Pam Webb

a writer's journey as a reader

Archive for the tag “BBC”

Bard Bits: Hello to the Hollow Crown

As much as I appreciate Shakespeare, I’m not keen on his historical plays. Maybe one has to be British to embrace the life and times of former sovereigns. Then again I’m not favored towards American leaders foregoing productions about George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and the crew. Lincoln, I would probably watch.

And so, hearing there is a contemporary production of the Richards and the Henrys featuring favorite actors ranging from David Suchet to Jeremy Irons to Tom Huddleston to Ben Whishaw, I am intrigued and ready to binge some Bard.

These Three Kings…Wow

Richard II features Ben Whishaw and he cavorts with the style and aplomb of a rock star. Production notes indicate Michael Jackson was suggested inspiration. Whishaw deservedly earned his accolades for his performance as he drifts between petulance and dedicated sovereignty. The cinematography rivals that of big screen artistry, bringing a dimension to the play that a stage production never could. An absolutely riveting introduction to the series.

Next up is Prince Hal played by Tom Hiddleston, around the time he began his Avengers role as Loki. Hiddleston brings the winsome bad boy pluck that he channels in Loki to the role of heir apparent. He cavorts in taverns with thieves and prostitutes instead of winning fame and glory on the battlefield. Hal gives his dad King Henry IV, played exceedingly well by Jeremy Irons, ulcers of shame.

Part One focuses on how Prince Hal is slumming around with Falstaff, one of Shakespeare’s more endearing anti-heroes played with vamp and veer by Simon Russell Beal. A notoriously likable scoundrel, Falstaff nearly ruins Prince Hal, who fortunately realizes he needs to shed the scalawag before he becomes king.

Part Two witnesses the coming of age of a wayward son into prince realizing his duties to crown and country. Stellar performances from all. Tom Hiddleston’s rejection of Falstaff is especially noteworthy as he coldly belays the sly knight’s claim upon him, breaking the old man’s heart, while stepping up to the role of honor required of him.

Henry V fortunately continues with Tom Hiddleston as king. Viewers see his growth as an impetuous swaggering tavern trawler to a victorious warrior whose Crispin Day speech incites tears as it is lovingly and personally delivered to individual soldiers under his command. This king can shout when he has to but can also project tenderness and caring to a peasant conscripted to fighting a war he does not comprehend. His death as a ruler came much too soon.

Each segment features a different director which brings a freshness and varying perspective to each play. The only hindrance is the lack of continuity of actors from part one to part two since Rory Kinnear is very different from Jeremy Irons in looks and acting style, as king, as are the other characters. It was indeed a bonus to have Hiddleston continue as Henry V.

Once again it is proven that Shakespeare is not of an age but for all time as this production proves the Bard is far from boring.

Hysterical Drama: Victoria

Settling into a corset series, one of those lavish PBS costume dramas based on a historical figure or event, has been a go to strategy for dreary winter evenings, long before stay home/stay safe became a mainstay.

The truth is in the telling

Watching people come to life in all their period finery, re-enacting events that shaped history is both enlightening and entertaining. Although show runners tend to lean more towards the entertaining, rather than the enlightenment aspect when presenting their slice of history.

Victoria, now in its third season, is quite guilty of drifting towards a soap opera since its attention to accurately portraying events leans more towards hysteria than historical.

Major considerations:

Victoria constantly refers to her miserable childhood at Kensington, especially being an only child. While it’s true life at Kensington was abominable in many ways, Victoria was not an only child, a lament she emphasizes. In actuality she had the company of her much older half-sister Feodora until she was eight years old and they had a close relationship through correspondence, although actual visits to London were rare. The scheming frenemy relationship portrayed is all for show.

Skerretelli: ah, the romance of the head cook and the queen’s dresser is so endearing, so captivating—so untrue. Charles Francatelli never married the Queen’s Head Dresser. Nancy, whose real name was Marianne Skerrett, served the queen for twenty-five years (and was 44 years old when she came to the palace to serve the 18 year old monarch). She spoke several languages, came from a well-connected family, and had considerable responsibilities. Francatelli did not work long at the palace, and there is no record of he and Skerrett being together. Skerrett was married to her job. So much for that romance.

Another false romance is that of Ernest and Harriet. In real life, Ernest was married at that time, and so was Harriett, plus, she was twelve years older than him. Oh, she eventually had eleven children, while Ernest did not have any with his wife. He did have that problem referred to throughout the episodes—thanks to his dear Papa who introduced him to brothels. Albert declined, of course that initiation.

Albert’s parentage remains a historical titillation since Leopold happened to be visiting when Albert’s mother conceived. Even historians tend towards questionable conclusions.

And yes, there were several assassination attempts on Victoria.

As for Lord M…much ado about nothing. Lord Melbourne did indeed have a huge influence as her prime minister, yet he acted as a mentor for the young queen, advising and guiding her first years as a monarch. He was more of a father figure, although it might be conceivable Victoria had a crush on Lord M, although being 40 years older creates doubt.

Other points of detouring from fact include the Duchess of Bucceouth being in her spritely 30s instead of the curmudgeonly older woman Diana Riggs brought to the role.

The duchess and the footman romance is loosely based on Caroline Norton’s sad experience (accused of adultery with Lord M), and being denied access to her children. She was able to change the law so women had more rights—now that would make for an excellent episode. Instead we get trysts and time outs.

Although Queen Victoria is not one of my British monarch faves, costume dramas, BBC style, are so colorful and elaborate, such a visual feast, such an escape, especially in winter when evenings start at 4 pm.

I do wonder why the writers feel the necessity to tinker with the historical truths. Actual events were plentiful and interesting enough in their own without elaboration or bending.

So, an open request to BBC showrunners: Really, we can handle history as it happened. If we want dramatized history we can turn to Shakespeare.

That reminds me—maybe it’s time to revisit The Hollow Crown since I’ve gone through All Creatures Great and Small, Sanditon, Wolf Hall, and even a revisit of Dr Who’s second season.

What series gets you through winter evenings?

A Murdered Austin

As a confessed Jane Austin fan, I find myself searching for more of her books. Yes, I know that isn’t happening. I doubt Cassandra had a “lost” manuscript squirreled away in the family bank vault like sister Alice did for Nelle.

But one does hope for finding at least a satisfying pastiche.

I have tried a few, and quite frankly, I find them annoying. There are liberties taken with the characters that simply aren’t at all Janish, in either style or intent. If one doesn’t live in the time period, trying to write it and pull it off successfully is about as satisfying as a diet Dove bar. Exactly. They don’t exist because what would be the point?

Sigh. I do keep trying though.

I’d heard PD James had tried her hand at Austin with the Death Comes to Pemberley. Not having read any of her mysteries, I still decided to add the title to my TBR list, because James is a respected author and who can resist a mystery attached to the P&P gang?

I should have resisted.

But it looked so promising… image: BBC


Spying the DVD adaptation on the new release shelf I snagged it quickly. I don’t know why I sequestered it away under my arm. Perhaps I envisioned some maddened JA fan descending upon me screeching “I saw it first!” Decorum before drama. This became the byword as I settled down for an evening of what I hoped to be a lost in Austen evening, for drama versus decorum permeated Pemberley. Yes, death indeed came to Pemberley, but it wasn’t the murder in the woods that was so terrible. So much more damage had been rendered.

I had a prepared list of all that I found oh so wrong with this BBC rendering. Taking the a Thumper path of reviewing practice instead, I will say this one nice thing: At least they used the Pemberley estate from the Kiera Knightley version.

I now need to read James’ novel and see how badly they adapted it, because surely a respected author couldn’t have committed so many travesties to Elizabeth and crew, especially if she is the devotee she is supposed to be. The Amazon reviews aren’t promising. Any thoughts on James and her pastiche of Pemberley? Are there any decent Austin homages out there at all?

Wives and Daughters

One of the final pages from the manuscript for...

One of the final pages from the manuscript for Wives and Daughters (The Works of Mrs. Gaskell, Knutsford Edition) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Have you ever eagerly brought a movie home only to discover you’ve watched it before?

When that happens I either slip it out and chastise myself for my negligent memory or shrug and go for it anyway.  Such was the case with BBC’s production of Gaskell’s Wives and Daughters.


Lovely.  I watched the whole thing in one sitting.  I would not do well with the weekly installment watch plan anymore.  I tend to eat all my Haagen-Daaz in one sitting too.

As for Wives and Daughters I think Gaskell should have actually named the series, The Doctor’s Daughter because it all centered on Molly, who was the doctor’s daughter.  I didn’t see much about wives and only a couple of daughters were the focus.  Maybe I will have to read the book.  And right now I am trying to do so.  It’s not working.

One problem I am finding out with watching really wonderful BBC adaptations is that they quench my desire to dig into the book.  I really should stick to my book first policy.


If you should hunger after a character driven historical plot that is reminiscent of Jane Austen’s complicated romance plots, then do look up Gaskell and her Wives and Daughters–watching or reading it is too personal of a decision for me to actually recommend. Umm-I did really like, really like the BBC more than I have Gaskell’s flowery writing.  But don’t let me influence you.

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