After reading the advance press on Dark Angel – the new period drama starring Joanne Froggatt as Victorian-era serial killer Mary Ann Cotton – I was seriously considering skipping my weekly MASTERPIECE appointment with my television. Multiple murders by a woman who successively kills her husbands and children by poison for their life insurance sounded like nails on a chalkboard to me – something way beyond my comfort zone. The fact that it featured Froggatt, an awarding winning actress who I adored as Anna Bates in Downton Abbey, Emmy award winning director Brian Percival (Downton Abbey) and acclaimed screenwriter Gwyneth Hughes (Miss Austen Regrets) softened the blow a bit, but I was still not convinced.
My tipping point was my love of English history and my curiosity. Life in lower-class Victorian England was harsh and bleak, however, many wives and mothers did not become serial killers. What was Mary Ann Cotton’s story? What pushed her beyond despair and made her a mass murderer?
“Why don’t you let me make you a nice cup of tea?” – Mary Ann Cotton
Screenwriter Gwyneth Hughes had an extraordinary true-life story to draw from. It is estimated that Cotton poisoned with arsenic up to 21 people including: three of her four husbands, fifteen children, a lover, a friend, and her mother – collecting life insurance for many of them. Continue reading
“It’s that time of year when the world falls in love” … with Downton Abbey all over again. The final season starts in less than one month on Masterpiece Classic PBS on January 3, 2016. My anticipation of another season of great drama, romance, and witty retorts runs high.
I am, of course, paraphrasing The Christmas Waltz; the famous 1954 holiday song written by Sammy Cahn and Jule Styne for Frank Sinatra. There is nothing like listening to Christmas carols to make me sentimental. Coupled with the fact that this will be the sixth and final season of Downton Abbey, one of my favorite period dramas on television, and I am ready for a double shot of brandy in my eggnog.
Despite my melodramatic angst over the conclusion of the Crawley family and their servants’ story, fellow Downtonites can revisit the fabulous plots, locations, and characters by reading the final companion volume to the series, Downton Abbey – A Celebration, by Jessica Fellowes. This is her fourth large and lavish book spotlighting the phenomenally popular, award-winning television series. And, it truly lives up to its title—a jubilant fête worthy of her uncle Julian Fellowes’ vision of portraying the changes in the British aristocracy through the Crawley family and their servants from the sinking of the Titanic in 1912 to the Jazz Age of 1925. Continue reading
Will we ever be able to explain the phenomenon that is the television series, Downton Abbey? Watched by millions and showered with awards, I find the reason for its success as elusive to pinpoint as Jane Austen’s lasting appeal. It means so much to so many. In two hundred years’ time will people be watching and reading about this period drama as passionately as we do Austen’s novels?
Quite possibly so. Their common link is the witty writing. Clever bon mots and cheeky retorts never go out of fashion. They make us smile, laugh-out-loud and reflect upon what makes us tick as humans. They are a window into our souls.
The Wit and Wisdom of Downton Abbey, by Jessica Fellowes, is a collection of those fabulous zingers that make this series so “light, bright and sparkling” to Austen fans and the bazillion other viewers around the world. Creator and writer Julian Fellowes must love Austen as much as this Janeite. He certainly recognizes how her prose can sing with humor and social reproof using the same technique in his own dialogue. Whenever anyone complains about anything I am tempted to use a little Lady Catherine, oops, Lady Violet on them… Continue reading
It’s time to announce the giveaway winners of the first two novels in the Poldark Saga: Ross Poldark and Demelza. The lucky winners drawn at random are:
1.) Eight (8) trade paperback copies of Ross Poldark
- lex6819, who left a comment on June 22, 2015
- Bookfool, aka Nancy, who left a comment on July 13, 2015
- Ladycrumpet, who left a comment on August 05, 2015
- Trudystattle, who left a comment on June 9, 2015
- Veronica Sweet, who left a comment on June 7, 2015
- Patricia Barraclough, who left a comment on July 19, 2015
- Elizabeth, who left a comment on August 3, 2015
- BeckyC, who left a comment on June 10, 2015
Captain Ross Poldark (Aidan Turner). Image (c) 2015 Mammoth Screen, Ltd. for Masterpiece PBS
Last week in episode 6 of Poldark, we had the “Pride and Prejudice Poldark Edition,” in which talk of frocks, balls and beaus resounded with snappy repartees and witty retorts, in true Jane Austen style.
This week in episode 7 of Poldark, it’s just another day in Cornwall when an epidemic strikes the community, tragedy befalls the Poldark family and a rip roaring shipwreck sends more than a ship to the bottom of the sea, in the thrilling and heartbreaking 2 hour season 1 finale.
Side Note: Masterpiece Classic chose to combine episodes 7 and 8 of the UK broadcast into one episode. This will be confusing to some. Do not be alarmed. Both episodes are included.
(Fair warning. There be spoilers ahead)
“Where’s Verity?”—Elizabeth Poldark
While George Warleggan (Jack Farthing) reminds Ross Poldark’s (Aidan Turner) business partner Sir Jonathan Tressider (Mark Seaman) where his true interests lie in light of the debt that he owes to Warleggan Bank, Verity (Ruby Bentall) makes her move (finally) and elopes with Captain Blamey (Richard Harrington). Francis Poldark (Kyle Soller), the narcissistic cad that he is, does not take the news well. He is convinced that Ross aided them in their plans. His wife Elizabeth (Heida Reed) questions his rash accusations, defending Ross proclaiming, “I stand up for no one, but it’s the merest justice not to condemn people unheard.”
Jud (Phil Davis) and Prudie (Beatie Edney) leave Nampara in Poldark. Image (c) 2015 Mammoth Screen, Ltd. for Masterpiece PBS
“Don’t bend ye brows at me girl. You ain’t nothin’ but a trull from Illugin.”—Jud Paynter
Image of Demelza Poldark (Eleanor Tomlinson) at the Warleggan ball in Poldark (c) 2015 Mammoth Screen, Ltd for Masterpiece PBS
Last week in episode 5 of Poldark everyone was reckless and bold—gambling on their future and love. Miner Mark Daniel married a questionable woman, Ross began a copper smelting company, Demelza played defiant matchmaker and Francis had a meltdown after losing his mine in a card game.
This week: The Pride and Prejudice Poldark edition. In which talk of frocks, balls and beaus resounds with sparkling repartees and retorts, echoing Jane Austen’s prose.
(there be spoilers ahead)
Francis (Kyle Soller) scythes. Image (c) 2015 Mammoth Screen, Ltd. for Masterpiece PBS
“You’ll never get it Ross.”—Francis Poldark
“Justice for all.”—Francis Poldark
“Fair wages would be a start.”—Ross Poldark
With the image of the shirtless and buff Ross Poldark (Aidan Turner) scything his field in episode three still fresh in our minds, the scene of his cousin Francis (Kyle Soller) attempting the same sends an entirely different message. Moral fortitude vs. weakness has won the day. Taking the initiative and rebuilding your life has paid off for Ross. Will his cousin rise to the challenge? The omen that Aunt Agatha (Caroline Blakiston) foretold of the dark and fair Poldark, “The stronger rises as the weaker falls,” has flipped in the five years since Ross’s return. The only ammunition that Francis has left to wound his cousin is sarcasm and doubt. Continue reading
Captain Ross Poldark in His Majesty’s 62nd Regiment of Foot regimentals (c) 2015 Mammoth Screen, Ltd for Masterpiece PBS
Getting the historical details correct is so critical in period drama today. Gone are the days when Greer Garson could wear a hoop skirt in the 1940 Pride and Prejudice and get away with it. The production team of the new BBC/PBS Poldark, at Mammoth Screen Ltd., have stepped up to the mark depicting late eighteenth-century Cornwall, warts and all. Advising them in this monumental task is lecturer, author and historian Hannah Greig who joins us today to answer a few questions about her role in the production of Poldark and the historical context that it is set in.
An illustration “A Beauty in Search of Knowledge” derived from a print by John Raphael Smith, 1782 (c) British Library
LAN: Welcome Hannah. One has visions of historians entrenched in musty library stacks secretly pining for their favorite reference librarian! Besides teaching and writing, you have carved out an interesting niche as Historical Advisor for films, television and theatre. This seems like a very glamorous job. Can you share with us what your duties are, what a typical day would be like, and what kind of questions are asked by the production team? Continue reading
Ross Poldark (Aidan Turner), new dad, bad-ass miner and wavering lover.
Last week in episode 4 of Poldark the scandal mongers were in high dudgeon after the marriage of Ross to his kitchen maid Demelza, Uncle Charles’ death forced his son Francis to become more than a lawn ornament, Demelza Doolittle discovered that becoming a lady is hard work and Ross had an epiphany–he loves his wife!
This week everyone is RECKLESS AND BOLD—gambling on their future and love: Mark Daniel in his choice of bride, Keren; Ross in his new business venture, Demelza in her defiance, and Francis with his livelihood. The only person who is nonplussed is George Warleggan.
(there be spoilers ahead)
Keren Smith (Sabrina Bartlett), a player on more than just the stage, one suspects.
“I am undone: there is no living, none,
If Bertram be away. ‘Twere all one
That I should love a bright particular star
And think to wed it, he is so above me.” — Keren Smith as Helena in All’s Well That Ends Well
Two new important characters have entered the Poldark sphere: Dr. Dwight Enys (Luke Norris) and Keren Smith (Sabrina Bartlett). While Dr. Enys (in this screen version) is Ross Poldark’s (Aidan Turner) amiable army buddy arriving in Cornwall to study miners lung ailments, Keren is a seductive siren, an actress performing in a traveling troop who captures the heart of miner Mark Daniel (Matthew Wilson). Did any other Shakespeare fans recognize her soliloquy during the stage production? It is Helena’s lament for her love Bertram from All’s Well That Ends Well by Shakespeare—a very interesting selection for the screenwriter to choose. I will not say more, lest I spoil it for everyone. Mark agrees to Keren’s demanding terms for a marriage. He has four days to prepare a home for her or she leaves. Anyone read Why Men Love Bitches? She might have ghost written it. Just sayin’. Continue reading
“They like you.” proclaims Demelza to Ross. No kidding, sweetie!
Last week, episode three of Poldark began with Ross re-opening his family copper mine, Demelza catching his eye while dancing at a local villager’s wedding, Jim’s trial for poaching ending badly, and Ross, after a hellish day arguing with Demelza while trying to resist the temptations of the flesh, succumbing to said temptations, ending in their surprise nuptials. Whoa!
This week, as the scandal of their wedding rocks the community and sours Ross’s business venture, Uncle Charles joins the blessed above (or below), and Verity instructs Demelza on becoming a lady. A first Christmas together for Romelza is shared with the dreaded Poldark family at Trenwith, resulting in a revelation for Ross.
(there be spoilers ahead)
Prudie (Beatie Edney) and Jud (Philip Davis), servants of Nampara
“One minute she is skiverly scullery kitchen maid, the next she be Mistress High and Mighty.” — Jud
“Do you think it not as strange to me as it is to you? Do you imagine I ever looked for or expected it? Come to think of it, it is more your fault than mine.” — Demelza
“How be that then?” — Jud
“Tis you that raised me up and taught me all I know. So If I am fit for better than I hoped, blame yourselves for educating me.” — Demelza
The whole community is shocked by the news of Demelza and Ross’s marriage, including his caustic family, the scheming Warleggans (who smell a profit to be made from society’s prejudice), and the two Nampara servants, Jud and Prudie, who finally confront her. I just love how Demelza (clever girl) turns the sword around and points it firmly back at her former fellow servants while complimenting them at the same time. Touché! Continue reading
One of the things I look forward to in period dramas is the costuming. For years we have been treated to fashionable Regency-era finery in Jane Austen adaptations, but the new Masterpiece Classic series Poldark takes us into an earlier era in British history. Set in 1780’s provincial Cornwall, the main plot line revolves around the Poldark family, their neighbors and their tenants—supplying an array of characters from different social classes. Curious about the late Georgian clothing in Poldark, I asked costume designer Marianne Agertoft to joins us today for a Q & A.
LAN: Welcome Marianne.
MA: Hi Laurel Ann. Thank you so much for your interest in the costumes for Poldark.
It was a great and passionate journey for all of us in the costume team and it is wonderful that the work is being appreciated.
Portrait of Captain George K. H. Coussmaker by Joshua Reynolds (1782)
LAN: From a layman’s point of view, being a costume designer looks like a very glamorous job. You get to spend your day being creative, researching history, playing with fabric, and working with celebrities! Can you share with us what your typical day was like while working on the costumes for Poldark? Continue reading
Ross! Just say yes to the dress, already!
Last week in episode two of Poldark we saw Ross and Elizabeth’s sexually charged dance at the assembly ball reveal their continued attraction, the wile Warleggans planting seeds of destruction and Demelza, cleaned up and earning admiration from her employer.
This week in episode three we witness two weddings and a scything.
Fair warning. This episode is packed with so many plotlines that even this most astute fan needed to take extensive notes. In addition (if you did not blink) we witnessed a mine opening, scurrilous gossip, two births, a near fatal heart attack, more scurrilous gossip, a court trial, accusations of sin, said sin actualized, and of course, more slithering on the sidelines by those dastardly Warleggans.
(there be spoilers ahead)
“Are the rumors true do you think? — Dr. Choake
“Well, he’s a damn fool if they are not.” — Horace Treneglos
Rumors are afoot in Cornwall. Captain Poldark may have employed the13 year-old Demelza with honorable intensions to save her from beatings and starvation, but society can only see the scandal in it. Are these comments telescoping what will come now that she is 17 and a beautiful young woman?
Rev. Odger (Jason Squibb) lays on the implied guilt to Ross Poldark (Aidan Turner)