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The Crimson Field Review

Boulogne, France. 1915. The world has cracked apart in devastating war. Soldiers eat, sleep, and die in muddy trenches dug across Europe. Those who aren’t killed are often injured and taken away from the front line to recover. They are not even taken to a full hospital but to an open-air camp on the French seaside. More importantly, however, they are taken care of by a group of healers: the nurses and doctors, military and civilian, who dedicate every moment they can to getting these wounded men back on their feet.

Programme Name: The Crimson Field - TX: n/a - Episode: Generics (No. n/a) - Picture Shows: (c/w from back left) Sister Joan Livesey (SURANNE JONES), Sister Margaret Quayle (KERRY FOX), Matron Grace Carter (HERMIONE NORRIS), Lieutenant-Colonel Roland Brett (KEVIN DOYLE), Kitty Trevelyan (OONA CHAPLIN), Captain Thomas Gillan (RICHARD RANKIN), Captain Miles Hesketh-Thorne (ALEX WYNDHAM), Corporal Peter Foley (JACK GORDON), Flora Marshall (ALICE ST CLAIR), Rosalie Berwick (MARIANNE OLDHAM) - (C) BBC - Photographer: Todd Anthony

The Cast of Crimson Field (C) BBC – Photographer: Todd Anthony

The Crimson Field gives an inside look on the lives of the nurses caring for British soldiers. With only a few months training, the three main characters start out on the job naïve as they have obviously grown up with the finer things of life, but they quickly gain experience with injuries, blood, and death.These girls prove their strength parallel to the millions of men fighting on the front.This may be France in the middle of World War I, but the doctors and nurses have claimed this tiny spot of land as British, hence the china teacups.

One of the things I enjoy the most about The Crimson Field is how the show looks into the complex dark side of World War I. History (told by the victors) likes to keep the story of the war as clean for the winning side as possible. The war was seen as a fight of good against evil in the world. But what this show brings out is the personal psychological trauma that war brings to those involved. Mental illness was highly misunderstood at the time and often equated with cowardice or lack of manly loyalty. We see one soldier, Lance Corporal Prentiss, sent back to the front when he is obviously suffering a form of post-traumatic stress. This has devastating effects on his health and well-being, and he is only one example of the many who suffered hell.

Programme Name: The Crimson Field - TX: n/a - Episode: Generics (No. n/a) - Picture Shows:   - (C) BBC - Photographer: Nick Briggs

Red Cross Nurses – The Crimson Field (C) BBC – Photographer: Nick Briggs

The Nurses

Kitty Trevelyan (played by Oona Chaplin of Game of Thrones fame) at first has trouble with the standardized rules of the hospital, but soon she wins her way into the hearts of soldiers and doctors alike. As the show progresses, Kitty’s secret past is revealed bit by bit, leading the viewer more into her world of pain and regret.

Rosalie Berwick (Marianne Oldham) is a less likable character, but still relatable. It seems that she has never married and reached the age which her society defines as “old maid.” Her volunteer work is an escape from a kind of social prison, and she only “wish[es] she’d been braver sooner.” Unfortunately, her inexperienced past has grown a deep fear inside her, and fear can be mistaken as self-righteousness.

Flora Mashall (Alice St. Clair) is young-hearted and still innocent enough to be surprised by ugly side effects of battle and surgery. Though she at first seems like she will be the first sent home, she manages to show her innate strength when under stress. Soon after her arrival, Flora boasts about her skill with bandages, and the matron promptly sends her to boil, dry, and roll a hideous pile of bloody post-surgery cloths. She doesn’t complain though and gets to work.

Two other nurses who play important roles are Matron Grace Carter (Hermione Norris) and Sister Joan Livesey (Suranne Jones). Grace is head of the rest of the nurses, which means she makes the difficult decisions and bears the greatest burden for the sufferers who have come to the hospital. With her understanding and compassion, she is a good nurse, and with her resolve and strength, she is a great leader.

Sister Joan arrives shortly after the three volunteer nurses. She has more experience at nursing and is welcomed as a pair of expert hands. But she also has secrets in her past, and the war that rages close by haunts her in a way no one knows.

Of course, these are not the only important characters, as we have dashing doctors in Captain Thomas Gillan (Richard Rankin) and Captain Miles Hesketh-Thorne (Alex Wyndham), as well as an exemplary leader in Lieutenant Colonel Roland Brett (Kevin Doyle of Downton Abbey). But The Crimson Field is essentially about the women on the front, who may not have been fighting the battles but were winning the war by saving soldiers from death or comforting them in their last moments.

Programme Name: The Crimson Field - TX: n/a - Episode: Generics (No. n/a) - Picture Shows: (L-R) Flora Marshall (ALICE ST CLAIR), Kitty Trevelyan (OONA CHAPLIN), Rosalie Berwick (MARIANNE OLDHAM) - (C) BBC - Photographer: Todd Antony

Rosalie, Kitty, and Flora – The Crimson Field (C) BBC – Photographer: Todd Antony

The Crimson Field is now available on DVD and Blu-ray from PBS Distribution. Thank you to PBS for providing me with a copy for the review!

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The Man in a Three-Cornered Hat: A Review of Poldark

For over forty years, PBS Masterpiece has been good to us Anglophiles. As our main importer of many of BBC’s classic television series, Masterpiece has given us such memorable visual feasts as Jeeves and Wooster; Upstairs, Downstairs; Agatha Christie’s Poirot; and Sherlock. If you, like me, thought Downton Abbey was the peak of Masterpiece’s best programs, then think again. Poldark, the latest English drama to invade America, has been sending its fans indoors every Sunday night to enjoy the most recent episode. With the release of Poldark on DVD and Blu-ray this week, those of us who missed it on television can catch up. (Follow the link at the end of the post to enter my giveaway of 5 Blu-ray sets of Poldark!)

Poldark overlooking the cliffs of Cornwall  © ITV plc (ITV Global Entertainment Ltd)

Poldark overlooking the cliffs of Cornwall
© ITV plc (ITV Global Entertainment Ltd)

The Plot

Episode One opens on unusual territory for BBC: the thick woods of Colonial Virginia, 1781. We are introduced to Captain Ross Poldark (how’s that for a hero’s name?), a British soldier who seems dissatisfied with the American Revolution and his own lot in life. After two years and an injury that leaves a scar down the side of his face, Poldark returns home to his family estate in Cornwall, England. Only, neither his family nor his estate is the same as when he left.

His father having died in his absence, Poldark’s only family left are his uncle and cousins who live on an adjacent property. They at first welcome home the man they thought had died in battle, but when Poldark learns that his former love interest, Elizabeth, is now engaged to his cousin, his family relations start to decay.

If coming home to a dead father and unrequited love isn’t enough, Poldark returns to his inherited estate which has been essentially abandoned to the decay of dust and rodents. Poldark, worn down by combat and the corrosion of his entire life, works to restore his home, a difficult task considering the poverty-stricken economy Cornwall has acquired since the war. His two current servants being next to useless, Poldark does much of the work of rebuilding walls and upkeep himself. His lack of funds and food eventually drive him to seek investors in order to reopen his abandoned copper mine, in the hopes that his luck will turn.

Meanwhile, Poldark, whose local reputation is slightly less than respected, takes an interest in others who have likewise nothing to lose. He meets Demelza, a red-headed girl dressed as a boy to escape her father’s abusive supervision. Despite his inadequate money for food, Poldark takes her in as a kitchen maid and even fights off a hoard of brutish relatives when they arrive to claim her. As Poldark struggles to survive, we see him grow into his circumstances, helping those around him in his community.

The Cast

Captain Ross Poldark, played by Aidan Turner (known for his role as Kili in The Hobbit trilogy), is our complicated hero. Known as the gambler that he was in his youth,, Poldark has been changed by his experiences in the war. His life has been darkened by tragedy, and he approaches life’s uncertainty with a calm, confident demeanor. He is not just a likeable hero; he is lovable. We love him because of his determination in the face of loss, his compassion on Demelza, and (of course) his sexy, brooding charm.

Captain Ross Poldark  © ITV plc (ITV Global Entertainment Ltd)

Captain Ross Poldark
© ITV plc (ITV Global Entertainment Ltd)

Elizabeth, the girl Poldark left behind, is played by Icelandic actress Heida Reed (from the film One Day). Although at first we find her attractive and pitiable (how could she know Poldark was still alive?), before long, we realize that she ties herself to her circumstances by obeying her culture’s rules of decorum and going through with the marriage to Poldark’s cousin Francis. She still feels something for Poldark, however, but this only makes matters worse when she risks reputation-damaging gossip by seeking his attention in public.

Ross Poldark with © ITV plc (ITV Global Entertainment Ltd)

Ross Poldark with © ITV plc (ITV Global Entertainment Ltd)

Demelza, the red-headed girl who transforms from being dirty, afraid, and dressed like a boy, into a clear-eyed, beautiful, and supportive companion to Poldark, is played by Eleanor Tomlinson, who is no stranger to English television drama, having played in The White Queen and Death Comes to Pemberley. Demelza provides a refreshing contrast to Elizabeth: she tackles life’s hardships head-on and stays by Poldark’s side no matter what. Over time Demelza comes into her own and we can quickly imagine her

Demelza  © ITV plc (ITV Global Entertainment Ltd)

Demelza
© ITV plc (ITV Global Entertainment Ltd)

Three-cornered hats off, if you please, to playwright-screenwriter Debbie Hosfield for her adaptation of Winston Graham’s novels. It’s been forty years since the first television adaptation of the series, and Hosfield, together with directors Edward Bazalgette and William McGregor, has refreshed modern television with a renewed old story.

I’d also like to note the gorgeous score by Oscar-winning composer Anne Dudley. The soaring violins run along with the dramatic views of cliffs and ocean swells, adding that extra dimension to film which deserves to be recognized in its own right. The scenery itself is absolutely breathtaking as the show was filmed on location in Cornwall. Overall, Poldark shouldn’t be missed as it captures all the elements that make a great Masterpiece!

Poldark is now available on DVD and Blu-ray from PBS Distribution. I’d like to thank PBS Distribution for providing me with the material I needed for this review.
If you would like a chance to win your very own  Blu-ray set of Poldark, enter our giveaway here. But hurry, the end date is midnight EST on Monday, July 20th!

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Discover Cornwall, England

At the southwestern tip of England lies a sea-surrounded county called Cornwall. Lined with coastal towns and cliffs, this small yet beautiful corner of the United Kingdom provides the setting for PBS Masterpiece’s latest hit, Poldark. As is often the case with my ritual (some might say addictive) viewing of BBC and Masterpiece, I have become a little bit obsessed with my newly discovered English countryside. Although I have yet to watch Poldark, I’m looking forward to it soon, so I’ve been doing my research. The result: Cornwall has been added to a very lengthy list of places I need to visit in the faraway land of England.

Gunwalloe Church Cove

Gunwalloe Church Cove, Cornwall ~ image by Tim Green via Flickr

This view of Church Cove in Gunwalloe, Cornwall has the romantic tangling of open ocean and vivid green cliffs that I associate with the English coastline. This beach on the Lizard Peninsula was used in filming Poldark.

The rolling hills of Boscastle, Cornwall image by JUweL via Wikimedia Commons

The harbour town of Boscastle was once a home for Thomas Hardy. Not only did the landscape inspire some of Hardy’s literary endeavors, but Hardy also met his first wife here, according to cornwall-online.co.uk.

Idyllic seaside village of Mousehole, Cornwall ~ image via Wikimedia Commons

Dylan Thomas, the Welsh poet, called Mousehole “the loveliest village in England.” And one can see why: the small harbor filled to the brim with fishing boats, the village houses arcing the water and spreading up the hill. It looks like a lovely Saturday afternoon spot.

Cape Cornwall ~ image by Judithili via Wikimedia Commons

This piece of land looks almost like it is floating on the Atlantic. Cape Cornwall looks peaceful in this photo, but I imagine it could be a dangerous place in a wild sea storm.

Land’s End, Cornwall ~ image via Wikimedia Commons

Land’s End seems to be just that: as far as you can go southwest in England. I would love taking a rambling hike along this coastline.

Chun Quoit, Cornwall ~ image by Jim Champion via Wikimedia Commons

These ancient stones were built as a Neolithic tomb. The dolmen of Chun Quoit is evidence of the long and eventful history of England. It must be amazing to witness that connection across thousands of years.

Tintagel Castle, Cornwall ~ image by Maniple via Wikimedia Commons

Tintagel Castle looks like it has emerged straight from the mythical past. Indeed, legend has it that King Arthur of the Round Table was conceived at this location, prior to the construction of the castle.

Lands End Cliffs

Land’s End, Cornwall ~ image by Chris Combe via Flickr

Like other English places, Cornwallt has that magical mix of historical significance and natural beauty. You could spend days hiking the cliffs, swimming at the beaches, and exploring the quaint villages. Maybe someday I’ll do just that.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this virtual tour of Cornwall. Stay tuned for a review coming soon of Poldark!

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Father Brown and Great Expectations

The crackle of leaves at night … the breath of darkness … the hum of dreams awakening. Days have been long of late, and long in the coming. But pull through we will, we must. And though I live in the world’s “paradise”, I still find it a relief to escape to the misty bogs, the stone houses, the afternoon tea of England.

The book form of my latest Anglophile escape:

Father Brown stories by the renowned G.K. Chesterton. I’m really surprised how long it’s taken me to jump on the Chesterton wagon, and I’m glad I finally have. His witty words feel rather comforting in a embers-on-the-hearth kind of way. I confess his stories as stories aren’t as stimulating as I was expecting. When I think mystery, I think Agatha Christie. Father Brown is much more under the radar. I don’t feel shocked or excited when I read these stories, just amused, entertained, and mildly surprised.

On the screen front:

Masterpiece Theater on PBS is airing a new BBC edition of Great Expectations (by, of course, Charles Dickens). It is in two parts, and the first part is now available for viewing online at PBS. I really enjoyed this first part and wishing I could watch the second part tonight. I’ll have to wait until Sunday, but I am very impressed by this new version. The costumes – love them. The setting is gorgeous, that is, if you’re into barren wastelands covered in fog. The actors are good for the most part, though I can’t help but be annoyed by Miss Havisham’s tiny squeak for a voice. Overall, I recommend watching! But what’s this, yet another version with Helena Bonham Carter in the works? Sounds great to me.

Back to my palm trees for now…

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Enchanted April – Movie Review

“To those who appreciate Wisteria and Sunshine…”

It is a drab and dreary London day when Lottie Wilkins reads this in the newspaper. Wisteria and sunshine? The stuff fairy-tales are made of. The rest of the ad reads:

“Small Medieval Italian Castle on the shores of the Mediterranean to be Let Furnished for the month of April.”

a disappointed Lottie, as played by Josie Lawrence

Outside the bus, the gray rain is pouring all over the dirty streets, and Lottie arrives at her ladies’ club still thinking about the wisteria and the Italian castle. Once at the club, Lottie Wilkins (who never liked her husband’s name; it sounds rather like a pug dog with a little tail) meets Rose Arbuthnot who happens to be reading the very same advertisement. Lottie, the repressed optimist, is struck with an idea. Why not rent the castle together and escape their miserable lives? Rose, whose husband thinks she looks like a disappointed Madonna, is more practical and thinks a far-off castle is not worth wasting one’s time thinking about. But Lottie holds fast with the belief that “if you wish for something hard enough, it happens.”

Lottie tries to convince Rose

Both Lottie and Rose have found themselves in disappointing marriages. Lottie to Mellersh – a man infatuated with food and good society, but who thinks buying flowers is an extravagance not to be indulged in. Rose to Frederick – a party-goer who flirts with younger women and makes his living writing books God wouldn’t like to read.

Alfred Molina playing Mellersh Wilkins

So when face-to-face with the miserable yet freeing thought that they have nothing to lose, Lottie and Rose decide to rent their dream castle by the sea for an entire month. To cut the costs, they have rented the castle with two other women, of equally lonely lives.

Rose Arbuthnot, as played by Miranda Richardson

Mrs. Fisher is a cranky old widow, set in her ways and her stance against loving or being loved. All she wants to do in Italy is sit in the shade and remember her childhood days meeting now-dead poets like Tennyson. She is a woman who lives in the past.

Mrs. Fisher, as played by Joan Plowright

Lady Caroline Dester is a disillusioned heiress who is used to being the center of attention and every man’s fascination. She is tired of her friends and their tiring conversations. In Italy, she just wants to sit and not talk and not be the center of everything.

Lady Caroline, as played by Polly Walker

These four lost women find themselves in a romantic castle of San Salvatore with nothing pressing to do and no men to worry their heads. They spend the long Mediterranean days lounging in the sun, roaming through the garden, and sitting by the sea. Soon the balm of the golden sunshine starts to thaw their hearts, bringing love back where they never thought to find it again.

San Salvatore, which is a real Italian castle called Castello Brown

Enchanted April is truly an enchanting movie. Thoughtful, beautiful, and hopeful, this film is well-worth watching. The characters are endearing, despite (or because of) their funny quirks, and the period costume of the 1920s is delightful. Starring a brilliant cast, Enchanted April won two Golden Globes for Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress. The only fault I found with the movie was the seemingly rushed ending in which the two disappointed wives all of sudden forgot how disappointed they really were. I can appreciate that they still loved their husbands, but I found their automatic forgiveness a little hard to swallow.

Rose soaking up the serenity of the sea

Enchanted April (1992) stars Miranda Richardson as Rose Arbuthnot, Josie Lawrence as Lottie Wilkins, Joan Plowright as Mrs. Fisher, Polly Walker as Caroline Dester, Alfred Molina as Mellersh Wilkins, and Jim Broadbent as Frederick Arbuthnot.

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Upstairs Downstairs Sweepstakes

In the mood for some British television? Of course, you are! Be sure to check out the Upstairs Downstairs Sweepstakes from PBS and Masterpiece Theater! To celebrate the TV show’s 40th anniversary, PBS is offering a sweepstakes giveaway. By simply submitting your email address, you will be entered for a chance to win a DVD set of Upstairs Downstairs and a movie poster from the series. Runner-up will receive a $200 gift certificate for ShopPBS.org. Click here to enter!

Upstairs Downstairs updated:

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“Emma” from BBC

Having grown up on Gwyneth Paltrow’s portrayal of Jane Austen’s Emma, I was a little skeptical about the latest version of Emma from BBC. After some minor shifting in my mind of what Emma looks like, I discovered that the new “Emma” wasn’t at all bad. In fact, I grew to love it. BBC has a talent for bringing beautiful British stories to the screen without being at all Hollywood about it. The nuances and details are often lost in our American movies.

The great thing about a mini-series is that, if you like the story, you have more hours than an average movie to savor all the delightful plots at a slower pace. It’s more like reading the actual book, in that way.

The Cast

Romola Garai, whom I recognized from “Nicholas Nickleby”, did a splendid job of acting all of Emma’s charm and cheerfulness and conniving. Jonny Lee Miller (from the film version of “Mansfield Park”) did a good job as well, though I confess I still favor Jeremy Northam as Mr. Knightley. And of course, the legendary Michael Gambon worried and fretted as a classic Mr. Woodhouse.

The Costumes

As usual with Jane Austen flicks, I found myself enthralled by the gorgeous costumes in “Emma”. The costume designer gave Emma an elegant look that fitted her social ranking and yet was sedate enough for the countryside. Romola Garai wore some lovely straw hats in the summer scenes and was dressed in yellows and blues and pinks that fit Emma’s carefree personality. The men were well-dressed as well, and the details in their outfits are quite impressive.

Emma is well worth the $18 on Amazon – that’s like 8 cents per minute of Jane Austen heaven! Also, be sure to check out the BBC page for more info on “Emma”.

This is my favorite scene – of course, it’s the proposal!

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