Filed under: Costume Dramas, Literature, Painted Ladies, Victorian, Victoriana, Writers | Tags: 19th Century, Adaptation, BBC, Michel Faber, Novel, The Crimson Petal and the White, Victorian London, Victorian Prostitutes
Michel Faber’s The crimson Petal and the White, ticks so many of my boxes I hardly know where to begin. A richly detailed, viscerally engaging, beguilingly written novel that I fell deeply in love with when it first came out. Of course, ever practical, I got it in hardback and schlomped it around with me like a weighty talisman in the increasingly tattered velvet bag I carried everywhere at the time.
The narrative just drips with deliciously rank descriptions of The Great Stink which was Victorian London, the contrast between the perfumed, lace-clad middle classes and the guttersnipes living in utter poverty amidst unthinkable filth of every kind. Just my cup of tea, as regular readers of this blog will readily attest!
Here’s an excerpt from the start of Faber’s The Crimson Petal and the White, taken from Book Browse (you can read the first ten pages of the novel by following the above link):
Watch your step. Keep your wits about you; you will need them. This city I am bringing you to is vast and intricate, and you have not been here before. You may imagine, from other stories you’ve read, that you know it well, but those stories flattered you, welcoming you as a friend, treating you as if you belonged. The truth is that you are an alien from another time and place altogether.
When I first caught your eye and you decided to come with me, you were probably thinking you would simply arrive and make yourself at home. Now that you’re actually here, the air is bitterly cold, and you find yourself being led along in complete darkness, stumbling on uneven ground, recognising nothing. Looking left and right, blinking against an icy wind, you realise you have entered an unknown street of unlit houses full of unknown people.
And yet you did not choose me blindly. Certain expectations were aroused. Let’s not be coy: you were hoping I would satisfy all the desires you’re too shy to name, or at least show you a good time. Now you hesitate, still holding on to me, but tempted to let me go. When you first picked me up, you didn’t fully appreciate the size of me, nor did you expect I would grip you so tightly, so fast. Sleet stings your cheeks, sharp little spits of it so cold they feel hot, like fiery cinders in the wind. Your ears begin to hurt. But you’ve allowed yourself to be led astray, and it’s too late to turn back now.
It’s an ashen hour of night, blackish-grey and almost readable like undisturbed pages of burnt manuscript. You blunder forward into the haze of your own spent breath, still following me. The cobblestones beneath your feet are wet and mucky, the air is frigid and smells of sour spirits and slowly dissolving dung. You hear muffled drunken voices from somewhere nearby, but what little you can understand doesn’t sound like the carefully chosen opening speeches of a grand romantic drama; instead, you find yourself hoping to God that the voices come no closer.
The main characters in this story, with whom you want to become intimate, are nowhere near here. They aren’t expecting you; you mean nothing to them. If you think they’re going to get out of their warm beds and travel miles to meet you, you are mistaken.
You may wonder, then: why did I bring you here? Why this delay in meeting the people you thought you were going to meet? The answer is simple: their servants wouldn’t have let you in the door.
What you lack is the right connections, and that is what I’ve brought you here to make: connections. A person who is worth nothing must introduce you to a person worth next-to-nothing, and that person to another, and so on and so forth until finally you can step across the threshold, almost one of the family.
That is why I’ve brought you here to Church Lane, St Giles: I’ve found just the right person for you.
Now I am eagerly awaiting the first in a 4-part BBC adaptation which begins tonight on BBC2 at 9pm. I CAN’T WAIT! Well, I mean I can wait, I suppose, because it’s not going to be shown before then and I doubt the BBC are going to courier a DVD copy over to me, either. The rotters.
Romola Garai, Chris O’Dowd, Gillian Anderson, Richard E Grant, Shirley Henderson, Amanda Hale and Mark Gatiss star in a bold four-part adaptation of The Crimson Petal And The White adapted from Michel Faber’s best selling novel by acclaimed playwright and screenwriter Lucinda Coxon and directed by award-winning Marc Munden (The Devil’s Whore, The Mark Of Cain), produced by Origin Pictures for the BBC.
A tale of love, lust, desire and revenge, it reveals the true sexual politics of Victorian life. In the words of the heroine, Sugar: “If you dare enter this world, you had better tread carefully.”
As ever, when someone films or in any way adapts a favourite book, one is struck with an initial shivering thrill of excitement. This is followed hot on the heels by that slowly sinking dread that they are absolutely bound to bugger it up. Oh, they are going to RUIN IT for you; and that if they do, you’ll shake your fist at the skies, shouting “Why, God, WHY did you let these incompetent curs loose on my favourite book/film/other thing?” and then you’ll write a letter to the Guardian’s Media section, treating the editor to a frame-by-frame critique, entitled Everything That is Wrong with This Adaptation and including that well-worn line “I cannot believe the BBC have spent MY license fee on this utter drivel”, as though you, alone, fund The BBC and are entitled to personally approve of every single thing they produce.
But I digress.
Imagine how scary it must be to have written that novel, and to be watching your ‘baby’ reborn on TV. Luckily, Michel Faber entirely approves and was actually incredibly moved by the adaptation.
A few days ago, watching a TV show, I got tears in my eyes. That doesn’t happen very often. For a start, I haven’t watched television for many years, and also, it takes a lot to make me cry. My own private sorrows can make me weep, and occasionally a song can penetrate my defences (June Tabor’s “A Proper Sort of Gardener” does it to me every time), but when it comes to novels or on-screen narratives, I’m tough to crack. Pathos and poignancy are, to me, tactics and techniques; in my work as a writer, I fetch them from my toolbox and use them as required. Show me a tear-jerking movie, and I’ll sit stony-faced, analysing the hell out of it. “Oh yes, this is the bit where they hope people will start sniffling. Not badly done at all, I suppose, for this sort of thing. I’d rate it a 6/10. Maybe even a 7.” Yet a few days ago, sitting in front of the TV, I got choked up… I was anxious what TV would have done to my baby in the BBC’s adaptation, but its new artistic guardians have treated it very well indeed.
You can read his reaction in full in the piece he wrote for The Guardian today.
I am currently finalising my choices for an Etsy Treasury inspired by The Crimson Petal and the White (a themed, curated collection of items available at Etsy) and shall hopefully publish this in the next couple of days, after I’ve seen the programme and can let you know what I think of it!
Now, must be off as I’m trying to combine cooking Jambalaya, ironing and looking at delicious things on Etsy.
Until next time, darlings
Filed under: Accessories, BBC, Costume Dramas, Fashion, Modern Nostalgic, Vintage | Tags: BBC, Claire Foy, Lady Persephone, Mitford, Upstairs Downstairs, vintage style
The recently screened new series of BBC drama, Upstairs Downstairs has been a huge hit with audiences and critics alike; despite the fact that fans of the original had been anxiously biting their lips, with some getting ready to spew forth poison if their golden memories were tarnished. Thankfully, it was beautifully written, wonderfully acted and with many a sensitive, respectful nod to the past.
One of the greatest treats for viewers (well, certainly for this viewer) were the lust-worthy costumes – many being original vintage pieces of the period – which just shone from the screen and quite made one sigh with envy. It’s a very particular British kind of glamour – all aristocratic complexions, matte lipstick, clicky heels and that clipped Mitford-esque brittleness which defines the period for me.
The two sisters had most of the envy-making ensembles, with Lady Persephone (played by Claire Foy) wearing a particularly memorable outfit in one scene, consisting of a scarlet red bias cut silk gown worn with a fur stole.
Even though I don’t personally like fur, one could not help but gasp at the effect: she looked absolutely stunning.
I adore vintage clothes, but many of the delicate fabrics of this period can be too fragile to wear without fear of spoiling them forever, along with the fact that women were, generally speaking, far more petite than nowadays, so the sizing can be an issue. With this in mind, I wanted to re-create two of the most memorable looks from the series, using contemporary clothes and accessories but echoing that vintage look as closely as possible.
The first outfit I’ve re-created is that of Lady Persephone – I do hope you like it!
$75 – endless.com
Ak anne klein jewelry »
Filed under: Costume Dramas, Cosy, Edwardian | Tags: Costume Drama, Dame Maggie Smith, Downton Abbey, Gosford Park, ITV, Jullian Fellowes, The Young Victoria
Just as the call of a cuckoo is held as the first sign of Spring; surely nothing heralds the start of Autumn more certainly than the clarion call of confirmed National Treasure, Dame Maggie Smith in a Sunday evening costume drama.
Downton Abbey is a brand new series by Oscar-winning writer Julian Fellowes (he of Gosford Park fame and – his most recent film – The Young Victoria) and it begins tonight on ITV1 at 9pm. Fear not, American chums, apparently you will be able to feast your eyes by seeing this on PBS in January 2011.
The sun is rising behind Downton Abbey, a great and splendid house in a great and splendid park. So secure does it appear, that it seems as if the way of life it represents will last for another thousand years.
Set in a stunning country house (actually filmed in Highclere Castle, Hampshire) in 1912, Downton Abbey will follow the turbulent lives of the Crawley family and the servants who work for them. I know one shouldn’t pre-judge, but I think it’s quite a safe bet that I’ll be glued to the screen for every episode!
“In 1912, England was teetering on the brink. Apparently placid, still rooted in the traditions of many centuries, it would be less than ten years before the First World War and the Jazz Age had ripped every certainty to shreds. This is the moment when we enter the world of Downton Abbey, the great house of a great family, where the Granthams and their daughters preside over a household in the charge of Carson, the butler, and Mrs Hughes, the housekeeper. All these people must, in their different ways, deal with the changes that are coming. The cast, led by Maggie Smith as the Dowager, Hugh Bonneville and Elizabeth McGovern as the Earl and Countess of Grantham, Dan Stevens and Penelope Wilton as the unwanted heir and his mother, and a staff led by Jim Carter as Carson, and Phyllis Logan as Mrs Hughes, will bring the halls and passages of Downton to life, with splendour, discipline and passion.” – Julian Fellowes
To say I am excited would be something of an understatement.
I mean honestly – a fabulous setting, drool-worthy costumes, a pedigree cast & Oscar-winning writer: what’s not to like? There’s an excellent page dedicated to Downton Abbey at the Enchanted Serenity of Period Films blog – the Meet the Characters section being particularly useful, I think.
This looks set to be the cosy costume drama of choice for the Autumn season – and how refreshing that it should NEW! You know I love my Austen adaptations and am a sucker for bit of Dickens, but the endless cavalcade of re-hashes can become (dare one say) tiresome over time. To have something specifically written – and by a writer of such prestige – is a real treat.
Ring for the butler, darlings, and demand tea and crumpets.
(P.S: Searching for images of tea & crumpets was harder than I imagined. I was found screaming “That’s NOT a crumpet!” many a time. Had to settle on this beautiful picture which also includes scones (via the Brambleberry Cottage and Tea Shoppe). Am all calm, now.
I was inspired to put together an Etsy Treasury (a curated collection of themed items, all available from the diverse sellers on Etsy.com), hoping to evoke the Edwardian era, and cosy costume dramas in general… I do hope you enjoy browsing around these gorgeous shops!
Direct links to items listed, left to right:
Well,dears, it begins in under 20 minutes, so forgive me whilst I hop off to butter my crumpets (so to speak)!
Until next time,
Filed under: Costume Dramas, Cosy, Georgette Heyer, Modern Nostalgic, Regency | Tags: BBC7, Heyer, Historical Romance, Radio Drama
Long-term readers will know that I am quite unashamedly giddy about Georgette Heyer’s historical romance novels, and I’m delighted to announce that BBC Radio 7 dramatised Georgette Heyer’s Regency Buck (some time ago, but the first time I’d heard it).
It’s a very… Am-Dram sort of a piece, if you ask me. Lots of unnecessary vowels and the distinct whiff of ham. However, it gets a lot better as it goes along and is still delightful to listen to on a cosy Sunday afternoon.
It’s available to listen to right now (7 days left to listen again on their website, linked above). Next Sunday, they are dramatising Friday’s Child (which should also be available by Listen Again after it has been broadcast).
Hurrah! I far prefer Friday’s Child, anyway, and shall hope for less…braying… performances.
Oh, I love this headband – so pretty and very Regency looking. I think it would be perfect for a bride or bridesmaids to wear. :)
Anyway, I have had a lovely day of coffee truffles for breakfast (they are allowed, as they are the most breakfasty of the chocolates I was presented with by the be-ringleted finace). I received the now traditional “In Sympathy” card with effusive declarations and the also traditional bacon sandwich (made with huge Irish soda farls) and a steaming mug of tea. Bliss.
How adorable is this Josephine Gown? I think it could work equally well as a simple wedding gown or a boho style maxi dress worn with sandals or little pumps, layers of necklaces and flowing locks for the Summer.
The same could be said for versatility of this darling little chemisette based on a traditional pattern. Not one just for the costume-party, I think, but imagine this being worn under a simple shift dress for work on a hot day, in place of a shirt. Practical and more than a little sexy, in a modest way. By the way, the current buttons are plastic, but may be replaced with period correct ones on request, which is a lovely touch.
Other than the romantic breakfast (our sort of romance), I have been pottering about, listening to the above whimsical historical romance, and, as you see, searching a treasure trove of Regency-inspired delights to make a ‘Regency Buck’ themed selection.
Direct links to items shown:
I do hope you enjoy looking at them and exploring the shops they are located in.
Until next time, dear hearts,
Filed under: BBC, Christmas, Costume Dramas, Cranford, Elizabeth Gaskell, English Cottage, Etsy, Fripperies, Style, Trinkets, Victorian, Vintage
Hullo dear hearts,
I return misty-eyed from watching the second part of BBC1’s Cranford Christmas special. I take back what some of what I said just before actually watching it. There I bemoaned (well, tutted a little) that it hadn’t really been as moving or gripping as the first [proper] series. Well. Rest assured, the second half is infinitely superior to the first episode!
Loved it. Cried a lot. Smiled a lot.
If I had a lace hankie I’d have dabbed at eyes in a delicate fashion, but had to make do with the back of a pyjama sleeve.
I promised a selection of suitably Cranfordian themed goodies, and I shall not fail you…
Direct links to items shown, left to right:
All of these finds warrant a closer look. The Locomotive Scarf, for example, is so intricately worked and has the phrase “Got Steam?” crocheted into the design. Amazing!
Until next time, poppets,
Obviously they inhabit somewhat different ends of the spectrum of TV drama, being slightly different in their content; but a good indicator of the two extremes of my taste, perhaps!
Only one of these brilliant series saw fit to have a reprise in the form of a misty-eyed Christmas Special on BBC1 this year. Can you guess which? ;p
Funnily enough, The Guardian newspaper did an online poll to see which of these shows people would rather watch, and The Wire won by a startling 79.1%. However, one of the stars of The Wire did admit to liking a bit of the ol’ costume drama, himself:
Dominic West said, ‘No one does costume drama like the BBC … I thought Cranford was incredible, but we don’t seem to be able to do contemporary stuff.’
Which I think is a perfectly acceptable point to make. The BBC are apparently going to be cutting down on costume dramas, to make way for gritty, urban or modern TV programmes. I have to say I think they’ll be shooting themselves in the foot. Where else can we go for a cosy refuge from dreadfulness?
The British are, generally (before anyone shoots me!) bloody awful at anything “gritty”, “urban” or even “modern”. They always seem to come across as creaking, tin-pot parodies of Eastenders written [and sometimes acted] by deeply emotional Sixth Form drama groups who are Trying to Make a Point. Embarrassing for all concerned.
No, far better to don the bonnets, I say, and do what they’re best at. Of course try new things and experiment – they may even get good at it when they can employ decent scriptwriters – but don’t lop off all the roses whilst they continue to bloom!
Based on the books by Elizabeth Gaskell, Cranford manages to be extremely moving (more than one of my female companions admits to having quite a sob-fest whilst watching) with genuinely funny moments of high comedy and slapstick action, mixed in with social commentary and a document of how the railways came to hasten The Future, much to the horror/delight of local inhabitants.
Of course it has a stellar cast, with Dame Judi Dench reprising her role as the much-loved Miss Matty Jenkyns, and heading a roll-call Britain’s top film, television and stage talent, with Cranford newcomers: Jonathan Pryce, Celia Imrie, Lesley Sharp, Nicholas Le Prevost, Jodie Whittaker, Tom Hiddleston, Michelle Dockery, Matthew McNulty, Rory Kinnear and Tim Curry.
This second outing to Cranford hasn’t been as moving or engaging as the first – but they are unfair comparisons to begin with, the first being a whole series and this being a two-part special which is more in the way of a special treat for the original fans and perhaps a way to gather some new to the comfy, welcoming bosom of Cranford.
It’s a warm bath of a show. It’s nice cup of tea and a biscuit. It isn’t cutting edge and it’s hardly going to rock any boats or break any boundaries, but that’s okay, BBC programme makers. Stop sweating about being Gritty. It’s really alright. You’re allowed to be brilliant at Nice.
Of course, there will be a themed collection of items to follow shortly… but now I am off to change into my PJ’s, put my cranberry coloured fluffy bed socks on, make a turkey sandwich (NO I’m not bored of them, so there!) have a nice cup of tea, and watch the second part of Cranford.
Oh yeah, baby.
I am so rock and roll.
Filed under: Accessories, Autumn, BBC, Costume Dramas, Emma, Etsy, Fall, Fashion, Fripperies, Jane Austen, Regency, Trinkets
I have just been watching the new BBC adaptation of Jane Austen’s Emma and pronounce it to be [horribly quoting from the wrong book, but never mind] “Tolerable“. Well that’s a little unkind, it doesn’t have anything bad about it, really, but neither is it particularly electrifying. Everyone is doing their turn and doing it well enough – it’s perfect Autumnal Sunday evening viewing, so we can’t complain. Eye-candy abounds in home decor, winsome peaches & cream complexions and well-fitting breeches scattered liberally about the scenery.
Watch a preview clip:
In my mind, Jane Austen adaptations are forever entwined with cameos in my mind. I have no idea why. Well, actually that’s a lie. When I was a little girl, I had a collected edition of Austen’s novels that had a large picture of a cameo on the front cover. Therefore, Austen = Cameo and Cameo = Austen in my easily-befuddled head. So there.
Cameos have a truly fascinating history as fashionable pieces of wearable art – I have always been attracted to their strikingly simple beauty yet decadently intricate appeal. My mother introduced them to me – we would spend hours looking in antique shop windows, gazing longingly at the images and wondering who they depicted and who wore them…
The following snippets of information are from Anna M. Miller’s book, Cameos Old & New – a brilliant resource for those wishing to further their knowledge on this subject.
- Early Greek and Roman carvings featured images of gods and goddesses, themes from mythology, beautiful women and biblical events.
- Many cameos through history depict living heroes or rulers.
- In the Hellenistic era young women used cameos as charms to express desire. A woman could wear a cameo depicting a dancing Eros as a seductive invitation to love.
- During the Renaissance, Pope Paul II was an avid cameo collector. According to history, this love ultimately led to his death. His excessive display of carved gems and stones on his fingers kept his hands so cold that he caught the chill that meant his death.
- Cameos have been used on helmets and military accessories like breastplates and sword handles, on rings and other jewelry, and on vases, cups and dishes.
- Women began collecting cameos to prove cultural status during the Elizabethan period. At the same time, tourist travels to the ruins of Pompeii were on the rise and women began collecting shell and lava cameos as souvenirs to remember their travel.
- During the 18th century, men purchased carved gems to mark their prestige and culture.
- Cameos enchanted Napoléon, who wore a cameo to his own wedding and founded a school in Paris to teach the art of cameo carving to young apprentices.
- Not until the nineteenth century, when the popularity of shell cameos grew — reducing the use of hardstones or agate — did profiles become as popular a subject matter as they are today.
If you click on the above picture of the utterly jaw-dropping French Baroque cameo, you’ll be taken to a page where you may read more about the history of how cameos are made. Or you can order the cameo and buy me a house with the money left in your wallet. Alternatively – and perhaps a little more affordable for the rest of us – you may choose to peruse my cameo-inspired choices from various lovely Etsy sellers…
Direct links to items shown:
In case you have been living in a cupboard, Louise Black is currently starring in the current series of Project Runway. She has long been one of my favourite Etsy designers and I lust after one of these corsets (though to be perfectly honest, my corset wearing days are likely over. Let’s face it. I’m likely to get more use of one of her gorgeous cuffs. But OH look at the corset… *le-sigh*
I do think the cameo dress in my above selection is a very wearable piece, though. For those of us less blessed in the leg department, one may choose to team it with leggings (even I have succumbed to leggings this season!) or extremely opaque tights and either cute ballet flats or knee-boots.
Another effortless wearable (and affordable!) piece that I didn’t have room for in my initial selection but still wanted to share with you, is this delightful Marie Antoinette Cameo Shirt by Thirty Three Degrees:
Finally, I just have to include this dinky little cat cameo cushion by Kerry Kate – I know I want one in my house!
Well, I think I have probably prattled on long enough for today, my dearies, so until next time…
Filed under: Costume Dramas, Creepy, Etsy, Fairytales, Fashion, Films, Fripperies, Trinkets
I am really very excited by the prospect of Terry Gilliam‘s latest fantastical film offering: The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus. Starring such diverse luminaries as Johnny Depp, Heath Ledger (in his last film), Chrisopher Plummer, Jude Law, Colin Farrell, Tom Waits, Lily Cole, and Paloma Faith; it certainly looks to be a feast for the eyes as well as the imagination.
On her blog, Paloma Faith waxes lyrical about Gilliam and Ledger’s untimely death (which one hopes wont overshadow the film): “Terry Gilliam is such a genius. I must admit it was very moving to see Heath Ledger deliver yet another wonderful performance and the moment he morphs into the other (replacement) actors, it hits home how undeniably sad it is that he passed away so young in his life. There are references to some of these things in the film. How those icons who die young will be eternally young and forever in our hearts, remaining as they were when they left us. I was very moved. The film also discusses subjects close to my heart such as the tragedy that the art of storytelling is dying in contemporary culture. People are too cynical to take notice of the subtleties…You must go and see it, it’s so beautiful. And when I wasn’t in tears, I was laughing my head off.”
Now then, I love Terry Gilliam’s films, but we all know he can often take an idea and scatter it hither & thither. Always visually stunning affairs, the films can be left nigh on naked once the petals of the plot have been ruthlessly shaken from the stem. [I'll end that metaphor there - fear not, Gentle Reader!] Ironically, that’s often why I love his films anyway. He has mad ideas and he runs with them, and the cast always look like they’re more than happy to be along for the ride. It can be a little unsatisfying, though, and I often leave with a sense of longing for a brave editor to stand up and scream: “ENOUGH! No, Terry, you can’t have twenty minutes of footage showing a rabbit dancing with an umbrella as tiny ballerinas chase him with axes made of wasps, we should GET ON WITH THE STORY. Now go and have a cup of tea and calm down.”
I have to admit that the prospect of Jude Law being in it almost put me off the idea of seeing the film altogether. It’s safe to say I’m not a huge fan. You may expect me to love him – all the ingredients are there: He’s posh, he has floppy hair, he… Well. That’s sort of it, really, on the Reasons Miss Nightingale Should Like Jude Law list. Oh yes, he’s arrogant, and I am sort of attracted to arrogance in some ways – but not his.
Jude Law may well be a lovely chap: a champion of poorly kittens and a finder of lost thimbles, for all I know. He just comes across as sneeringly vulgar, to me. He exudes a sort of smarmy oiliness that seeps from the screen and, what’s more, I don’t think he’s a very good actor. He’s sort of a much thinner, much posher Jamie Oliver but with none of the apparent affability and no discernible talent. However, I’m sure the Law household (whoever that consists of this week) is losing no sleep over my lack of respect for J boy, so we’ll let the subject drop for the time being. I’m sure I’ll have cause to revisit such a vast topic in the future.
So yes, we have Jude Law repelling the senses, but so much else to attract. Namely: Johnny Depp and Colin Farrell. Oh and the costumes look amazing, and I am ever a sucker for fabulous costumes, as you should know by now. I should also mention that the casting of Tom Waits as the devil is utter GENIUS, by the way. I shall be interested to see if Lily Cole outshines the reviews of her work which appear to be amazed that she’s not only a model but can act (in fact started acting before modeling) and – GET THIS – is at Cambridge University, too! Yes, very nice and everything, but should we really be treated to such jaw-drops in the press whenever a model does anything more mentally taxing than buttoning her own shirt?
The film is released in the UK on the 16th October 2009. Meanwhile, have a sneak preview of the official trailer below, followed by some behind-the-scenes footage with Terry Gilliam in the second clip…
And what are you expecting now, my darlings? My regular readers will know for sure… Such topics always inspire me to create a selection of themed treasures I have discovered on Etsy which I hope you will agree are suitably Gilliam-esque. Happy browsing!
Direct links to items shown:
Filed under: Agatha Christie, Books, Costume Dramas, Fripperies, Miss Marple, Shoes, Trinkets
I must admit I sat down ready to cast a rather jaundiced eye over ITV’s latest series of Marple [they did away with the "Miss" in the previous series in order to gussy it up somewhat and appeal to The Youth Market or some such, which is ridiculous, unnecessary and loses a little of the charm granted by the pleasing alliteration of the two M's, if you ask me. Though nobody did, of course, which is very much their loss.]
Julia McKenzie is the seventh incumbent of the much-loved Agatha Christie character, following in the somewhat daunting footsteps of Geraldine McEwan, Gracie Fields, Margaret Rutherford, Angela Lansbury, Helen Hayes and my favourite of the Miss Marples (ha, in your face, ITV), the indomitable Joan Hickson – a class act which would be nigh on impossible to beat.
However, as the darling Hickson is no longer with us, I have come to terms with the fact that one must allow others to step into the [sensible] shoes. It has taken some time, and I am afraid I must admit my snobbishness put me off viewing the previous series – with Geraldine McEwan as Miss marple – altogether. Therefore, I cannot judge if McKenzie is better or worse than her immediate predecessor, but as I have always liked her as an actress, so was willing to at least give her a chance. I am sure she – and ITV – are very much relieved to hear this.
Mathew Prichard, Agatha Christie’s grandson and Chairman of Agatha Christie Ltd, has said that he is “…delighted that Julia McKenzie is playing Miss Marple, one of my grandmother’s, and the British public’s favourite fictional characters. She has that wonderful combination of homeliness, intelligence and compassion that is so appealing and effective in solving mysteries. The British public is in for a treat with this story and another three more, not to mention marvellous casts to support Julia. My grandmother would have been very proud that her work still commands such outstanding professional support in the twenty-first century.”
Well. Of course, one call fall in love with settings and start swooning all over the place as country houses, well-manicured lawns and luscious costumes all jostle for attention. I did worry that the first few minutes would prove to be more than enough for me, as it seemed to be jumping from pillar to post by way of a Vaseline-smeared camera lens, in order to convey the subtle message This Is a Flashback, to incredibly dense viewers. It got better.
I liked Mckenzie’s performance very much indeed – just the right amount of knowing sweetness and the ability to turn on the gimlet-eyed stare to quell the hardiest of criminals. It was never going to beat Joan Hickson’s portrayal, I suppose, but this is a very pleasing series, and the perfect Sunday evening cosy viewing.We watched it with pots of tea & toasted fruit bread dripping with butter. I say we but the be-ringleted fiance only managed to make it through the first hour. Don’t be guilty of assuming this meant it was dreadful. For him, that’s paramount to nominating the series for an BAFTA. He doesn’t do historical dramas, really, but bless his heart he tried.I shall certainly be catching the next installment, though have resigned myself to the fact I shall likely have the sofa to myself.
This all ties in rather nicely with a Treasury I was putting together a while ago (having always loved Miss Marple). I got to wondering how Miss Marple would have been as a young gal, and thought she must surely always have been fascinated in the mysterious and, therefore, couldn’t possibly have resisted sticking her nose into other people’s business. This time, though, she’d have been wearing foxier outfits whilst sleuthing, don’t you think?
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I must say I really like the Miss Marple Look anyway – especially as the days get chillier with a distinct Autumnal nip in the air and one turns to opaques and strokes cashmere again with gentle hand of a lover. Every now and again I start hankering after a bit of tweed, myself, though glamourised with sexy heels and a slash of red lipstick, of course…