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Dear friends,

Sarah Layton (Geraldine James, close up)

I thought I'd mention how much I am enjoying the 1984 mini-series, The Jewel in the Crown, written by Ken Taylor, directed and produced by Christopher Morahan (I wonder if he's related to Hattie Morahan), with some episodes directed by Jim O'Brien, starring Tim Piggot-Smith, Peggy Ashcroft, Eric Porter, Geraldine James, Judy Parfitt, Art Malik, & many other great actors and actresses. filmed for four months in India:

It took me about 2 to 3 years to listen to all four books read aloud by dramatic readers from unabridged texts. I'd listen in my car going to and from GMU; I didn't go straight from one set of tapes to another; sometimes I'd listen to as many as 3 or 4 novels inbetween, but eventually I'd buy another box of cassettes.  And I've read three of the four novels, read his Staying On twice (once I planned to teach it) and have seen the film adaptation of Staying On, directed by Silvio Narizzano, written by Julian Mitchell, produced by Irene Shubrik, starring Trevor Howard and Celia Johnson.

Still can this possibly account for the intensity of my response?  Tears come to my eyes when Barbie comes on:

Barbie (Peggy Ashcroft) driven from Rose Cottage

I find myself mesmerized, and as I listen to the Jewel in the Crown read aloud again (yes I've begun with the first novel of the set, going through them all in my car again) I hear Eric Porter's voice for Count Bronofsky:

Count Bronosksky (pink cigarettes and all)

I feel such a sense of joy when the characters are happy, I just get such pleasure out of it. How I love Sarah Layton (Geraldine James). 

Sarah Layton riding (perhaps Geraldine James,perhaps a stunt woman hired to ride as Sarah)

The minor characters too.  Rosemary Leach as the snobbish, irritating, bad well-meaning all heart advisor, Aunt Fenny, Stuart Wilson, again the cad (he was Ferdinand Lopez in the Pallisers), Jimmy Clark.

Really out of all proportion to what it's worth. I've bought myself The Making of the Jewel in the Crown and look at the pictures. Tomorrow I go back to my project on the Austen moves, having finished my review of Wm McCarthy's Anna Barbauld.  I am up to Pallisers 11:23 and only regret I am coming to the end of these, but tell myself now I will turn to Barchester Chronicles and have at least 3 more mini-series of Trollope to go through in the same minute way. My love for these films keeps me going at this arduous work.  Why?

They reach me at some deep place.  I suppose this is like Izzy's response to Ice-skating.  My feeling is that these movies provide me with companionship of ideal people in controlled gracious circumstances. I am not so lonely; I am not threatened when with them. Their stories are made out of beautiful art that itself is shapely and gratifying.  They behave in ways I dream people ought to.  So no matter what might be critiqued (ambiguously at that too),whether it be seriously about rape and intense miseries,

Hari Kumar (Art Malik) and Daphne Manners after both are in effect raped

Daphne speaking to Sister Ludmilla (Matyelok Gibbs)

maybe because they are about intense anguish that cannot be assuaged (as Ronald Merrick's as ultimate outsider who is getting back somehow or other, making himself useful to all who despise him and would reject him if they knew of his homosexuality for certain),

Merrick (Tim Piggot-Smith) trying to save Teddy Bingham (Nicholas Farrell)

I revel in them.

I invite anyone who has read this to say why he or she loves (or dislikes) costume dramas, of the historical or film adaptation kind.



( 6 comments — Leave a comment )
Sep. 19th, 2009 04:01 pm (UTC)
First comment! Yes, Hattie Morahan is Christopher's daughter (source).
Sep. 19th, 2009 04:17 pm (UTC)
Re: Why...
But to the point of your post: Why I love costume dramas.

1) The source material is often (but certainly not always) elevated, lending a height to the production itself. Thus, a "romantic comedy" that is stuffed with the banal in a modern chick flick (not that all of them are like that, but a huge percentage are) is instead Sense and Sensibility or Northanger Abbey. These works, though in a familiar genre, have the works of a genius behind them, and thus, if they have enough respect for the source material, have greater weight that a similar plot would. This is also why works like "Clueless" or "Bride and Prejudice" tend to work better than their contemporaries, in my opinion.

2) Acting talent - in general, costume dramas attract a higher caliber of actor than contemporary films or television. I also admit to thinking the British school of acting (more focused on the externals of behavior than trying to instinctively "be" the character) is much more effective.

3) Directing - directors of period drama, despite the influence of modern filmmaking (for example, the 2005 Bleak House used extremely modern cinematography, as did the 2007 Mansfield Park and Persuasion), tend to adhere to a more formal ideal of framing and camera movement. I find the aesthetic visual experience much more pleasing than the slapdash and helter-skelter effect most modern films have, with over saturated frames and handheld "realism" (on which I have a whole nother rant).

4) Characters - probably the most important, and related to 1). I read and watch primarily to find characters to love and admire. Because of the generally elevated source material, a large number of the characters in costume drama are significantly more complex, noble, and likable than their contemporary counterparts. This feeling is probably akin to what you describe in your post here.

5) Adaptation - I love learning about how other people read books I've read. Note: this only works if the people doing the film liked the book, so Rozema and Wadey's films of Mansfield Park tended to irritate me, since neither of them liked the book. Though Rozema at least is a brilliant visual director, and has a way with dialogue (though not Jane Austen's way). But seeing how someone like Andrew Davies, Douglas McGrath, Sandy Welch (after watching her "Jane Eyre," I've become a convert - with the right cast, I think I can forgive her tampering with the language), Nick Dear, Emma Thompson, Robin Swicord, Deborah Moggach, Robert Bolt, Ruth Jhabvala, or any of the other talented writers and directors reads the books I love opens my eyes to new ways of appreciating those stories. It's similar to my love of retellings - I've always collected multiple versions of stories when I can, and I view the adaptation process similarly.
Sep. 19th, 2009 04:33 pm (UTC)
Oh, I should also say that like this blogger, one of the best ways to get me to read something I haven't is to make a high-profile costume drama from it (examples: Middlemarch, Daniel Deronda and Bleak House - when I get to them, though now that I've bought them, it's kind of inevitable, North and South, Wives and Daughters, Little Dorrit, and indeed Jane Austen in general - I first read Sense and Sensibility when I was seventeen in order to see the film). Or even to get me to reread the books (Northanger Abbey and Sense and Sensibility in particular got a huge boost in my appreciation of them through their recent adaptations).
Sep. 20th, 2009 03:21 am (UTC)
"Quality" drama
Dear Ian and Judy,

Thank you for your thoughtful full responses. Ian, as you probably know, TV mini-series and quality drama is regularly dissed -- soap opera, women's drama, complacent Edwardianism, so it's refreshing to see these films stoutly defended on the right grounds. I agre with Ian about the cinematography of these movies: precisely their lack of flash and fashion make them more available for real contemplation. There's so much to absorb worth absorbing. The scripts, the acting, as Judy says, the sheer beauty and dreams of the past (and attempts at real accuracy) are so compelling. There are a series of traits all costume dramas hold together, and these can go beyond the British (one finds them in French adaptations; the other day I watched _The Lonely Wife_, Bengali, set in the 19th century and it had these traits too), so that the films form a genuine subgenre, resemble one another.

I like seeing the different realizations too and comparing them to the books to enrich the books. Each time another line or passage from the book is illuminated; something I hadn't noticed is brought forward and made alive.

The rich characters are friends for me, yes, and the controlled intelligent interactions, often so courteous.

Ian, I bookmarked that blog and read Hattie Morahan in interview. Her mother is Anna Carteret! Come to think of it I can see the same line on their jaws. I'm watching Carteret just now when young: she was Lady Mabel Grex in the Pallisers. Thank you.

Good evening to you both, I'm so cheered.
Sep. 21st, 2009 04:51 am (UTC)
Re: Undeserved ignominy
You're completely right that quality drama (both in TV and film, but particularly TV) is unfairly denigrated. But I think it's part of a larger mentality that anything that gathers a more specialized subset of "fans" (mystery/detective novels, science fiction, period drama) will be looked down upon by "mainstream" critics and audiences.

With costume drama in particular I feel there's a higher "entry level" bar, so there's an added resentment which leads to an assumed anti-snobbish populism that I think really misses the point - most of these stories were originally popular in their day - and is just plain lazy to boot.
Sep. 22nd, 2009 05:18 am (UTC)
A good book and more on irrationality in this love
Dear Ian,

I thought I'd mention the name of a book which has good essays on some of the older mini-series made in the UK: _British Television Drama in the 1980s_, ed. George Brandt. There's a good essay in it on Jewel in the Crown. The older dramaturgy which is more play or stage like allows for these leisured character portrayals of psychological complexity.

And I thought I'd also come back to the idea there is something irrational in my love for these things: there's a sense in my mind that when I used to return to them once a week (before the days of DVDs) I was being true to this particular world I was entering.

Also I've now put as many stills from these sorts of films on my workroom walls as I have reproductions of favorite paintings, photos of friends, and postcards from places I or friends have been.


Edited at 2009-09-22 07:43 pm (UTC)
( 6 comments — Leave a comment )

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