Tag Archives: masterpiece

Dark Angel Review

If you think PBS Masterpiece is just about duchesses and romance and afternoon tea, then think again. Dark Angel is their newest release, starring Joanne Froggatt (our favorite ladies’ maid Anna from Downton Abbey) who plays a completely different character in this short two-episode piece. Directed by Brian Percival (known for his work on Downton Abbey and for directing North & South), Dark Angel introduces us to Mary Ann, a woman from County Durham in the north of England. At first, the story seems to be one of a struggling family, trying to make ends meet with too many children to feed, and though Mary Ann and her husband have seen hard times, they seem like they can make it work. But sooner than one would expect, the story spirals into darkness as Mary Ann strives (in a very unconventional way) against her dismal lot in life. If you didn’t know already, Mary Ann is the infamous Mary Ann Cotton, a true-story serial killer known for poisoning her (multiple) husbands and children with arsenic.

I told you it wasn’t Downton Abbey.

Mary Ann Cotton – Image in Public Domain

Dark Angel tries to get a personal angle on Mary Ann. What motivated her? Why would she kill so many of her family? The obvious answer would be money: Mary Ann received the life insurance money from each of her dead husbands. But was that her only motivation? In Dark Angel, we see a woman who has little choice in her life and for her body. She does not seem to want children, yet she is always pregnant. Because of this, she is tied down at home and unable to break out from poverty. As her mother tells her, “it’s just how life is for women.” She’s lonely, overworked, and has no control over her own life. Unfortunately, instead of making things work and finding other ways to vent, she tries to escape by getting rid of the people she thinks are in her way. Even when we feel connected to her as a character (or maybe, because of this), it is still shocking to watch her get the arsenic out of the cabinet and spoon it into her victim’s tea like a bit of sugar. 

Because it is only a two-episode mini series, the events of Mary Ann’s life are very compacted into the limited time of Dark Angel. I felt a little rushed watching it, and I couldn’t process one event in time before something else happened on screen. It felt like the narrative time passed too quickly, and Mary Ann’s many children were born and died (from sickness? or poison?) too fast. I would have liked to see more of Mary Ann’s husbands and children, but perhaps the filmmakers were trying to keep the focus on this woman who quickly unraveled into a murderer.

That said, Dark Angel is an interesting look into Mary Ann Cotton’s life, how she might have felt and what she was looking for. As the PBS press release worded so well: “Female serial killers are so rare that criminologists continue to debate what makes them tick. Is it a thirst for power, a desire for material gain, or a sadistic delight in undermining gender stereotypes when they ask, ‘Why don’t I make you a nice cup of tea?’”

Dark Angel is available now on DVD from PBS!

Advertisements

1 Comment

Filed under Movies, Review

To Walk Invisible – Review & Giveaway!

“I think if a good fairy were to offer me the choice of a gift, I would say—grant me the power to walk invisible.” ~ Charlotte Brontë

Four children – three sisters and a brother – run around their little house, fiery halos of imagination hovering over their heads. They gather around a box of toy soldiers come alive, telling each other stories about the tiny men. They are full of inspiration and hope.

This is how the latest PBS Masterpiece, To Walk Invisible: The Brontë Sisters, begins. Coming to DVD and Blu-Ray April 11, 2017, this two-part film explores a three-year time period in the lives of Charlotte, Emily, and Anne Brontë, telling the story of how they became published under male pseudonyms, writing some of the most popular works of their time, books that continue as classics today.

To Walk Invisible - Bronte Sisters

The Bronte Sisters – Image Copyright: To Walk Invisible _15 – “To Walk Invisible: BBC/Michael Prince 2016”

I imagine many of you are familiar with the heart wrenching romance of Jane Eyre and the tragedy of Wuthering Heights and maybe even Agnes Grey; perhaps you’ve always wondered about the sister authors who developed such powerful narratives. The Brontë sisters lived short, sorrowful, isolated lives, yet they created some of our favorite stories: tales of lost love and madness and loneliness, stories that reflected the world as seen by these sisters from Northern England.

To Walk Invisible reveals how Charlotte, Emily, and Anne always made up stories together for fun, but as they got older, they realized that publishing might be their only chance to provide for themselves (as unmarried women) in case their elderly father died. “This is what we’ve done all our lives – we’ve lived in our heads,” says Anne. The sisters are shown as writing almost constantly, often together at a table. Their silence as they write hides the passion of their words. As Anne says, “I’m never more alive than when I write.”

 

To Walk Invisible - Charlotte Bronte

Charlotte Bronte, played by Finn Atkins – Image Copyright: To Walk Invisible_53 – “To Walk Invisible: BBC/Michael Prince 2016”

This contrast of exterior peace and internal turmoil is a strong theme throughout the film. The sisters lead quiet lives, but we see how angry and sorrowful they feel as they recall the death of two other sisters and as they worry over their brother Branwell. A poet himself, Branwell never seemd to find his place in the world. The film provides some explanation for this (growing up with too many expectations and losing a woman he loved), letting Branwell be the voice of passion that perhaps his sisters feel and express only in their work. He rants and raves around the house in frustration, eventually succumbing to alcohol and drug addiction, growing deathly ill. His narrative works as a mirror or contrast to that of his sisters. They feel frustrated with him, but ultimately love and want to take care of him as all of the siblings have grown up together with the same trials and loss.

 

The Brontë sisters are not only struggling with a broken family, but also against the social hindrances toward women of the time. They come up with ambiguous pseudonyms (Currer, Ellis, and Acton Bell) in order to overcome male bias in the publishing industry. Even when they do get published, they must keep their identities secret or risk their reputations. What they see as presenting the truth of reality in their novels, the world sees as vulgar or unfeminine. A satisfying moment comes when the publisher finally meets them, completely surprised at their gender and genius. As Emily puts it, “When a man writes something, it’s what he’s written that’s judged. When a woman writes something, it’s her who’s judged.”

To Walk Invisible - Emily Bronte

Emily Bronte, played by Chloe Pirrie, Image Copyright – To Walk Invisible_41 – “To Walk Invisible: BBC/Matt Squire 2016”

 

One of my favorite aspects of the film is the scenery from Yorkshire. The film was created in their own countryside, and many shots scan over the gorgeous gold and green landscape. As I was watching, I kept thinking about the windswept moors from Wuthering Heights.

I won’t spoil the ending for you all, but I will suggest having the tissues close to hand! The Brontës didn’t have easy, carefree lives, but they did their best to share their view of the world through their writing in a time when many women’s voices went unheard. As the passionate Emily Brontë wrote: “No coward soul is mine.”

To Walk Invisible - Emily and Anne Bronte

Emily with Anne, played by Charlie Murphy – Image Copyright: To Walk Invisible_36 – “To Walk Invisible: BBC/Matt Squire 2016”

 

And now… what you’ve all been waiting for… it’s giveaway time! PBS Distribution has graciously given us one DVD copy of To Walk Invisible: The Brontë Sisters! And if you aren’t the lucky winner this time around, the DVD and Blu-ray will be available for purchase on April 11 at www.shoppbs.orgTo Walk Invisible - Box Art

To enter the giveaway, just leave a comment below (be sure to link contact information or include some way for me to reach you in case you win! It’s easier if you sign in with Twitter or Facebook.) and/or post on Twitter using the hashtag #brontegiveaway and @roseofthewest. By leaving a comment on this post or on Twitter, you are agreeing to the following rules:

OFFICIAL RULES

  • No purchase necessary
  • One entry per person. An entry is a comment on this post. An additional entry is granted by posting a comment on Twitter with the hashtag #brontegiveaway and @roseofthewest
  • Entrants must be 18 years old or older and residents of the U.S.
  • Giveaway entries will be accepted from Sunday, April 2, 2017 until 11:59 p.m. Sunday, April 16, 2017.
  • 1 randomly selected winner will win the DVD version of To Walk Invisible: The Brontë Sisters. The run time of this program is approximately 120 minutes on 1 disc. The DVD SRP is $29.99.
  • 1 winner will be selected at random from the comment section on this post and the comments on Twitter. Only comments received before 11:59 p.m. Sunday, April 16, 2017 will be entered. Winners will be announced Monday, April 17, 2017. Winners will have one week to claim prize.
  • Prizes can only be shipped to addresses in the U.S.
  • The number of eligible entries received determines the odds of winning
  • By entering giveaway, you are submitting the right to access your name for the winning entries as well as for use in a post revealing winners
  • If potential winner forfeits or does not claim prize, prize will be re-awarded in Sponsor’s sole discretion
  • Neither Rose West nor PBS Distribution is liable for any negative impacts as a result of the prize or giveaway
  • Prize is provided by PBS Distribution
  • Giveaway is regulated in the state of Michigan
  • Void where prohibited by law

Don’t forget to share this post with your British-loving friends. Follow me on Twitter for Giveaway updates!

26 Comments

Filed under Giveaway, Movies

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!

Leave a comment

Filed under Movies, Review

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!

1 Comment

Filed under Books, Movies, Review

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!

1 Comment

Filed under Places