“NORTH AND SOUTH: BOOK I” (1985) – Episode Six “1860-1861” Commentary

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“NORTH AND SOUTH: BOOK I” (1985) – EPISODE SIX “1860-1861” Commentary

We finally come to the last episode of the 1985 miniseries, “NORTH AND SOUTH: BOOK I”. And it is a doozy. This is the episode in which the Hazard and Main families unknowingly say good-bye to the past and present before their lives are turned upside-down by the American Civil War.

Episode Six opens on Presidential Election Day (November 6, 1860), two days after Lieutenant Billy Hazard’s arrival in Charleston, South Carolina; at the end of Episode Five. An excited Brett Main, who had been staying at her sister’s home since her quarrel with their brother Orry at the family’s plantation, Mont Royal anticipates meeting Billy. Brett’s elation over her reunion with her fiancé during a luncheon is dimmed by his anger over Orry’s reluctance to approve their marriage, and a violent encounter with a group of pro-secession thugs hired by Ashton to kill Billy. Following Abraham Lincoln’s election as the new president, the state of South Carolina begin its preparations to secede from the United States. Before secession can be achieved, George Hazard visits Orry at Mont Royal to mend their estrangement and convince the other man to approve Billy and Brett’s upcoming marriage. The two men go to Charleston to inform the engaged couple. Unfortunately, Billy receives orders to report to Fort Moultrie, which turns out to be a protracted stay following South Carolina’s secession from the Union. Following Texas’ secession a month later, Charles Main resigns from the U.S. Army and heads back home to South Carolina.

Less than two months later, Billy receives orders from his commander, Major Robert Anderson to report to the War Department in Washington D.C. and deliver dispatches. He uses the opportunity to marry Brett at Mont Royal. The wedding finally allows Ashton to plot her revenge against Billy, using Forbes LaMotte’s help. Fortunately for Billy, Madeline LaMotte overhears Forbes, his Uncle Justin and friend Preston Smith going over Ashton’s plot. With great difficulty and pain from Justin, Madeline escapes from Resolute and heads for Mont Royal to warn the Mains. Billy and Brett are ambushed by Forbes and Preston on their way to the rail stop. Just as Billy and Forbes engage in a duel that would have left the former with a useless pistol, Charles arrives in time to assist his friend. The conflict ends with Forbes’ death at Billy’s hand, Justin bereft of his nephew and wife, and Ashton banished from Mont Royal by Orry. In April 1861, Orry mortgages Mont Royal to return money that George had invested in their sawmill. During his journey north, Major Anderson had been forced to surrender his command at Fort Sumter. With small difficulty, Orry arrives at Lehigh Station, where he meets George and Constance’s new daughter. Also, a vengeful Virgilia incites a mob to attack the Hazard home and lynch Orry. Fortunately, George manages to intimidate his neighbors into calling off the attack. Virgilia leaves Belvedere for the last time with some loot in hand. And George and Orry bid each good-bye before the latter departs Lehigh Station for his journey back to South Carolina.

I must say that “NORTH AND SOUTH: BOOK I” certainly ended with a bang. And a very satisfied one. There were some problems. I found Terri Garber’s performance in a scene that featured Ashton’s rant against Brett and Billy rather hammy. She gave a great performance throughout most of the miniseries. But this one scene was probably her weakest moment. I was very curious over Elkhannah Bent’s appearance in Washington D.C. on the day of President Lincoln’s inauguration. He was still wearing a U.S. Army uniform, despite the fact that his home state of Georgia had already seceded two months earlier. In fact, I found it surprising that Charles Main did not resign from the Army, until two months after South Carolina’s secession. The miniseries continued its irritating habit of expressing an erroneous length of time for the period Madeline La Motte was being drugged by her husband. But the episode’s real problem proved to be the character of Forbes LaMotte, nephew of Justin LaMotte.

I had no problems with actor William Ostrander’s portrayal of Forbes. He gave a subtle and skillful performance. This was especially apparent in one scene in which Forbes, Justin and Preston discussed Ashton’s plan to have Billy murdered. David Carradine was fine, despite a few hammy moments. On the other hand, David Weaver’s portrayal of Preston Smith struck me as rather stagey . . . over-the-top. Only Ostrander managed to project any villainy with real subtlety. While watching Episode Six, I found myself wondering why Forbes had even bothered to help Ashton kill Billy. Why? I understood why in Jakes’ novel. The literary Forbes was in love with Brett. He did not take her rejection of him no better than Ashton took Billy’s rejection. I never got the impression that Forbes was in love with either Brett or Ashton in the miniseries. Forbes seemed to regard Brett’s rejection as a minor annoyance. And his feelings toward Ashton seemed to be based on pure lust and amusement. So why did he agree to murder Billy on Ashton’s behalf? The screenwriters’ portrayal of Forbes is probably one of the miniseries’ major failures.

However, I still regard Episode Six as one of the miniseries’ better chapters. Once again, Richard T. Heffron proved his talent for directing crowd scenes. I was especially how he handled the growing frenzy and chaos of “secession fever” that permeated Charleston in two scenes – namely Billy and Brett’s encounter with street thugs and the night Charleston announced South Carolina’s secession from the Union. Ironically, the latter sequence began in Ashton’s dining room, where Brett, Orry and George heard the bells of St. Michael’s Church announced the secession. This latter sequence not only benefited from Heffron’s depiction of the celebration in the streets, but also the Mains and George’s somber reaction to the news. Other first-rate crowd scenes were in the sequence featuring Orry’s northbound journey to Lehigh Station. They include the announcement of Major Anderson’s surrender of Fort Sumter on a train headed for Philadelphia, Orry’s encounter with fervent Unionists in that city, and his and George’s encounter with a lynch mob instigated by Virgilia. The miniseries also featured one exceptional action sequence – namely Ashton and Forbes’ attempt to murder Billy. From the moment Ashton learned of Billy and Brett’s departure from Mont Royal to Forbes’ death at the hands of Billy, this sequence crackled with energy, excellent pacing and suspension; thanks to Heffron’s direction and a well-written score by Bill Conti. The episode also benefited from Stevan Larner’s sweeping photography, especially in the secession sequences and the one featuring the murder attempt on Billy. In fact Larner earned a well-deserved Emmy nomination for his work in this episode. Vicki Sánchez offered some lovely costume designs for this episode. I was veryenamored of two particular designs worn by Terri Garber and Wendy Kilbourne:

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But this day dress worn by Genie Francis really appealed to me:

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Like the miniseries’ other episodes, the dramatic scenes for Episode Six proved to be its pride and joy. Both James Read and Patrick Swayze provided some of their best moments in two scenes – one that featured George Hazard’s visit to South Carolina in the episode’s first half, and the other that featured Orry Main’s perilous journey to Pennsylvania. John Stockwell had his best moment as Billy Hazard in a scene that featured Billy’s anger over Orry’s refusal to approve Brett’s marriage to him. He had ample support from Genie Francis. I also enjoyed Jonathan Frakes and Wendy Fulton’s performances in a scene in which Stanley and Isabel Hazard discussed their plans to take over Hazard Iron during George’s absence during the war. It is a pity that Fulton did not reprise her role as Isobel. Both Mary Crosby and Deborah Rush gave solid performances, but Fulton seemed to personify the literary character. Hal Holbrook made his first appearance as President Abraham Lincoln in a fine and subtle performance – a skill that he will maintain in“NORTH AND SOUTH: BOOK II”. However, the best dramatic scene featured Constance Hazard’s attempt to convince her sister-in-law Virgilia to stay with the family in Lehigh Station, following the debacle with the lynch mob. Both Wendy Kilbourne and Kirstie Alley performed the hell out of that scene.

Despite certain flaws I had detected in Episode Six, I must admit that I really enjoyed it. The episode not only featured some exciting historical moments and a first-rate action sequences, but also some excellent dramatic scenes that brought out the best in producer David L. Wolper, director Richard T. Heffron and the cast. Episode Six proved to be the first example of how all three miniseries seemed to end on a positive note, production wise. “NORTH AND SOUTH: BOOK I” might be flawed, it is still a joy to watch and one of my favorite miniseries of all time.

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“INDEPENDENCE DAY” (1996) Review

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“INDEPENDENCE DAY” (1996) Review

For six to seven years during the 1990s, Roland Emmerich and Dean Devlin were a very successful production team that created at least four successful movies. One of those movies was the 1996 blockbuster, “INDEPENDENCE DAY”

Written by Emmerich and Devlin, “INDEPENDENCE DAY” is a high octane, special-effects flick about a disparate group of people who struggle to survive a deadly alien invasion of Earth during the Fourth of July weekend. The story begins in three different areas – Washington D.C., New York City and Southern California. Following the aliens’ initial attack during the evening of July 2, the main characters flee as far as possible from the three areas and eventually converge upon an U.S. Air Force base in Nevada . . . known as “Area 51”.

The story begins during the early hours of July 2, when an alien mothership enters Earth’s orbit and sends several dozen “destroyer” spacecraft to some of Earth’s major cities. At first, President Thomas J. Whitmore and his staff are perplexed by the reason for the aliens’ arrival. So are other citizens – including U.S. Marine pilot Steven Hiller and his girlfriend Jasmine Dubrow. Realizing that he might be forced to put his holiday weekend on hold, Steven returns to the Marine Air Base at El Toro, California, to await further orders. An alcoholic crop duster and Vietnam War pilot named Russell Casse claims that he had been an alien abductee, ten years ago; and believes the aliens are back to take him for good. But David Levinson, a satellite technician and former MIT graduate, who works for a New York City cable company, discovers hidden satellite transmissions, revealing the aliens’ plans for a coordinated attack upon targeted cities. He and his father, Julius Levinson, head to Washington D.C. to warn David’s ex-wife, Constance Spano, who works as Whitmore’s Communications Director and the President. The latter orders large-scale evacuations of the cities, but the aliens attack before any evacuations can take place.

The following day, President Whitmore orders air strikes against the alien spacecrafts hovering over the cities that had been attacked. One of those air strikes are conducted by the Black Knights, a squadron of Marine Corps F/A-18 Hornets led by Steven Hiller, against the spacecraft over Los Angeles. The strike ends in failure, leaving Steven as the sole survivor of his squadron. After leading a single alien fighter to crash into the desert, Steven subdues and captures the injured fighter. During his trek across the desert, he encounters a large group of recreational vehicles fleeing the Pacific Coast and led by Russell Casse. Steven guide them toward the Air Force base known as “Area 51”. Meanwhile, Jasmine and her son Dylan survive the July 2 attack and spend the following day picking up Los Angeles survivors in a fire truck. They eventually come across the seriously wounded First Lady, Mrs. Whitmore, before heading for the devastated El Toro Air Station. Upon learning about the existence of “Area 51” from his annoying Secretary of Defense, Whitmore orders Air Force One to head for Nevada.

I will be the first to admit that I enjoyed “INDEPENDENCE DAY” a lot. For me, it seems like the epitome of the summer blockbuster film from the 1980s and 90s. When it comes to alien invasion movies, I am usually 50/50 on the genre. Thankfully,“INDEPENDENCE DAY” is one of my favorite alien invasion film. Even after seventeen years. First of all, Emmerich and Devlin did a pretty good job in not only setting up the story’s premise, but also its characters. In fact, I am impressed at how they allowed small groups of people from New York City, Washington D.C. and the Los Angeles area converge upon an Air Force base in Nevada for the big showdown. I was even impressed at how Emmerich and Devlin found a very plausible way for the heroes to take down the aliens in the end . . . at least for those scientifically ignorant.

If there is one thing about “INDEPENDENCE DAY” that really impressed me were its visual effects supervised by the team of Volker Engel, Douglas Smith, Clay Pinney and Joe Viskocil. Their work seemed to have impressed the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences, as well. The movie won an Oscar for Best Visual Effects. Here is an example of not only their work, but also the photography of Karl Walter Lindenlaub:

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I may like “INDEPENDENCE DAY” a lot. But I cannot deny that it is also flawed. The movie featured a good deal of the cliches usually found in an Emmerich/Devlin production – a divorced couple, an American family fractured by the death of one parent and the other’s alcoholism, a newer romance, cheesy dialogue (especially from minor characters), questionable science, an annoying government official, a head of state – friendly or otherwise and a noble scientist in one of the leads. The most annoying flaw in “INDEPENDENCE DAY” for me turned out to be the dialogue. Aside from a few memorable one-liners, a good deal of the movie’s dialogue struck me as so cheesy and turgid that at times I caught myself wincing . . . a lot. I also grew weary of the movie’s more than numerous references to President Whitmore’s background as a former Air Force fighter pilot during the first Iraqi War. I can only assume that Emmerich and Devlin were setting up the character to be seen leading the last air strike against one of the alien space. They simply overdid it. Speaking of that last air strike, I found it odd that I saw more volunteers who were former military pilots than any current military pilots . . . especially since the movie’s finale was set at the Air Force base in Nevada. And why did the U.S. military send only a squad of U.S. Marine pilots in the movie’s first half? The El Toro Air Station (which later closed) was not the only air military base in Southern California. Why not send Air Force fighter planes from Edwards Air Force Base, as well? The worst aspect of “INDEPENDENCE DAY” turned out to be the flat score composed by David Arnold. It is a good thing I found the movie’s plot and characters compelling enough to keep me alert. Arnold’s score struck me as so uninspiring that I found it hard to believe this is the same man who had composed some pretty decent scores for the James Bond franchise between 1997 and 2008.

It is a miracle that Devlin and Emmerich managed to gather an impressive cast for this movie. Although there were times when many of them struggled to overcome the pair’s turgid dialogue, they still managed to inject enough energy into their performances to be memorable. Will Smith solidified his position as a future Hollywood leading man in his lively portrayal of Marine pilot Captain Steven Hiller. The role of satellite programmer/scientist David Levinson would prove to be one of the last two leading performances by Jeff Goldblum in a movie. He also gave, in my opinion, one of the movie’s better performances. Bill Pullman did a pretty good job as Thomas Whitmore, the U.S. President forced to make some tough decision during the alien invasion. Although I found some of his dialogue rather cheesy, I must admit that I found Randy Quaid’s performance as the alcoholic Russell Casse very entertaining. Equally entertaining were Judd Hirsch as David’s blunt-speaking father, Julius; and Margaret Colin as David’s ex-wife and President Whitmore’s communications director Connie Spano. Harry Connick Jr.’s portrayal of Steven’s friend, Captain Jimmy Wilder amusing at times, even if he seemed to be chewing the scenery. And Adam Baldwin proved to be a stable element in the story, due to his solid performance as Major Mitchell, the U.S. Air Force officer stationed at “Area 51”.

But aside from Goldblum, the other four performances that really impressed me came from Robert Loggia, who portrayed Whitmore’s Chief of Staff, U.S. Marine General William Grey; Vivica A. Fox as Steven’s resilient girlfriend Justine Dubrow; James Rebhorn as Secretary of Defense Albert Nimzicki; and Brent Spinner as “Area 51″ scientist Dr. Brackish Okun. Loggia was even more of a rock as one of the few truly sane voices for Whitmore during the alien invasion. Fox seemed to be one of the few cast members capable of rising above Emmerich and Devlin’s cheesy dialogue. And for that, she earned my vote as one of the movie’s better performers. Rebhorn gave a very entertaining, yet subtle performance as Whitmore’s sniveling Secretary of Defense. I never knew that ass kissing could be so interesting to watch. Brent Spinner gave a very funny performance as a geeky”Area 51” scientist without resorting to any hammy acting.

I cannot deny that “INDEPENDENCE DAY” is a flawed movie. It has cheesy dialogue that still makes me wince. It also featured an extremely bland score by David Arnold and also some story elements by Roland Emmerich and Dean Devlin that struck me as recycled. But the movie featured a first-rate cast led by Will Smith and Jeff Goldblum. And Emmerich and Devlin also created a very entertaining and effective story, making “INDEPENDENCE DAY” one of the better alien invasion movies I have ever seen, even after eighteen years.

“REAL STEEL” (2011) Review

“REAL STEEL” (2011) Review

Every once in a while, I would come across one of those movies in which I have to be forced to watch . . . against my will. This happened with Matthew Vaughn’s 2007 comedy-fantasy “STARDUST”. And it happened again with the 2008 movie, “SPEED RACER”. Since I ended up enjoying both movies, I finally allowed a member of my family to talk me into seeing the recent Disney movie, “REAL STEEL”

Partially based upon Richard Matheson’s 1956 short story called “Steel”, the movie told the story of a struggling promoter of boxing robots named Charlie Kenton in the year 2020. After his own boxing robot bites the dust in a match with bull owned by a promoter to whom he owns money, Charlie finds himself saddled with Max, an 11 year-old son he had conceived with an ex-girlfriend that recently passed away. The two stumbles across a discarded robot, whom they hope will rise to the top of the robotic boxing world. Along the way, Charlie and Max manage to learn about each other before the latter ends up in the custody of his aunt Debra and her husband, Marvin.

I understand that the majority of “REAL STEEL” was filmed in Michigan. I find this rather odd, considering that most of the movie was set in Texas. Oh well. The movie did a pretty good job of creating an atmosphere similar to eastern and central Texas, thanks to Mauro Fiore’s rich and colorful photograph. Unfortunately, the cast failed to convey the same atmosphere, considering that only one used a Texan accent.

But “REAL STEEL” is not about Texas. It is about the sport of boxing in which the contestants are no longer humans, but robots. Despite the fact that the movie is somewhat based upon a short story that also served as the basis of a“TWILIGHT ZONE” episode. What can I say? The movie failed to impress me. Boxing robots? Perhaps this story theme would have worked in the STAR TREK universe or even in that “TWILIGHT ZONE” episode. But this movie did not work for me. I simply could not find it within myself to care about the characters or whether the main protagonists’ robot, Atom, would prevail.

One of my problems with “REAL STEEL” was screenwriter John Gatins’ failure to make me care about Atom. The robot seemed more like a slightly contrived plot device created to manipulate tears and compassion toward it. If this movie had been about a human boxer, an android with strong human characteristics (think Data in “STAR TREK: NEXT GENERATION”), or in the case of the “TWILIGHT ZONE” episode – about a human pretending to be a robot; perhaps I could have felt some sympathy or any kind of emotion toward it, instead of sheer boredom.

As for the story regarding Charlie and Max’s relationship, I found it very unoriginal and equally manipulative. This estranged parent-child plot line has been done to death in many movies either directed or produced by Steven Spielberg. By the way, “REAL STEEL” was released by DreamWorks, Spielberg’s production company. From a technical perspective, “REAL STEEL” seemed like a well made movie. But I found it so unoriginal – despite the premise of boxing robots – and emotionally manipulative that it occurred to me that I may never warm up to it.

Like the movie’s plot and production, the cast of “REAL STEEL” seemed technically on spot. I can honestly say that I could not spot a bad performance from the cast. Unfortunately, only two or three performances impressed me. One of them did not come from Hugh Jackman. Charlie Kenton was not the first slightly unsympathetic character he has portrayed. But his Charlie struck me as too much of a cliché for me to really care about. Even worse, Jackman portrayed a Texan with a Brooklyn (or New Jersey?) accent. On the other hand Kevin Durand managed to utilize a Texan accent. He portrayed a sports promoter named Ricky, to whom Charlie owned money. And I was not impressed. It was not Durand’s fault. The poor man found himself stuck with a character that was nothing more than a second-rate, one-dimensional villain. Anthony Mackie was clearly wasted as Finn, another sports promoter and Charlie’s friend. He gave it his best, but the character of Finn never struck me as interesting. And poor James Rehborn looked as if he could barely generate any interest in his character, the husband of Max’s aunt.

But there were performances that managed to impress me. Dakota Goyo gave a savy performance as Charlie’s estranged son, Max. Thankfully, he did not spend most of his screen time acting like many other petulant children, noisily resentful of being in the company of an estranged parent figure. Thanks to Gatins’ script and Goyo’s performance, Max struck me not only a lot more mature than his father; but also a far cry from being a cliché. I could say the same for Hope Davis’ portrayal of Max’s aunt Debra. Gatins could have easily written her character as a prim and cold-eye parental figure that would drive Max to his father’s arms. But Davis had the good luck to portray a warm and intelligent woman, whose desire to raise Max had more to do with love than cold responsibility to a blood relative. Evangeline Lilly had come a long way from her first season on “LOST”, seven years ago. I have never viewed her as a terrible actress. But I found her acting skills rather mediocre. Like I said, she has come a long way. Her performance in“REAL STEEL” made it apparent that she has become a solid and competent actress. In fact, I found her portrayal of Charlie’s childhood friend and potential love interest, Bailey Tallet, to be a breath of fresh air. Her Bailey was frank, emotional, witty and not tainted by any clichés.

But in the end, neither the performances of Goyo, Hope, and Lilly; along with Fiore’s photography could save “REAL STEEL”. At least not for me. The movie did turn out to be a hit. And a good number of critics actually enjoyed the film. The problem for me was that I found it difficult to share their opinions. Who knows? Perhaps one day I might change my mind.

“THE BUCCANEERS” (1995) Review

 

“THE BUCCANEERS” (1995) Review

Several years ago, I had anticipating watching for the first time, “THE BUCCANEERS”, the 1995 television adaptation of Edith Wharton’s last novel. After all, I have been a major fan of “THE AGE OF INNOCENCE”, Martin Scorcese’s 1993 adaptation of Wharton’s award-winning 1920 novel for years. But my eager anticipating nearly ebbed away, when I discovered that “THE BUCCANEERS” only managed to rouse a lukewarm reception from many television critics. 

The five-part miniseries turned out to be an unusual production from the BBC. One, it was based upon a novel written by an American author – namely Edith Wharton. There have been other British television productions based upon the literary works of an American, but they are very rare. Another interesting aspect of Wharton’s “The Age of Innocence” is that the author did not finish it, due to her death at the age of 75. Fifty-six years later, Wharton scholar Marion Mainwaring finished the novel, which was published by Viking. Around the same time, the BBC hired screenwriter Maggie Wadey to adapt and finish the novel for the television adaptation. As a result the novel has two slightly different endings. Another aspect of this miniseries that struck me as unusual was that instead of hiring British actresses to portray four of the five leads, the BBC hired four Amercian actresses – Carla Gugino, Mira Sorvino, Alison Elliott and Rya Kihlstedt.

The plotline for “THE BUCCANEERS” is very simple. The story begins in 1873 Newport, Rhode Island; in which two sisters of anoveau riche businessman and their two sisters are introduced – Virginia “Ginny” and Annabel “Nan” St. George, Conchita “Connie” Closson and Elizabeth “Lizzy” Elmsworth. Whereas the Brazilian born Conchita manages to snare Lord Richard Marabel, the dissolute second son of the Marquess of Brightlingsea, the other three girls struggle to find a place amongst the members of old New York society. When a prank committed by Ginny and Lizzy backfires, Nan’s English governess Laura Testvalley proposes to Mrs. St. George that Ginny and Nan have a London season amongst the upper-class British. She argues that their acceptance by the British high society would assure them a place amongst the upper-class New Yorkers. Due to their friendship with the vibrant Conchita, Virginia and Annabel are introduced to Lord Richard’s family – the impoverished Brightlingseas and their neighbors, the equally impoverished Sir Helmsey Thwaite and his son Guy. As they get settled to conquer British society, Ginny and Nan are surprised by the arrival of Lizzy, who has arrived in Britain for her own season.

Although the girls’ original purpose for visiting Britain was to enjoy a London season, a friend of Laura Testvalley has other plans for them. Thirty years earlier, the American born Jackie March had been engaged to a British aristocrat – namely the very young Lord Brightlingsea, who abandoned her at the altar. Miss March remained in Britain and became something of a sponsor/matchmaker for young society girls. It was Miss March who recommended that the visiting Americans rent a villa owned by one of her former sponsors, Lady Idina Hutton. She also recommended that the girls do more than just enjoy a London season in order to impress old New York society. She recommended that they consider marrying into upper-class British society. Miss March’s plans eventually come to fruition:

*Virginia or namely her father’s wealth attracted the attention of Lady Idina Hutton’s lover and Lord Richard’s older brother, Lord Seadown.

*Lizzy ended up marrying a self-made aspiring politician named Hector Robinson

*Annabel fell in love with Guy Thwaite, but ended up marrying the very wealthy Julian Folyat, Duke of Trevennick; when Guy left Britain to find his fortune in South America.

As I had stated earlier, most critics were not initially kind to “THE BUCCANEERS”. Most British critics dismissed it as a costumed soap opera of the second-rate kind, with an ending that had been “Hollywoodized” (happy ending). These same critics also accused the miniseries of mocking the British aristocracy. The American critics, at least those who considered themselves Wharton purists, accused the miniseries’ screenwriter, Maggie Waddey, of changing the elements of the author’s story by including topics such as marital rape and homosexuality. Personally, I found all of these arguments irrelevant. Most dramas about personal lives – whether first-rate or not – tend to possess soap-operish elements. This hostility toward soap operas has always struck me as infantile and irrelevant. And why are all Hollywood productions guilty of having a happy ending, when that has not been the case? Other literary works and their adaptations have mocked the British aristocracy. Why was there such a big hullabaloo over how the aristocracy was portrayed in this particular story? As for the additions of marital rape and homosexuality, these elements did no harm to the story, as far as I am concerned. And I must admit that I have become increasingly weary of demands that all movie or television adaptations should be completely faithful to their literary source. Such demands strike me as impractical.

My complaints about “THE BUCCANEERS” are very few. In fact, I only have two. The first time I ever saw actress Gwen Humble on the television screen was in a miniseries called “THE REBELS”, an adaptation of a John Jakes novel. Although I had no problems with her performance in that particular production, I must admit that I had a problem with her performance as Virginia and Annabel’s mother, Mrs. St. George. I understand that Mrs. St. George was supposed to be a shallow and somewhat silly woman. But I feel that Humble went a little too far in conveying those certain traits. Her performance struck me as exaggerated and a little amateurish. Another problem I had with “THE BUCCANEERS” is a rather minor one. It has to do with Virginia’s husband, Lord Seadown. His father is a marquess – which is ranked somewhere between a duke and an earl (count). As the eldest son, he is entitled to a courtesy title. But what was Seadown’s courtesy title? His younger brother was called Lord Richard Marable, which is correct for the younger son of a marquess. The courtesy title for the eldest son of a marquess is usually an earldom – namely Earl of Something. Was Seadown’s name a courtesy title – Earl of Seadown? Or was he supposed to be regarded as Lord Seadown Marable? If the latter, what was the courtesy title he used? I found it all slightly confusing.

However, “THE BUCCANEERS” has been one of my all time favorite miniseries, ever since I first saw it. And there is so much about it that has made it such a favorite of mine. One, producer-director Philip hired a production crew that did justice to Wharton’s story. The miniseries featured some elegant locations that served as the story’s various settings. Some of these locations included Castle HowardBurghley House and Newport, Rhode Island. I also enjoyed Remi Adefarasin’s photography. It had a deep and rich color that did justice to a story filled with emotions and passion. Colin Towns provided an elegant and entertaining score that remained memorable for me, since the first time I heard it years ago. But it was Rosalind Ebbutt’s costumes that really blew my mind. She provided exquisitely outfits that were beautiful and elegant – especially those for the lead actresses. More importantly, her costumes not only reflected the fashions wore by the American and British upper-classes during the 1870s, they also reflected the change in the main characters’ status and in women’s fashion throughout the decade, as the following photographs show:

 

Another one of the major virtues of “THE BUCCANEERS” turned out to be its cast. Wharton’s novel is filled with interesting characters. And Saville and his casting director did an excellent job in finding the right actor/actress for the right role. Aside from Gwen Humble’s portrayal of Mrs. St. George, there were so many first-rate performances in the miniseries that it would take me another article just to describe them. But the supporting performances that stood out for me came from the likes of Sheila Hancock, whose portrayal of the Dowager Duchess of Trevenick was an expertly performed mixture of cool haughtiness, sharp wisdom and long suffering; Michael Kitchen, who skillfully conveyed both the charming and shallow nature of Sir Helmsley Thwaite; Jenny Agutter, who was excellent as Lady Idina Hatton, Lord Seadown’s insecure and tragic mistress; Dinsdale Landen and Rosemary Leach, who both portrayed the Marquess and Marchioness of Brightlingsea with a mixture of class haughtiness, charm and great humor; Peter M. Goetz, who seemed to personify the self-made 19th century American businessman; and Connie Booth, who gave one of her better performances as the ambitious and sharp-minded Jackie March.

Richard Huw gave a humorous, yet intelligent performance as Hector Robinson, the ambitious young Member of Parliament who ends up winning Lizzy Elmsworth’s hand. And Mark Tandy was pretty solid as Lord Brightlingsea’s heir, the mercenary Lord Seadown who marries Virginia for Colonel St. George’s money. I was very impressed by Ronan Vibert’s portrayal of the dissolute Lord Richard Marabel, Conchita’s husband and Lord Brightlingsea’s younger son. But the two male performances that really impressed me came from Greg Wise and James Frain. The latter portrayed the haughty Julian Duke of Trevenick, who manages to win the hand Annabel St. George (much to the surprise of her governess), before alienating her with his lack of skills as a husband. Frain could have easily portrayed Julian as a one-note villain, especially when one considers the act of marital rape that his character committed against his wife in Episode Three. Being the skillful actor that he is, Frain conveyed all facets of Julian’s personality – both the good and the bad. And his assertion near the end of Episode Four that he is “not a monster” may have been one of Frain’s finest moments on screen. Greg Wise probably gave one of what I consider to be three of his best performances in his portrayal of Guy Thwaite, Sir Helmsley’s only son. His Guy could have been one of your typical handsome, romantic heroes. But Wise did an excellent job in revealing how Guy’s insecurities regarding his lack of funds might seem in Annabel’s eyes with very few words – an act that led him to lose her to Julian. And he also conveyed how in the throes of love, Guy could be a slightly selfish man with no thought to how his “friendship” with Annabel might affect her social standing. Thanks to Wise’s performance, his Guy Thwaite proved to be equally complex.

We finally come to our five leads in the story – the four American heiresses and Annabel St. George’s English governess, Laura Testvalley. I have noticed that whenever someone brings up Cheri Lunghi, he or she inevitable brings up her role in “THE BUCCANEERS”, the Anglo-Italian governess Miss Testvalley. I certainly cannot blame them. Lunghi proved to be the glue that held the story together, skillfully serving as its eyes and narrator at the beginning of each episode. Rya Kihlstedt gave a charming and solid performance as the blunt and level-headed Lizzy Elmsworth, who seemed more impressed by Hector Robinson’s ambitions than any aristocrat. She and Richard Huw managed to create a very credible screen presence. Alison Elliott’s Virginia St. George proved to be one of the most complicated characters in the story. Thanks to the actress’ excellent performance, she conveyed Virginia’s haughtiness and obsession with being connected to an aristocratic family; and at the same time, garnered sympathy by expressing the character’s love for her husband and disappointment upon discovering that he had only married her for money. And less than a year before she won her Academy Award, Mira Sorvino proved just how first-rate she could be as an actress in her portrayal of the Brazilian-born Conchita Closson. Her Conchita was a delicious and complicated minx torn by her desire for the luxurious and glamorous lifestyle of the British aristocracy and her contempt for what she deemed as their cold personalities. If Cheri Lunghi’s Laura Testvalley was the story’s eyes and narrator, Carla Gugino’s Annabel St. George aka the Duchess of Trevenick proved to be the heart and soul of “THE BUCCANEERS”. Thanks to Gugino’s superb performance, the actress literally transformed Nan from the childish and naïve sixteen year-old girl, to the bewildered nineteen year-old bride and finally to the weary twenty-one year-old wife, disappointed by a failed marriage and in love with another man. There are times that I wondered if any other actress could have accomplished what she did. It seemed a pity that none of the major television and critics awards organizations never acknowledged her performance with a nomination.

Many critics have heaped a great deal of scorn upon Maggie Wadey’s adaptation of Wharton’s novel. Frankly, I believe this scorn was undeserved. I may not have been that impressed by her other works, but I honestly believe that “THE BUCCANEERS”was her masterpiece by far. Many accused her of failing to adapt Wharton’s “spirit” or “style” by including marital rape and homosexuality into the story. Since both topics where added without any tasteless sensationalism, I had no problems with these additions. And Wadey also made sure to give the story’s happy ending something of a bittersweet edge. Despite leaving Julian for the man she loved, Guy Thwaite, Annabel found herself ostracized by society and especially by Virginia – as was proven at the Marquess of Brightlingsea’s funeral. Annabel and Guy’s elopement also left the latter disinherited by his father, Sir Helmsley. And her assistance in the elopement left Laura Testvalley rejected by Sir Helmsley and unemployed. So much for the “happy ending”. Because the story revolved around four American heiresses marrying into the British upper-classes, “THE BUCCANEERS” also proved to be an interesting study in culture clash between two Western nations in the mid-to-late nineteenth century. But in all of the articles I have read about the miniseries, I find it surprising that no one has bothered to noticed that the topic of the continuing decline of the British aristocracy was also mentioned . . . more than once. It almost became a secondary theme. The Brightlingseas’ interest in the St. George family certainly seemed an indication that they were more willing to marry money – regardless from where it came – rather than find a way to earn it. Unlike Guy Thwaite, who preferred to create his own wealth with two years in South America, rather than marry it. And the character of the Marquess of Brightlingsea literally became a symbol of the aristocracy’s decline in scenes like a heated conversation between him and Hector Robinson; and a speech by Guy Thwaite to the House of Commons during a montage that featured a montage of his death.

Now that I think about it, why should I care what others feel about “THE BUCCANEERS”? Every time I watch it, I always fall in love with the miniseries over and over again. Maggie Wadey wrote an excellent adaptation of Wharton’s novel – probably her best work, as far as I am concerned. Led by the likes of Carla Gugino, Cheri Lunghi, Greg Wise and James Frain, the cast proved to be first-rate. And Philip Saville did justice to both the cast and Wadey’s screenplay in his direction of the miniseries.