Under the Greenwood Tree (2005)

This sweet and sunny film was adapted from an early Thomas Hardy novel (surprise, surprise)!  Beautiful, educated, and sweet-tempered Fancy Day (Keeley Hawes) comes from Exeter to take the job of schoolteacher in the village of Mellstock to be near her sick father, a retired gamekeeper.  Dick Dewy (James Murray), his father, and a few of their friends are amateur musicians, so they sing carols on Christmas Eve.  He falls in love w/ Fancy at first sight when she comes to the window to praise their song. (Murray bears a striking resemblance to Stephen Campbell Moore, another young British actor.)

 

Dick is tongue-tied when he sees Fancy after church, but manages to invite her to a party. 

But the humble carrier (moving man) is not Fancy’s only admirer.  She catches the eye of successful, middle-aged farmer, Mr. Shiner, and the village’s new pastor, Parson Maybold (Ben Miles).

One man offers her security; another offers adventure.  But Fancy has great chemistry w/ Dick, who strives to win her affection, unaware that her father feels he’s beneath her.

This story covers Hardy’s main themes- rural/small town life, working vs. middle class customs, courtship between those of different status, and the individual’s search for a place in the world.

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Persuasion (2007)

In this  newest adaptation, a sense of urgency is infused into Austen’s last novel- a story of lost love found.   Anne Elliot (Sally Hawkins) becomes a woman of action (note all the running toward the end).  Also, the ending is changed in a (rather BIG) way- Capt. Wentworth doesn’t leave a letter tucked under some other paper for Anne to discover, as in the ’95 film version. 

Okay, I wasn’t TOO impressed w/ this film when I first saw it on PBS.  But when I saw it last week, I was VERY impressed by Penry-Jones’ subtle acting.  And talk about dashing… WOW! 

Anne, with an elegance of mind and sweetness of character, which must have placed her high with any people of real understanding, was nobody with either father or sister; her word had no weight, her convenience was always to give way — she was only Anne.

Though Hawkins is NOT how I pictured Anne, she does a fine job in portraying a sensible, warm-hearted, and low-key woman.  Anne is described as a bit of a faded beauty in the book.  (To use modern terms, she’s not the type that gets noticed in the club.)

Casting created some problems here.  Elizabeth is too old, Mary is too irritating and unpoised, and Mr. Elliot (Tobias Menzies from Rome) has zero chemistry w/ Anne.  The other actors suit their roles well, esp. Anthony Head (Buffy the Vampire Slayer) as Sir Walter and Alice Kriege (the Borg queen in Star Trek: TNG) as Lady Russell. 

My favorite scene is when Wentworth ducks into the shop (to wait out the rain) and almost runs into Anne.  While discussing the sudden engagement of Louisa and Benwick, Wentworth reveals HIS true feelings.  It’s movie magic!   

Persuasion is in some regards a fairy tale.  Anne has to leave her home for a place she hates.  Her father spends too much money and her sisters ignore or take advantage of her kindness.  Wentworth reenters Anne’s life when she’s given up hope of marrying.  He isn’t taken w/ the charms of the Musgrove girls.  The heroine gets her prince, finally!

Here is my review of the ’95 film:

https://knightleyemma.wordpress.com/2008/07/23/movie-review-persuasion-bbc-1995/

“The Last of the Mohicans” (1992)

I recall first watching this film in 1995 during a high school English class.  It was on this past Sunday, so I checked it out again.  It’s full of action, stunning natural beauty (it was filmed in North Carolina), gorgeous music, and is very well-acted.

The hero is Nathaniel Poe (Daniel Day-Lewis, one of the finest actors of his generation), also known as Hawkeye, a white orphan adopted by a Mohican chief named Chingachgook (Russell Means) and raised alongside his own son Uncas (Eris Schweig).  Nathaniel is an expert marksman, tracker, and quite friendly w/ some of the white colonists (such as the Cameron family) of this wild frontier.  But he’s his own man, proudly saying that he’s “beholden to no one.”

Things change when the French and Indian War begins in 1757; the colonists are bound by law to join the militia and aid the British troops.  The men fear for their families.  What will happen if their wives and children are attacked while they’re away fighting at Fort William Henry?  Jack Winthrop, one of the young settlers and Nathaniel’s friend, goes to Albany to voice this concern.  General Webb grants the men permission to leave the militia if their homes are in danger.

Meanwhile, Cora (Madeleine Stowe) and her teen sister Alice (Jodhi May) are traveling to see their father, General Munro, at the fort.  They are accompanied by family friend, and Cora’s suitor, Major Duncan Hayward (Steven Waddington), more than a dozen soldiers, and a stoic Mohawk guide named Magua (Wes Studi).

All hell breaks loose when Magua (who is actually a Huron allied w/ the French) attacks the soldiers.  He’s then joined by more Huron men.  Chingachgook, Uncas, and Nathaniel rush in for the rescue.  When Magua takes aim at Cora, Nathaniel wonders why.

This film looks very authentic.  Day-Lewis is in top form for the very physically demanding role, as are the supporting actors.  Though this film was catagorized as a romance, I wished there had more a little more instead of the fighting.  Both Nathaniel and Cora (outspoken/determined) have a sense of nobility about them.

Nathaniel is larger than life-selflessly fighting for love of his father, brother, and Cora.  He’s also a romanticist-at one w/ nature, independent-minded, and noble in thought and action.  On the opposite end is Magua- a fallen warrior who’s “heart is twisted,” and fighting for revenge.  Both are formidable and memorable.

“Dresden” (w/ “North & South’s” John Light)

As you may recall, John Light’s lawyer character in the 2004 BBC miniseries, North & South, was thwarted in love.  Margaret chose Mr. Thornton over Henry Lennox.  In 2006, the Shakespearean-trained actor co-starred in a terrific miniseries set in WWII; it was the most expensive German film made for TV.  It was shot on location in the gorgeous city of Dresden, which suffered from (unnecessary) bombings in 1945, near the tail end of WWII.  As the director says, it’s an antiwar movie; it doesn’t glorify either the Brits of the Germans.

Anna Mauth (Felicitas Woll) is a 24 y.o. German nurse who planned to go to med school, but stayed home to help her father, the director of the local hospital.  She is pretty, hardworking, and full of life.  At the start of Part 1, Anna bravely assists Alexander (a young doc/her long-term bf) in the operating room while air raid sirens wail in the background.  Anna empathizes w/ Maria, her best friend/fellow nurse, who is married to a Jewish man.  She is worried about her (“patriotic”) younger sister, who is dating an official of the Third Reich. 

Robert Newman (John Light) is a British bomber pilot who has to bail out of his Lancaster when engines catch fire.  He parachutes down into a field where he and his comrades are attacked by a group of very angry men.  Robert just gets shot in the stomach.  He finds shelter in a shed, removes his jacket, dog tags, and other signs of being British.  Robert dons a rough, long coat and heads toward Dresden.  Along they way, he sees many refugees.  He sneaks into the hospital while the staff are busy handling many incoming wounded soldiers. 

This film has it all- family,  romance, mystery, and action.  It is simply riveting, mainly b/c of the four leads’ convincing performances, high production value, and (some scary/realistic) special effects.  Viewers will quickly relate to Anna- a wonderful character who tries to do the right thing.  Woll and Light (who speaks mostly German here) have great chemistry together.  They communicate volumes w/ just their eyes and expressions!

Two Films (w/ “North & South” actors)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Glass Virgin (1995)

What qualities makes one a “gentleman” or “lady?”  Is one’s identity determined from birth, or can it change?  These are the questions at the core of Catherine Cookson’s The Glass Virgin.  As a child in 1870s England, Annabelle LeGrange is sheltered by her mother and servants.  One day, her curiosity leads her to see something long kept hidden. 

During a trip into town, Annabelle is rescued from a runaway coach by a young outsider, Miguel Mendoza (Brendan Coyle).  Seeing his strength, Mr. LaGrange offers him a job.  Miguel, who is actually Irish, says he’ll only work w/ horses.  In time, he teaches Annabelle to ride, and they become good friends.       

The 17 y.o. Annabelle (a young Emily Mortimer) flees from her life of upper-middle class comfort when her true parentage in revealed and her “father” arranges a marriage to be rid of her.  Annabelle’s only ally is Miguel, who insists on traveling w/ her to find another life.  The pair find work on a small farm, then a bigger one run by a good-hearted, fair-minded family.  They say they are cousins and live as such, never as a couple.   

Over the course of one tough, life-changing year, Annabelle learns and matures into her own person.  She teaches Miguel to read, and says that he has a lot of potential.  He falls in love w/ her, but keeps it hidden, as her station in life was so above his.  Can Annabelle marry a working-class man?  What will she do when called back to her mother and old way of life?

     

 

 

 

 

This film is not very well-made and had a low budget; it was a TV miniseries.  There are no frills, some bad (wooden) acting from supporting players, and weird transitions.   Most of the dialogue is very simple.  (Honestly, I watched it just b/c Brendan Coyle was in it.  He does a great job, as usual!)  Emily Mortimer, who was a newcomer to film then, takes some time to grow into her role.

Some viewers thought it was weird that an older friend from childhood became a love interest.  (But wait, what about Emma and Mr. Knightley?  He was 16 yrs older than her.)  Those who read the novel noted that Miguel was only 10 yrs older than Annabelle.  I had a Renaissance Lit prof who said that “we shouldn’t put the values from our modern world onto the past.”            

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Impressionists (2008)

This is one of the most gorgeous films I’ve ever seen!  (It ranks up there w/ A Walk in the Clouds, which Rogert Ebert praised as the “type of movie you’d want to live in.”)  It’s actually a 3-part miniseries, has a strong ensemble cast, and is a true story. 

The elderly Claude Monet (Julian Glover) talks about his life, and that of his fellow Impressionist painters, to a reporter.  The younger Monet (Richard Armitage) left home, served in the army, then went to Paris to study.  At the school, he met the wealthy/jovial Renoir (Charlie Condou) and doctor-in-training- Bazille (James Lance).  They chafed against their “old school” teacher’s methods and eventually went off by themselves to paint.  As we know, Monet was inspired by the outdoors (nature) and always sought to “capture the light.” 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The young artists deal w/ money troubles, various romances, government art critics (that seek to protect the image of “good art”), and their own frustrations.  There are stories about quirky painters, such as Cezanne- a hermit who’s actually from a wealthy family.  There are interesting tales behind famous paintings.  Did you know that the woman in the green dress became Monet’s first wife?  He approached her in the marketplace and asked to paint her portrait. 

Monet’s second wife (played by Amanda Root) was the former wife of his benefactor.  At first, she didn’t see what was the big deal about his work- LOL!  One reason that I liked this film was that two of my fave actors were playing a couple.  (Below is an Impressionistic promo pic w/ RA and Root.) 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If you haven’t yet, watch RA and Coyle together in the 2004 BBC miniseries North & South!  Here is a short clip:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fM0gsBnbfrc

You can watch the entire film here:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oN58WAmuuqI