Atonement (2008)

Ah, young love!  There’s nothing like it if it’s done well (in film), but it doesn’t always end happily.  I went to see this film in the theater when it first came out; it stayed on my mind for some time.  I saw it again recently, and gained more appreciation for it.

Cecilia Tallis (Keira Knightley) and Robbie Turner (James McAvoy) are two young people in their early 20s who are spending a hot summer day on a gorgeous estate.  She is the old man’s daughter; he is the housekeeper’s son.  They both attended Cambridge- he w/ the money and blessings of Mr. Tallis.  Soon, Robbie plans to go to med school.  Cecilia is restless- waiting for something to happen.

The film starts slow, but it doesn’t take too long to see that Robbie and Cecilia are suppressing their intense attraction to each other.  Cecilia’s precocious 12 y.o. sister, Briony (Saoirse Ronan), has a huge crush on Robbie.  In the past, she has written many stories, bound them in leather, and presented them to Robbie as gifts.  He looks on Briony as a good friend, calling her “pal.”  (Briony is the central character in the story; she’s also the storyteller.)

Briony misunderstands several events througout the day and evening.  In no time, everything is shattered for the couple.  Being a sheltered and judgmental child, Briony doesn’t realize the impact of her words/actions.  Robbie is yanked off to jail; Cecilia leaves the family.  In time, he’s sent to fight in France; she becomes a nurse.

The first section of this film is particularly appealing to the eye.  We see beautiful flowers, streams, and lots of sunlight.  At dinner, Cecilia is a vision in a flowing green gown.  Director Joe Wright refers to this portion as “the time before the fall” (before WWII, before the lovers are separated).

This film really sets a mood.  At times, it may seem a bit too slow to some viewers.  There was great chemistry between Keira and James, and they look amazing together!  I enjoyed how Romola Garai (who plays the young adult Briony) did a lot w/ very little dialogue.  The supporting characters all fit their parts; Benedict Cumberbatch was creepy (in a subtle way) as the chocolate millionaire, Paul Marshall.

The adult Briony (played by Vanessa Redgrave) atones for her terrible mistake by giving the lovers a happy ending in her novel.  She creates an almost too good hero in Robbie.  Atonement made me think of all the young people (from many nations) who died b/c of the events of WWII. They never got the chance to fulfill their potential, have relationships, and grow old.

“Bramwell” (Series 1)

This show, which first aired on BBC in 1995, is set in late 1890s London.  Unlike most period dramas you’ve seen, there is little time spent on drinking tea and worrying about marriage, b/c  the title character is a female doctor.  She is Dr. Eleanor Bramwell (Jemma Redgrave: daughter of Corin and niece of Vannessa and Lynn)- mid-20s, outspoken, and ambitious.  After her mother died in childbirth, she was raised by her doctor father, Robert (David Calder), who runs his private practice out of their townhouse.  But in another life, he was an army surgeon.

It’s Eleanor’s dream to become a surgeon, though she barely gets to assist at East End Hospital where she works (in the 1st ep).  Most of the other doctors (male, of course) either ignore or laugh at her.  Her supervisor, an elderly and pompous surgeon, Sir Herbert (Robert Hardy), thinks that Eleanor should quit medicine, act more ladylike, and find a husband.  Her only ally is Dr. Joe Marsham, an anesthetist who comes from the North and was raised working-class.  He has the wrong accent and manners in the eyes of the other docs.  Dr. Marhsham also wants to perform surgery, but never gets a chance.

Eleanor becomes more and more disillusioned w/ her work at East End.  Her father worries that she’s “becoming too hard” and offers her a partnership w/ him.  One day, Sir Herbert unnecessarily performs surgery on a young mother (who probably had post-partum depression).   The woman dies on the operating table, but  the male docs don’t seem to care.  Eleanor is horrified and angered.  (There is blood, but don’t let a a little squemishness stop you from watching this excellent show!)

Eleanor finds another (unlikely) ally in Lady Cora Peters, a wealthy widow who is planning to set up a small infirmary w/ the legacy (money) of her late husband.  While visiting Sir Herbert at the hospital, Lady Peters is impressed by Eleanor’s determination to save a patient’s leg.  She offers the running of her infirmary (The Thrift) to the young woman.

Though Eleanor is a tough cookie, she has a lot to learn when she opens up The Thrift.  The patients are very poor, dirty, malnourished, and often drunk.  A few are violent towards each other and the staff.  In one intense scene in the 2nd ep, a patient threatens Eleanor w/ a broken bottle.  In another ep, a soldier w/ a brain injury attacks her late at night.  (Being a doctor is a risk to her reputation and safety.)

Besides being gritty, realistic, and very well-written, Bramwell is an educational show.  (You’ll see how far we’ve come w/ medical advancements!)  The father-daughter relationship is very prominent and touching.  When Eleanor pours herself a whisky after a hard day, her father is a bit shocked.  In one episode, he fixes her up w/ one of his younger army buddies.  They respect each other as professionals and speak plainly w/ each other.

Entertainment Trivia: UK Edition

Richard Armitage: The face that launched a thousand fan sites
My father’s family were weavers and spinners. It was where I came from and it was exciting to think I could be a part of it.  The dichotomy between the powerful, almost monstrous, entrepreneur and this kind of vulnerable boy is exciting for me to look at.  – On his North & South character, John Thornton  
I try to be quite a detailed actor.  People were really picking up on that.  Even if it was just a flicker of the eye or something, they got it.  On the tremendous fan response after N&S aired
– He can play the cello, flute, and guitar.
– Richard joined the circus one summer to get his equity card.  Though he started out in musical theater, he changed directions, and attended LAMDA.
– Richard has been chosen for a key role in The Hobbit.  He’ll also appear in the new Captain America movie in Summer 2011.
– As you can hear, he has a gorgeous voice!  Richard has done a good deal of voice work: radio plays, novels, poems, and commercials.
– He describes himself as a method actor. 
– His parents names are John and Margaret, just like the leads in N&S!
Sean Bean: A (magentic) Yorkshire lad

I think there was a time I was linked to it but I suppose I blew it playing 006 [Alex Trevelyan].  They made a good choice in Daniel Craig.  He’s a very good actor.  He was in one of the first Sharpes we ever did and I gave him a bit of a battering. So we can always say Sharpe battered Bond.  – On Casino Royale (2006)

Though his family lived on a Sheffield council estate (government housing) to be near their relatives/friends, Sean’s dad ran a successful small business.

– He can play the piano (as you’ll see in Clarissa).

– Like many well-known UK actors, Sean is classically trained (from RADA).

– The scar over his eye was given to him by Harrison Ford during a fight scene in Patriot Games.  Ford hit him w/ a boat hook. 

– Sean loves football (soccer); he has a tattoo in honor of his team.

– Wolfgang Peterson (his Troy director) commented that Sean’s performance is “a beautiful thing.”
– You can see Sean in Game of Thrones, a HBO miniseries out in April.
Ioan Gruffudd: Proving that immigration is fantastic for Hollywood
Being attractive, it’s not something I do consciously.  It’s incredibly flattering that people think I appeal to women.  But that was a gift from my parents.  My acting, my personality – that’s what it’s about.
I was lucky because I didn’t have to spend hours in freezing water.  There weren’t many people my age on set, so Kate, Leo, and I hung out together.  We would pile into Leo’s dressing room, which was full of PlayStations, mini basketball hoops and the like.  – On his Titanic experience
– His name, which is Welsh, is pronounded “Yo-wahn Griffith.” 
– Ioan’s parents were teachers.  His grandparents ran an amateur drama society in Cardiff, Wales. 
– He can play the oboe and sing (as you can see in some of his work).
– Delia Fine, an A&E VP, told People that Ioan won the role of Horatio Hornblower b/c of his “decency and good-heartedness.”  He auditioned 3 times.
– Ioan, who moved to LA in 2002, likes the optimism of the US. 
James Purefoy: Were ancient Romans anything like this?
The age of chivalry isn’t dead, is it?  It doesn’t even have to be a man or a woman that you could be chivalrous to.  If somebody’s in trouble you give them a hand.
Purefoy is originally Norman French and means “good faith” or “my word or bond is in good faith.”
James left school at 16, traveled, and did a few odd jobs.  But he returned to school at 18 to complete his A-Levels (equivalent of college).
The year before he was going to graduate college, James was noticed by a casting agent from RSC, who asked him to come to Stratford right away. 
– He also screentested for the role of Bond.
James was cast as the lead in V for Vendetta, but left after creative differences w/ the filmmakers.
David Tennant: You’ll actually be glad that this doctor is in!
I was very small, about 3 or 4 I think, and just wanted to be the people on telly telling these wonderful stories.  Obviously the idea grew and matured with me but I can’t ever remember wanting to do anything else.  I’ve just sort of taken it for granted all my life that that was what I would do.
– David (whose real last name is McDonald) wanted to be an actor from age 3.  His dad (a Presbyterian minister) submitted his pics to a talent agent for Scottish TV when he was 16.  David got an audition and a role soonafter!
– His maternal grandparents were Protestants from Derry, Ireland.
– David began studying theater full-time at age 17 at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama.
– He was nominated for the Olivier Award (London’s equivalent of the Tony) for his performance in the lead role in Hamlet.

“Anna Karenina” (BBC – 2000)

Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.

Sometimes fine actors just don’t have chemistry w/ each other!  This is the main problem in the 2000 BBC miniseries based on Leo Tolstoy’s well-known, tragic love story.  Helen McCrory (in the title role) and Kevin McKidd (who plays Count Vronsky) don’t generate much heat, which is a crucial part of the story.  She is an especially good actor w/ a great voice and onscreen presence.  Her few scenes w/ the little boy who played her son were touching.

In the 1997 version (w/ Sean Bean and Sophie Marceau), the leads not only look good together, but actually look like they are in love.  Though that film has its own flaws, it has much more passion in it.

The director in the miniseries made some odd choices.  Sometimes a handheld camera is not needed, but it’s used anyway.  There are too many close-ups and not enough light.  In the ’97 version, when Anna and Vronsky first meet, you can see their mutual attraction.  But in this version, the crucial moment becomes ho-hum.  Anna just looks at Vronsky for a moment through her veil- a lost opportunity for the director.  Their first dance is much more romantic/dramatic in the’97 version.  (It reminded me of Scarlett and Rhett’s first dance in Gone with the Wind.)

The actors who rise to the occasion in the miniseries are Douglas Henshall (Constantine Levin) and Paloma Baeza (Princess Kitty).  Henshall, whose real Scottish accent pops out in a few scenes, is the long-haired/bearded gentleman farmer w/ a past.  He thinks too much and worries if he’ll ever win over Kitty, who is innocent and young.  Baeza’s character starts out as a silly girl w/ a crush on the dashing Vronsky.  In time, Kitty learns about love and blossoms into a mature/sensitive wife.

 No one may build their happiness on another’s pain.

Anna’s philandering brother Stiva (played by Mark Strong) and his wife Dolly(played by Amanda Root) both get some nice lines.  “I love him, but I don’t respect him,” Dolly admits toward the end of the film.  She tolerates her husband’s affairs (just as many Russian nobles did at that time).

Anna and Vronsky’s love affair is atypical for their circle.  They truly are in love, not just fooling around b/c of lust or boredom.  Stephen Dillane (who plays Karenin) won’t give Anna a divorce, so she and Vronsky can’t marry.  Anna is forbidden to see her 8 y.o. son and becomes a social outcast.  Vronsky can’t give his baby daughter his name w/o that divorce.

Every time I tried to display my innermost desires – a wish to be morally good – I met with contempt and scorn, and as soon as I gave in to base desires I was praised and encouraged.  –Leo Tolstoy wrote two years after publication of Anna Karenina

After Levin meets Anna, he tell her brother that he liked her b/c “she’s so honest.”  Anna eventually spirals downward, turning to alcohol and opium.  She accuses Vronsky of betraying her w/ a younger woman.  Vronsky goes off to take care of some business for his mother.  But Anna is so paranoid and desperate by this point that she throws herself under a train.