Masterpiece Classic 2011 Season Preview

Masterpiece Classic logo

One of the consolations of being trapped inside during the cold, wet Pacific Northwest winter in the prospect of great television from Masterpiece Classic on PBS. Celebrating its 40th year on the air, the longest-running and most-honored drama series in primetime announced its new 2011 season this past week. There are some exciting new productions in the queue: Downton Abbey, Any Human Heart, Upstairs Downstairs and South Riding, and encore presentations of My Boy Jack, The Unseen Alistair Cooke and 39 Steps in store for drama lovers.

Since girlhood, I have been entranced by Masterpiece Theater, now Masterpiece, broken down into the Classic, Mystery and Contemporary seasons a few years back. This superbly produced series has for the majority of my life enriched my viewing experience and opened up new possibilities in reading classics which many of the shows are adapted from, and more recently contemporary fare with books and stories from the twentieth century.

I am really looking forward to five months of great television entertainment. Here is a preview of the new season.

Daniel Radcliffe in My Boy Jack 2009 battle scene

My Boy Jack (encore) – January 02, 2011

An intense and poignant story of author and British national icon Rudyard Kipling’s (David Haigh) patriotic ambitions for his only son John “Jack” Kipling (Daniel Radcliffe) during WWI. Based on actual events in their lives, the story is set in 1914 England during the patriotic fervor brewing for young men to enlist in His Majesties service. Kipling’s outspoken American wife Caroline (Kim Cattrall) and sister Elsie (Carey Mulligan) are opposed to his enlistment, and for good reason. His poor eyesight would greatly hamper his abilities in the field. My Boy Jack offers an interesting look at one family’s divided views of honor and duty. One 120-minute episode

Image from Downton Abbey Season 1: The Crawley sisters: Jessica Brown-Findlay, Michelle Dockery and Laura Carmichael© Carnival Film & Television Limited 2010 for MASTERPIECE

Downton Abbey – January 09, 16, 23 & 30, 2011

Set in Edwardian England, the story revolves around a stately country house, a noble family, their servants and the challenge of primogeniture. Yes Jane Austen fans. All that English inheritance law you studied to understand the inner workings of who got what, and why, in Sense and Sensibility and Pride and Prejudice will pay off when you watch this great new series created and written by Julian Fellowes. Lord Robert Crawley, Earl of Grantham (Hugh Bonneville, Edward Bridges in Miss Austen Regrets and Mr. Bennet in Lost in Austen) and his family are still governed by English laws of succession. When the Titanic goes down with his next male heir, and the spare to the estate, minds must work fast to keep their power, money and loyalty to the great estate of Downton Abbey. Staring Hugh Bonneville, Maggie Smith (Becoming Jane 2007), Elizabeth McGovern, Dan Stevens (Edward Ferrars in Sense and Sensibility 2008) and an amazing supporting cast. This new drama took the UK by storm when it aired in Fall, 2010. I predict Downton fever when it hits colonial shores. Four 90-minute episodes.

Alistair Cooke and his daughter

The Unseen Alistair Cooke (encore)February 06, 2011

This excellent tribute of Alistair Cooke, British/American journalist and host of Masterpiece Theater for twenty one years, is not a drama in the fictional sense, but his life surely unfolds like one. Documenting Cooke’s early travels across the United States armed with an 8mm camera, this documentary is told in his own voice and by interviews of several who knew him. It chronicles his early ears in America as he worked as a journalist, his friendships with Hollywood icons such as Charlie Chaplin, Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall, and later years as host of Masterpiece Theater. One 60-minute episode.

Any Human Heart (2010) Mathew MacFadyen and Hayley Atwell

Any Human Heart – February 13, 20 & 27, 2011

Author William Boyd adapts his acclaimed 2002 novel following the life of writer Logan Mountstuart played by three actors in different stages of his life: younger years by Sam Claflin, middle years by Matthew MacFadyen (Mr. Darcy in Pride and Prejudice 2005) and older years by Jim Broadbent. As Mountstuart travels to 1920s Paris to 1950s New York and 1980s London, we witness some compelling history and meet dazzling personalities: Ernest Hemingway (Julian Ovenden), Ian Fleming (Tobias Menzies) and the Duke and Duchess of Windsor (Gillian Anderson and Tom Hollander) to name a few. The many women in his life include: first fling Tess Scabius (Holliday Grainger), first girlfriend Land Fothergill (Charity Wakefield, Marianne Dashwood in Sense and Sensibility 2008), first wife Lottie (Emerald Fennell), second wife Freya Deverell (Hayley Atwell, Mary Crawford in Mansfield Park 2007) third wife Allanah (Natasha Little), later fling Gloria Scabius (Kim Cattrall), and guy friends Peter Scabious (Samuel West) and  Ben Leeping (Ed Stoppard). As you can see, the cast is as amazing as the story itself. Three 90-minute episodes.

The 39 Steps (2009) Rupert Penry-Jones

The 39 Steps (encore) – March 27, 2011

Filled with intrigue, romance and humor, this adaptation of the popular John Buchan adventure novel, set on the eve of World War I, stars Rupert Penry-Jones (Captain Wentworth in Persuasion 2007) as Richard Hannay, a mining engineer caught up in a conspiracy following the death of a British spy found in his apartment. The novel has been adapted into four major movies, most notably Alfred Hitchcock’s classic 1935 film of the same name. Be sure to watch for the iconic scene where Hannay runs across a Scottish moor and is strafed by a bi-plane. It will trigger memories of Hitchcock’s later film, North by Northwest. This new adaptation by Lizzie Mickery literally ‘beefs up’ Buchan’s 1915 novel by giving us a sexy glimpse of Penry-Jones’ hunky bare chest and expands the romance considerably. The cast also includes Lydia Leonard as Victoria Sinclair, David Haig as Sir George Sinclair and Patrick Malahide as Professor Fisher. One 90-minute episode.

Upstairs Downstairs (2010) cast

Upstairs Downstairs – April 10, 17 & 24, 2011

From 1971-1975, I was enthralled by the life of the wealthy Bellamy family and the servants of 165 Eaton Place in the British drama Upstairs Downstairs on Masterpiece Theater. Set in a large townhouse in London from the Edwardian period until post WWI, the series was, and still is, incredibly popular. I was delighted to hear that co-creators Jean Marsh and Dame Eileen Atkins were behind the updated version of one of the most-loved and most-honored series in television history. Both ladies will be part of the cast; Marsh returning as the only original cast member reprising her Emmy-winning role as Rose Buck, and Atkins will introduce new character Maud, the Dowager Lady Holland. The upstairs cast includes the master of the house Sir Hallam Holland (Ed Stoppard), his wife Lady Agnes Holland (Keeley Hawes), the debutant Lady Persie Towyn (Claire Foy); and downstairs the butler Mr. Pritchard (Adrian Scarborough), the cook Mrs. Thackeray (Anne Reid) and the secretary Mr. Amanjit (Art Malik). The script is by Emmy-nominee Heidi Thomas who brought us the delightful Cranford in 2009. Three 60-minute episodes.

Anna Maxwell in South Riding (2011)

South Riding – May 1, 8 & 15, 2011

Based on Winifred Holtby’s 1936 novel, South Riding has been adapted to the screen by the venerable Andrew Davies (Pride and Prejudice 1995, Northanger Abbey 2007, and Sense and Sensibility 2008). Directed by Diarmuid Lawrence (Emma 1996), this 20th-century classic is a rich portrait of a Yorkshire community in the 1930’s. In the devastating wake of WWI, unmarried Sarah Burton (Anna Maxwell Martin, Cassandra Austen in Becoming Jane 2007) leaves London and returns home to take up a position as headmistress at a struggling Yorkshire girls school. Robert Carne (David Morrissey, Colonel Brandon in Sense & Sensibility 2008) is also struggling as a gentlemen farmer who is destined to clash with Miss Burton. Among the others in the community are Councilor Mrs. Beddows (Penelope Wilton), school girls Lydia Holly (Charlie Clark) and Midge Carne (Katherine McGolpin), school mistress Miss Sigglesthwaite (Brid Brennan), and Councilor Huggins (John Henshaw). “South Riding is a rich, compassionate and humane story of politics in small places and, in the end, the indestructibility of the human spirit.” Three 60-minute episodes.

Sadly, there are no nineteenth-century bonnet dramas in the lineup this year, but readers will be happy to know that since Downton Abbey was such a resounding hit when it aired in the UK in the Fall of 2010, that producers are likely to be encouraged again to send some our way in 2012.

Be sure to check out the Masterpiece Classic PBS web site for additional information on casting, story synopsis and programs streaming free online, the day after broadcast.


All images courtesy of MASTERPIECE PBS, Downton Abbey image courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited 2010 for MASTERPIECE

Janeites, how deep is your love?

Image of cast of My Boy Jack, Masterpiece Classic, (2007)  

“And-oh yes-there was a Miss Bates; just an old maid runnin’ about like a hen with ‘er ‘ead cut off, an’ her tongue loose at both ends. I’ve got an aunt like ‘er. Good as gold-but, you know.” Humberstall, Janeites, Rudyard Kipling, (1924) 

Did any gentle readers catch My Boy Jack on Masterpiece Classic last night? It did not disappoint. The intense and poignant story of author and British national icon Rudyard Kipling’s patriotic ambitions for his only son Jack (Daniel Radcliffe) during WWI was all the sweeter and tragic because it was based on actual events. You can read some excellent reviews at Jane Austen Today, SF Gate, and Write Place, Write Time.                    

Image of DVD covr of My Boy Jack (2007)          Image of the cover of My Boy Jack, (2007)

 We can all thank Mr. Kipling for his interest in Jane Austen, (or should we thank Miss Austen for being interesting in the first place?), ha! He and his wife deeply grieved the loss of their only son in the battle of Loos, France in 1915, and found solace in reading Austen together. Austen was recommended reading for shell-shocked veterans, and Kipling later penned a short story in 1924 entitled The Janeites, about a socially diverse group of WWI soldiers who read Austen in the trenches and banded together as a secret group of devotees. 

Image of the cover of Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen, George Allen, London, (1894)The term Janeite first appeared in the 1894 introduction to Pride and Prejudice written by British literary critic and historian George Saintsbury (1845 – 1933), who actually became the first Austen enthusiastic admired in print. (This is the famous ‘peacock’ edition published by George Allen, London, illustrations by Hugh Thomson). He spelled it differently as ‘Janite’, but used it as a ‘badge of honour’, adulating Austen and her characters; –  declaring Pride and Prejudice the “most perfect, the most characteristic, the most eminently quintessential of its author’s works“, then, proclaimed Elizabeth Bennet as his first choice of a wife! 

“In the novels of the last hundred years there are vast numbers of young ladies with whom it might be a pleasure to fall in love, – but to live with and marry, I do not know that any of them can come into competition with Elizabeth Bennet.” 

One can only imagine the raised eyebrows that this pronouncement produced in literary circles! Saintsbury was a demi-god, considered the finest literary critic and historian of his time, influencing thousands of readers including his friend Kipling, who in turn is generally credited for establishing ‘Janeites’ in popular culture. Two very powerful literary figures, who were part of the early Janeite publicity machine. 

(They may have raised her up, – but we ran with it. La!) 

There are several excellent essays compiled into one whole book devoted to the notion that further discussion is required before the un-initiated can understand what it is to be a Janeite. So if you would like to check out ‘how deep is your Austen love’, or develop it further, check out… 

Image of the cover of Janeites, (2000)Janeites : Austen’s disciples and devotees, edited by Deidre Lynch, Princeton University Press (2000) Publishers description: Over the last decade, as Jane Austen has moved center-stage in our culture, onto best-seller lists and into movie houses, another figure has slipped into the spotlight alongside her. This is the “Janeite,” the zealous reader and fan whose devotion to the novels has been frequently invoked and often derided by the critical establishment. Jane Austen has long been considered part of a great literary tradition, even legitimizing the academic study of novels. However, the Janeite phenomenon has not until now aroused the curiosity of scholars interested in the politics of culture. Rather than lament the fact that Austen today shares the headlines with her readers, the contributors to this collection inquire into why this is the case, ask what Janeites do, and explore the myriad appropriations of Austen–adaptations, reviews, rewritings, and appreciations–that have been produced since her lifetime. ISBN 9780691050065

Northanger Abbey: No Notion of Loving Isabella Thorpe by Halves

Illustration by H.M. Brock, Northanger Abbey (1897)“There is nothing I would not do for those who are really my friends. I have no notion of loving people by halves; it is not my nature. Isabella Thorpe, Northanger Abbey, Chapter 6 

Jane Austen’s character Isabella Thorpe is a strange creature by way of a friend; an odd mixture of affability and cunning, ready to fiercely defend her new friend Catherine Morland if anyone should slight her, flatter her ego to earn her trust, and ply her with advice on romance! What an ingenious character to throw in the path of our young heroine in the making, who innocently does not know what may be “lurking behind the dreadful black veil” of new acquaintance.   

The quote above is from one of my favorite early scenes in the novel when Isabella and Catherine are developing their friendship. They have met in the Pump-room in Bath (England), and their conversation is described by the narrator as an example of their “very warm attachment, and of the delicacy, discretion, originality of thought, and literary taste which marked the reasonableness of that attachment.”

Image of Carey Mulligan as Isabella Thorpe & Felicity Jones as Catherine Morland, Northanger Abbey, (2007)

Isabella and Catherine discuss topics of acute interest to young ladies, that would be pertinent even today; friends, dancing, personality, romance and men! Observe Isabella’s language. Her enthusiasm and attention to her naïve friend feeds Catherine’s insecurity and inexperience. 

(Isabella)… My attachments are always excessively strong… Now, if I were to hear anybody speak slightingly of you, I should fire up in a moment: but that is not at all likely, for you are just the kind of girl to be a great favourite with the men.” 

“Oh, dear!” cried Catherine, colouring. “How can you say so?” 

“I know you very well; you have so much animation,… Oh! I must tell you, that just after we parted yesterday, I saw a young man looking at you so earnestly – I am sure he is in love with you.” Catherine coloured, and disclaimed again. Isabella laughed. “It is very true, upon my honour, but I see how it is; you are indifferent to everybody’s admiration, except that of one gentleman, who shall be nameless. Nay, I cannot blame you” – speaking more seriously – “your feelings are easily understood. Where the heart is really attached, I know very well how little one can be pleased with the attention of anybody else. Everything is so insipid, so uninteresting, that does not relate to the beloved object! I can perfectly comprehend your feelings.” 

“But you should not persuade me that I think so very much about Mr. Tilney, for perhaps I may never see him again.” 

“Not see him again! My dearest creature, do not talk of it. I am sure you would be miserable if you thought so!” 

“No, indeed, I should not. I do not pretend to say that I was not very much pleased with him; but while I have Udolpho to read, I feel as if nobody could make me miserable. Oh! The dreadful black veil! My dear Isabella, I am sure there must be Laurentina’s skeleton behind it.”

 Illustration by Trina Robbins & Anne Timmons, Gothic Classic Vol 14, (2007)

Catherine’s interest in Isabella is entirely genuine and unaffected. Her mention of Udolpho shows that she is still focused on her first love, Gothic fiction. Isabella also shares Catherine’s passion, but she uses Gothic novels as a consumable commodity, purely entertainment in between her next romantic conquest. Author Francis Warre Cornish (pg 180) describes Isabella’s interest in Catherine quite openly. 

“Isabella’s interest in her was no doubt quickened by the fact that she admired James Morland, Catherine’s brother. For the present the friendship was all-satisfying. Isabella Thorpe is one of those females not unfrequently met with in Jane Austen’s novels, who combine an empty head and agreeable manners with a clear view of personal advantage. Some of them succeed, some fail in their object, which is to get a husband and a position. They are in the middle distance, between the heroes and the villains, between the Darcys and the Wickhams, the Elizabeths and the Lucy Steeles. Poor Catherine was so delighted with finding a friend to sympathise with her about the Mysteries of Udolpho that she did not observe how vapid, vulgar, and self-seeking her new friend was.” 

Cornish’s book entitled Jane Austen is a literary critique written in 1913. In the chapter on Northanger Abbey, he mentions this opinion in the first paragraph!  Geesh, don’t you hate it when authors say too much too soon, and spoil the plot? Isabella Thorpe may have no notion of loving people by halves, and be a gold-digger, but I will concur with her until Austen reveals otherwise! 

Image of Carey Mulligan as Isabella Thorpe, Northanger Abbey, (2007)Be sure to catch actress Carey Mulligan, who played Isabella Thorpe in the recent adaptation of Northanger Abbey, in the premiere of My Boy Jack, airing Sunday, April 20th at 9:00 pm on Masterpiece Classic on PBS. I admire this talented young actress, and you can read further about her career on my co-blog Jane Austen Today.  

  • *Illustration “Always arm in arm when they walk” by H.M. Brock, Northanger Abbey, Frank S. Holby, New York, (1906)
  • *Illustration by Trina Robbins & Anne Timmons, Gothic Classics: Graphic Classics Volume 14 (Graphic Novel): Northanger Abbey, Eureka Publications, (2007)
  • Cornish, Francis Warre, Jane Austen, McMillan, London (1913)