 

Macaroni and Cheese

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Below is an article I had written about a famous comfort food dish known as Macaroni and Cheese:

MACARONI AND CHEESE

Macaroni and Cheese is a famous dish known throughout Europe and other Western countries, especially the United States. My own memories of the dish date back to my childhood when my parents and grandmother used to serve it to me and my siblings . . . especially from the pre-packaged box form created by the company, Kraft. But I have eaten traditional homemade Macaroni and Cheese every now and then.

Although known today as an American comfort dish, Macaroni and Cheese was a dish made from Parmesan cheese and past that originated in Italy. Pasta and cheese casseroles have been recorded in cookbooks as early as the 14th century’s “Liber de Coquina”, one of the oldest medieval cookbooks. The dish also made its first appearance in England during the same century, in the famous English medieval cookbook titled “Forme of Cury”.

The first modern recipe for Macaroni and Cheese appeared in Elizabeth Raffald’s 1769 book “The Experienced English Housekeeper”. Her recipe called for a Béchamel sauce with Cheddar cheese, which is mixed with macaroni pasta, sprinkled with Parmesan cheese and baked. The dish also appeared in the famous Victorian cookbook, “Mrs. Beeton’s Book of Household Management” and included two recipes for the dish.

Many would be surprised to learn that the future third President of the United States, Thomas Jefferson may have been responsible for the introduction of Macaroni and Cheese to Americans. He first sampled the dish in both in Paris and in northern Italy, and later incorporated the dish at his Virginia home, Monticello. As the country’s third president, Jefferson served Macaroni and Cheese at a State dinner in 1802. Mary Randolph, sister to Jefferon’s son-in-law Thomas Mann Randolph Jr., included a recipe for the dish in her 1824 cookbook, “The Virginia Housewife”.

Below is a recipe for “Macaroni and Cheese” from the MyRecipe website:

Macaroni and Cheese

Ingredients

2 cups milk
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 (10-oz.) block extra sharp Cheddar cheese, shredded
1/4 teaspoon ground red pepper (optional)
1/2 (16-oz.) package elbow macaroni, cooked

Preparation

1. Whisk flour into butter

Preheat oven to 400°. Microwave milk at HIGH for 1 1/2 minutes. Melt butter in a large skillet or Dutch oven over medium-low heat; whisk in flour until smooth. Cook, whisking constantly, 1 minute.

2. Whisk in warm milk

Gradually whisk in warm milk, and cook, whisking constantly, 5 minutes or until thickened.

3. Whisk in cheese

Whisk in salt, black pepper, 1 cup shredded cheese, and, if desired, red pepper until smooth; stir in pasta. Spoon pasta mixture into a lightly greased 2-qt. baking dish; top with remaining cheese. Bake at 400° for 20 minutes or until golden and bubbly.

The 18th Century in Television

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Recently, I noticed there were a good number of television productions in both North America and Great Britain, set during the 18th century. In fact, I managed to count at least six productions. Astounded by this recent interest in that particular century, I decided to list them below in alphabetical order:

 

THE 18TH CENTURY IN TELEVISION

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1. “Banished” (BBC TWO) – I do not whether this was a miniseries or regular series, but it was basically about a penal colony in New South Wales, Australia; where British convicts and their Royal Navy marine guards and officers live. Russell Tovey, Julian Rhind-Tutt, and MyAnna Buring star in this recently cancelled series.

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2. “Black Sails” (STARZ) – Toby Stephens stars in this prequel to Robert Louis Stevenson’s novel, “Treasure Island”, about the adventures of Captain Flint.

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3. “Book of Negroes” (CBC/BET) – This six-part miniseries is an adaptation of Lawrence Hill historical novel about a West African girl who is sold into slavery around the time of the American Revolution and her life experiences in the United States and Canada. Aunjanue Ellis, Lyriq Bent and Cuba Gooding, Jr. star.

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4. “Outlander” (STARZ) – This series is an adaptation of Diana Gabaldon’s “Outlander” book series about a 1940s woman who ends up traveling back in time to 18th century Scotland. Caitriona Balfe, Sam Heughan and Tobias Menzies star.

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5. “Poldark” (BBC ONE) – Aidan Turner and Eleanor Tomlinson star in this new television adaptation of Winston Graham’s book series about a former British Army officer who returns home to Cornwall after three years fighting in the American Revolution.

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6. “Sons of Liberty” (HISTORY Channel) – Ben Barnes, Rafe Spall and Henry Thomas starred in this three-part miniseries about the Sons of Liberty political group and the beginning of the American Revolution.

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7. “Turn: Washington’s Spies” (AMC) – Jamie Bell stars in this series about a pro-American spy ring operating on behalf of General George Washington during the American Revolution.

 

“JANE EYRE” (2011) Review

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“JANE EYRE” (2011) Review

There seemed to be certain famous British novels that are always adapted for film or television . . . over and over again. One of those novel is Charlotte Brontë’s 1847 novel, “Jane Eyre”. There have been twelve television adaptations and seventeen movie adaptations. That must be a world record for any literary piece. I have seen at least three television adaptations and four movie adaptations. The most recent I have seen is the 2011 motion picture, directed by Cary Fukunaga.

“JANE EYRE” – at least this version – begins with governess Jane Eyre leaving Thornfield Hall in the middle of the night, crying. She finds herself stranded on the Yorkshire moors, until she reaches the home of a clergyman named St. John Rivers and his two sisters. They allow Jane to stay with him. While staying with the Rivers family, Jane flashes back to the events that led to her flight and meeting with her rescuers. Her flashbacks begin with her last days at her childhood home, Gateshead, as a ten year-old girl clashing with her brutish Cousin John Reed and her cold Aunt Reed. The latter sends her to Lowood School for Girls, which is run by a cruel clergyman, Mr. Brocklehurst. Jane endures the brutality of Lowood with the help of a friend named Helen Burns. After Helen dies, Jane remains at Lowood for eight years, until she leaves to become a governess for a French orphan girl named Adele Varens at Thornfield. Jane becomes acquainted with the manor’s inhabitants – including Adele, housekeeper Mrs. Alice Fairfax and the manor’s owner, Mr. Edward Rochester. Jane’s relationship with Mr. Rochester develops from an employee/employer relationship to something more complicated and romantic. But their relationship is threatened by a secret that looms over Thornfield.

This adaptation of Brontë’s novel became the second one of my knowledge that was structured differently. In other words, this production began in the middle of Brontë’s tale, instead of the beginning. Fortunately, Fukunaga and screenwriter Moira Buffini’s changes to the story’s structure did not harm the story one bit. As far as I am concerned. By allowing the movie to begin with Jane Eyre’s flight from Thornfield Hall, Fukunaga and Buffini set up a second mystery within the story for those moviegoers unfamiliar with the story. The 2011 movie is not completely faithful to Brontë’s novel. And this is not a bad thing. Buffini’s screenplay did not focus very long on Jane’s stay at Lowood – for which I am utterly grateful. It also deleted Mr. Rochester’s prank against his female guests, when he disguised himself as a Gypsy fortune teller. This version also featured a bit of sexual tension between Jane and her benefactor, St. John Rivers. It also eliminated any reference to the latter’s romantic feelings toward a local heiress named Rosamond Oliver. Actually, the changes to Brontë’s novel did not really affect my feelings about the movie. Although it garnered a good deal of praise from many critics, “JANE EYRE” drew mix feelings from many moviegoers – especially those who were fans of the novel. This mixed reaction led me to ignore the movie for nearly two years, until my curiosity finally got the best of me and I watched it.

I was relieved to discover that “JANE EYRE” proved to be better than I had originally assumed. First of all, the movie benefited from a solid pacing, thanks to Fukunaga’s direction. Not only did Fukunaga kept the pacing lively enough to maintain my interest, but did not rush it . . . except in one pivotal scene. Despite re-arranging the story’s structure and deleting some scenes, both Fukunaga and Buffini maintained Brontë’s basic narrative. One aspect of the movie that I really enjoyed proved to be Adriano Goldman’s photography. Although the story is set in Yorkshire, Fukunaga shot most of the film in Derbyshire. It did not matter, for I was dazzled by Goldman’s work, especially in the sequence that featured Jane’s flight from Thornfield Hall. I also have to give kudos to Melanie Oliver’s editing for the smooth transitions between the sequences with the Rivers family and the flashbacks to Gatehead, Lowood and Thornfield Hall. But I am also a costume whore. And if there is one aspect of period dramas that really appeal to me, it is the costumes. And I might as well say it – Michael O’Connor’s costumes for the movie blew my mind. I thought he did a superb job in re-creating the fashions of the 1830s and especially the 1840s. O’Connor earned Academy Award and BAFTA Award nominations for his work. Below are examples of O’Connor’s beautiful costumes:

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However, “JANE EYRE” is not perfect. What movie is? And yet . . . I would never consider this movie as the best adaptation of Brontë’s novel. Since “JANE EYRE” is basically a love story about a demure English governess and her moody employer, one would expect the two leads to crackle with chemistry. Unfortunately, I never detected any real chemistry between Mia Wasikowska and Michael Fassbender. Lord knows they tried. They really tried. One of the problems is that Wasikowska had better chemistry with Jamie Bell, who portrayed St. John Rivers. I did not find this surprising, considering that the pair had portrayed young lovers in the 2008 World War II drama, “DEFIANCE”. There were a few scenes from the novel that did not appear in this film . . . and I missed them. I do not recall Rochester’s caustic recollections of his affair with young Adele’s mother. And I felt surprised that Rochester’s attempts to keep Jane at Thornfield seemed to be tinged with self-remorse. I do not recall Rochester expressing any remorse for his attempt to draw Jane into an ill-fated marriage and later, an illicit affair in the novel or other adaptations. I also got the feeling that Fukunaga and Buffini were trying to maintain a positive portrayal of him, following the revelation of his secret. And I must admit that I found Jane’s return to Thornfield and her reconciliation with Rochester rather disappointing. Unlike the rest of the film, I believe this final sequence was rushed. In fact, once Jane agrees to marry him, the movie suddenly ends, denying moviegoers Jane’s revelations about her time with St. John Rivers and his sisters and her marriage to Rochester. In other words, Fukunaga removed the story’s epilogue, causing the movie to end in an abrupt manner.

The performances featured in “JANE EYRE” seemed to range from solid to the superb. Most of the solid performances came from cast members that did not have a particularly large role in the film – for example, Freya Parks (as Helen Burns), Sophie Ward (Lady Ingram), Ewart James Walters (John Reed), Holliday Grainger (Diana Rivers) and Tamzin Merchant (Mary Rivers). Harry Lloyd’s performance as Richard Mason nearly made this list, but there were times I found myself wondering if he had been too young for the role. On the other hand, Romy Settbon Moore made a rather charming Adèle Varens. Simon McBurney gave a spot-on performance as the religious and tyranical Mr. Brocklehurst. But if I must be honest, it is a role he could have done in his sleep. I was surprised to see Sally Hawkins in the role of Jane’s Aunt Reed. This is the second role I have seen her in and it is such a complete difference to the Anne Elliot role from “PERSUASION” that I am still trying to comprehend it.

I really enjoyed Judi Dench’s portrayal of Thornfield Hall’s housekeeper, Mrs. Fairfax. She did an excellent job in conveying all aspects of the charater’s trait – the positive and occasionally, the not-so-positive. And she managed to utilized a soft Yorkshire accent without trying to hard. Jamie Bell’s portrayal of St. John Rivers really took me by surprise – in a positive way. Mind you, St. John has always struck me as an interesting character, but Bell’s strong screen chemistry with leading lady Mia Wasikowska contributed more nuance into the role. It seemed as if his St. John was a passionate man, who barely hid his feelings with a cool and socially correct persona. Michael Fassbender received a good deal of accolades for his portrayal of Edward Rochester. And there were times I believe he truly earned them by conveying the character’s sardonic and brooding manner. However, there were times when I found his performance a little wooden. And as I had stated earlier, his screen chemistry with Wasikowska was not always that strong. But the star of this movie, in my opinion was Mia Wasikowska as Jane Eyre. I was not that kind about the actress’ performance in the Disney film, “ALICE IN WONDERLAND”. And I thought she did a solid job in “LAWLESS”. But she ruled supreme in this movie’s title role. She did a superb job in projecting Jane’s emotions and passions with great subtlety and at the same time, conveying her character’s deep sense of morality. I must admit that I found her Yorkshire accent a bit of surprise, considering that Jane Eyre came from Britain’s gentry class. Despite this, I felt that Wasikowska made a superb Jane Eyre. And a part of me cannot help but wonder why Fassbender received more accolades than she.

I would not go out of my way and state that “JANE EYRE” was the best adaptation of Charlotte Brontë’s novel. It possesses some flaws that prevent me from considering it among the top adaptations. But I do feel that it turned out to be a lot better than I had imagined it would be. In the end, I cannot join those group of “purists” who have condemned the film for failing to be an exact adaptation of the novel.

“BECKY SHARP” (1935)

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“BECKY SHARP” (1935) Review

Being something of a film history buff, I have been aware of the 1935 adaptation of William Makepeace Thackeray’s 1847-48 novel, “Vanity Fair” for a number of years. But I have never been inclined to watch the film, until recently.

I cannot say what led to my recent interest in “BECKY SHARP”. But it was a book on David O. Selznick that made me first aware of the 1935 film. John Hay “Jock” Whitney and Cornelius Vanderbilt Whitney had founded Pioneer Pictures in 1933 as a means to produce color movies. “Jock” Whitney was close friends with Selznick. He even co-financed Selznick’s production company, Selznick International, in 1935. Between the creations of Pioneer Pictures and Selznick International, the former released the first feature-length film to use the three-strip Technicolor process. “BECKY SHARP” is the sixth of eleven film and/or television adaptations of the Thackeray’s novel. It is the first in color.

“BECKY SHARP” took its title from the novel’s main character, a poor, but educated young English lady who struggles rise in the ranks of Britain’s social classes during the early years of the 19th century. Becky Sharp is the orphaned daughter of an English painter and French dancer, who graduates from Miss Pinkerton’s Academy for Young Ladies with a friend named Amelia Sedley. Since Amelia is the daughter of a wealthy merchant, Becky manipulates her way into her friend’s household, where she meets Amelia’s portly and jovial brother, Joseph “Jos” Sedley. Before Becky can sink her hooks into Jos, the Sedley patriarch put an end to the budding “romance” by sending Jos away to India. Meanwhile, Becky finds employment as a governess at the estate of Sir Pitt Crawley. She eventually wins the heart and hand of Crawley’s playboy son Rawdon, an officer in the British army. When news of Napoleon Bonaparte‘s escape from Elba reach Britain, Becky is reunited with Amelia, who has now married her childhood sweetheart George Osborne. The two women’s husbands and William Dobbin are deployed to Belgium to face Napoleon’s Army. But the last stages of the Napoleonic Wars proved to be the first of many crisis thrown Becky’s way.

Judging from the movie’s title, it is clear to me that screenwriter Francis Edward Faragoh had deleted a great deal of Thackeray’s novel in order to write a screenplay with a running time of eighty-four minutes. I found it odd that a film adaptation of such a famous epic novel would have such a short running time. Other epics and movie adaptations of literary works had running times that sometimes went past two hours – including “A TALE OF TWO CITIES”, “MUTINY ON THE BOUNTY”,“THE CRUSADES”, and “CAPTAIN BLOOD”. I can only assume that a minor and newly formed production company like Pioneer Pictures could not afford to produce the first Technicolor feature film with a running time close to or over two hours. If that was the case . . . if the Whitneys were that determined to produce the first full-featured movie in color . . . they could have chosen something that was not an adaptation of a famous epic novel. I find it ironic that Mina Nair’s 2004 adaptation of Thackeray’s novel had received a great deal of criticism for not being truly faithful to its source. I have encountered less criticism of “BECKY SHARP” than I did for the 2004 film. Yet, the latter is more faithful than the former. One of my problems with “BECKY SHARP” is that I thought the producers, director Rouben Mamoulian and screenwriter Francis Edward Faragoh did a piss poor job of adapting Thackery’s novel to the screen. I just learned that the 1935 movie is actually an adaptation of Langdon Elwyn Mitchell’s 1899 play, which was an adaptation of the 1847-48 novel. I hate to say this, but the movie’s running time of eighty-four (84) minutes did not serve the story.

There is so much in “BECKY SHARP” that was left out. Most of the narrative that focused upon Amelia was deleted, especially her fractious relationship with her father-in-law, Mr. Osborne. In fact, George’s father never made an appearance in this film. I suspect the same could be said about Mitchell’s play. The only time the movie focused upon Amelia’s character arc was when Becky was personally involved . . . namely George’s infatuation with Becky before the Waterloo battle and Becky forcing Amelia to face the truth about George in the movie’s last fifteen to twenty minutes. It is not surprising that the movie’s title was based upon the main character’s name. Not only was much of Amelia’s personal story deleted, the movie also rushed through Becky’s stay with the Sedley and Crawley families. It seemed as if Mamoulian and Faragoh could not wait to focus on the impact of Waterloo and the marriage between Becky and Rawdon. Between the handling of Amelia’s character arc and the rushed narrative in the movie’s first half, it is no wonder that I found “BECKY SHARP” particularly unsatisfying.

I found other aspects of “BECKY SHARP” unsatisfying. The sound and visual quality of the movie’s DVD version low in quality. The photography and color struck me as faded. And the sound is scratchy. For once, I am not blaming the movie’s filmmakers. Whoever had possession of “BECKY SHARP” after Pioneer Pictures had failed to maintain its original quality. But I can blame the filmmakers on other aspects of the movie. In it, the Jos Sedley character returned to Europe with a little Indian boy in tow as his personal servant. Only the “Indian servant” was portrayed by a young African-American actor named Jimmy Robinson. To this day, I am still trying to figure out how the producers and director Rouben Mamoulian saw nothing wrong in an African-American kid portraying an Indian kid. Hollywood’s casting for non-white characters seemed really skewed in this film. And then . . . there was the acting.

I am surprised that “BECKY SHARP” led to a Best Actress Oscar nomination for actress Miriam Hopkins. Granted, she handled the character’s questionable morality, desperation and charm very well. Yet, Hopkins engaged in so much hammy acting that I found myself wondering why of all her performances, she ended up earning a nomination for this particular one. I wish I could say that the rest of the cast gave better performances . . . but I cannot. Other cast members gave equally hammy performances. Nigel Bruce, Alan Mowbray, Alison Skipworth, G.P. Huntley and many others were equally hammy. I could not accuse Colin Tapley of hamminess on the same scale. But I found his portrayal of William Dobbin rather dramatic. And I am not being complimentary. The only cast members who actually impressed me were Frances Dee and Cedrick Hardwicke. Dee gave a surprisingly subtle and convincing performance as the sweet and passive Amelia Sedley. Thanks to Dee’s performances, audiences saw both the positive and negative aspects of Amelia’s passiveness. Hardwicke was equally subtle as Becky’s aristocratic “benefactor”, the Marquis of Steyne. Even though Steyne is an unlikable character, Hardwicke was no mustache-twirling villain.

The only reason I would recommend “BECKY SHARP” to anyone is for historical purposes. Because this is the first feature-length motion picture in color, I would recommend this movie to any film buff. Otherwise, I would stay clear of “BECKY SHARP”and consider other adaptations of William Makepeace Thackery’s novel.

“AMAZING GRACE” (2006-07) Review

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“AMAZING GRACE” (2006-07) Review

Ever since the release of the 2012 Oscar winning film, “12 YEARS A SLAVE”, there seemed to be this idea – especially with the British media – that Hollywood has remained silent regarding the topic of American slavery. I find this opinion ironic, considering my failure to find many U.K. films on British slavery.

When I first read McQueen’s criticism of Hollywood’s failure to produce a good number of films about American slavery, I decided to check the Internet to see how many slavery movies that the British film industry had produced. So far, I have only come across three – and one of them is “AMAZING GRACE”, the 2006 movie about abolitionist William Wilberforce‘s efforts to end Britain’s participation in the Atlantic Slave Trade.

Looking back upon “AMAZING GRACE”, I could not help but feel that it would have made an appropriate companion piece to Steven Spielberg’s 2012 movie, “LINCOLN”. Although one focused upon the slave trade throughout Britain’s Empire around the Georgian Era and the other focused upon the United States’ efforts to officially end slavery during the last year of the Civil War, both explored the political impacts on the institution of slavery in their respective countries. But there were differences. “AMAZING GRACE” focused upon the end of Britain’s official participation in the Atlantic slave trade and received only a few accolades. “LINCOLN”, on the other hand, focused upon the end of slavery altogether (the country’s participation in the slave trade ended around the same time as Great Britain) and received a great deal of accolades.

“AMAZING GRACE” begins in the middle of its story with a very ill William Wilberforce traveling to Bath with his cousin Henry Thornton and cousin-in-law Marianne to Bath for a recuperative holiday in 1797. The Thorntons decide to play matchmaker and introduce him to their friend, Barbara Spooner. Although the pair initially goes out of their way to resist any romantic overtures, Barbara ends up convincing Wilberforce to relate the story of his career.

The movie flashes back some fifteen years into the past, when Wilberforce was a young and ambitious Member of Parliament (MP). After he experiences a religious enlightenment and aligns himself with the evangelical wing of the Church of England, Wilberforce contemplates leaving politics to study theology. But friends such as William Pitt, Thomas Clarkson, Hannah More, and Olaudah Equiano convinces him that he could be more effective doing God’s work by fighting for the issue of Britain’s slave trade. Wilberforce’s convictions are deepened by a meeting with his former mentor, John Newton, a former slave ship captain turned Christian, whose regrets of his past participation in the slave trade led him to become an evangelist minister and writer of the poem that led to the song, “Amazing Grace”. Despite great effort and assistance from his fellow abolitionists, Wilberforce’s efforts fail, thanks to the pro-slavery cabal in Parliament after fifteen years. Following his marriage to Barbara Spooner, Wilberforce takes up the cause again with different results.

I am going to be brutally frank. “AMAZING GRACE” did not strike me as superior or at the same level of quality as “LINCOLN”. I am not stating that the 2006 movie was terrible or even mediocre. I simply feel that it is not as good as the 2012 Oscar winning film. There is something about the style of “AMAZING GRACE” that lacked the more complex nature and characterizations of“LINCOLN”. I found it . . . well, ideal and very preachy at times. I realize this movie is about the institution of slavery throughout the British Empire. But I believe that just because a story ( in any form) centers around an unpleasant topic like slavery does not have to be told with such a lack of moral complexity. I suspect that screenwriter Steven Knight tried to inject some kind of complexity in Wilberforce’s original reluctance to take up the cause of the abolition of the slave trade and in his despair over the failure of the abolition cause by 1797. But the movie simply lacked that murky ambiguity that made movies like “LINCOLN” and “DJANGO UNCHAINED” more complex to me. Even worse, there were times when the movie fell into the danger of transforming Wilberforce into some idealized character – what is known by those familiar with fan fiction as a Mary Sue. The movie seemed to hint that the success of Britain’s abolitionist movement centered around Wilberforce. And I found that annoying.

I have one last problem with “AMAZING GRACE”. The use of flashbacks struck me as a bit . . . well, confusing. This especially seemed to be the case in the first two-thirds of the movie, which alternated between the present setting (1797) and the past (between 1782 and 1797). I hate to say this, but director Michael Apted and editor Rick Shaine did not handle these shifts in time with any real clarity. After my third viewing of the film, I finally got a handling on the shifts between the narrative’s past and present. Many film critics have pointed out the movie’s historical inaccuracies, which include the time period in which Wilberforce became interested in animal rights and the Duke of Clarence’s erroneous service in the House of Commons. Honestly? They are simply bloopers and nothing for me to get excited over.

Despite its flaws, I must admit that “AMAZING GRACE” is a first-rate and stirring film. It touched upon a subject that I knew very little of . . . namely Britain’s abolition movement. In fact, when I first saw the film, it reminded me that countries like the United States, Cuba, and Brazil were not the only ones with strong ties to slavery and the Atlantic slave trade. These ties were especially made apparent in scenes which Wilberforce and his allies battled with the pro-slavery forces like Banastre Tarleton and the Duke of Clarence and St. Andrews (the future King William IV). Although “AMAZING GRACE” mainly focused on the political aspect of abolition in Great Britain, there are two memorable scenes that reflect the horrors of slavery – Wilberforce and Olaudah_Equiano’s tour of a slave ship and Newton’s verbal recollections of his time as a slave ship captain. However, “AMAZING GRACE” also touches upon Wilberforce’s personal life – especially his courtship of and marriage to fellow abolitionist Barbara Spooner. And it is to Ioan Gruffudd and Romola Garai’s credit that they had created a strong and very believable screen chemistry.

“AMAZING GRACE” is also a very beautiful movie to look at. And that is an odd thing to say about a movie about slavery. As always, I tend to look at the production designer as the one responsible for the movie’s overall visual style. In the case of“AMAZING GRACE”, the man responsible was Charles Wood, who did an amazing job in recapturing Great Britain during the late 18th century. His work was ably assisted by the art direction team led by David Allday and Eliza Solesbury’s set decorations. And since “AMAZING GRACE” is a period drama, I cannot ignore the costumes designed by film icon Jenny Beavan. Needless to say, her costumes were beautiful and perfectly adhered to the movie’s time period and the characters. I especially enjoyed her costumes for actresses Romola Garai and Sylvestra Le Touzel.

All of the beautiful costumes, magnificent photography and impressive production designs in the world cannot save a movie. Aside from a first-rate narrative, a movie needs a talented cast. Thankfully for “AMAZING GRACE”, it had one. Ioan Gruffudd, whom I tend to associate more with television, gave an excellent and passionate performance as the dedicated William Wilberforce. Also, Gruffudd more than held his own with the array of more experienced performers that were cast in this film. I do not know when Benedict Cumberbatch first made a name for himself. But I cannot deny that he gave a superb performance as William Pitt, the politician who eventually became the country’s youngest Prime Minister. Cumberbatch did a first-rate job in portraying how Pitt’s idealism, political savy and professional ambiguity sometimes clashed. Romola Garai gave a beautiful performance as Barbara Spooner Wilberforce, the politician’s wife of thirty-odd years. By expressing her character’s own passionate beliefs in the abolitionist movement, Garai portrayed her more than just Wilberforce’s love interest.

Albert Finney made several appearances in the film as former slave ship captain-turned-evangelist John Newton, who became Wilberforce’s mentor. Despite his limited appearances, Finney brilliantly portrayed Newton’s pragmatic nature about his past and the guilt he continued to feel for his role in Britain’s slave trade. I also have to comment on Rufus Sewell’s very entertaining performance as abolitionist Thomas Clarkson. I do not think I have ever come across a performance so colorful, and at the same time, very subtle. The movie also benefited excellent support from the likes of Michael Gambon, Ciarán Hinds, Toby Jones, Jeremy Swift, Stephen Campbell Moore, and Bill Paterson. Senegalese singer-activist Youssou N’Dour gave a solid performance in his acting debut as former slave-turned-abolitionist Olaudah Equiano. And Nicholas Farrell and Sylvestra Le Touzel, who co-starred in 1983’s “MANSFIELD PARK” together, reunited to give entertaining performances as the Wilberforces’ close friends, Henry and Marianne Thornton.

Without a doubt, I regard “AMAZING GRACE” as an entertaining, yet very interesting look into the life of William Wilberforce and his role in Britain’s abolition of the slave trade. Granted, the movie came off a touch pretentious and there were times when the Wilberforce character came off as too idealized. But the movie’s visual style, intelligent script and excellent performances from a cast led by Ioan Gruffudd made this film worthwhile for me.

Top Ten Favorite “ANGEL” (1999-2004) Episodes

Below is a list of my ten favorite episodes of “ANGEL” (1999-2004), which starred David Boreanaz:

TOP TEN FAVORITE “ANGEL” (1999-2004) EPISODES

1. (1.19) “Sanctuary” – The second of a two-part episode about a burnt out Faith’s appearance in Los Angeles. Following her breakdown, Angel discovers that the Watchers Council and Buffy are after her.

2. (2.07) “Darla” – Angel tries to find a way to save a human Darla from the clutches of Wolfram and Hart, while she remembers her past as a vampire.

3. (5.11) “Damage” – Angel and Spike hunt down a psychotic Slayer who has escaped from an institution and believes that Spike is the man who drove her insane.

4. (2.02) “Are You Now or Have You Ever Been” – In this send-up on the post-World War II Communist witch hunts, Angel recalls a traumatic experience during the 1950s at the Hyperion Hotel.

5. (1.18) “Five by Five” – The first half of Faith’s appearance in Los Angeles has the rogue Slayer being recruited by Wolfram and Hart to assassinate Angel.

6. (3.09) “Lullaby” – Holtz, a demon hunter from the past, hunts down Angel, while Darla endures a difficult labor.

7. (4.10) “Awakening” – In an attempt to bring down The Beast and restore the sun, Wesley brings in a dark mystic to extract Angel’s soul.

8. (5.08) “Destiny” – Spike is recorporealized, and the two souled vampires battle it out to drink from the “Cup of Perpetual Torment” to settle the renewed conflict of the Shanshu Prophecy.

9. (4.16) “Players” – Gwen Raiden enlists Charles Gunn’s help to steal a device to control her electrical abilities while Lorne attempts a ritual to restore his empathic powers.

10. (4.04) “Slouching Toward Bethlehem” – Cordelia Chase inexplicably returns from her higher dimension, but she has no memory of who she is and who her friends are; and Lilah Morgan develops an interest in her reappearance, as well.