& the slipper still fits

The Jane Effect - St.John Rivers

When I first saw Jane Eyre dear reader (that's right, I saw a version before I read the novel), I thought St. John Rivers was a shocking shell of a man -- cold, intellectual, and everything completely opposite of Rochester. And then when I read the novel, my opinion was only solidified. Now that I'm older, I wonder why this is. Why do we think that St. John is such a awful person? Especially with the newest version of Jane Eyre, I think it more apparent St. John might be horribly misunderstood. Can we really denounce someone for choosing his work over love? Or believing he and his life will not fit the girl of his dreams? I pose we look a St. John just a little deeper and consider he's more likable than he first my seem.

Novel St.John - POV
Jane Eyre, as well all know, is a first person novel. Therefore, we are always in the mind of Jane. Really, Jane's thoughts, opinions, and beliefs are all we care about. I'm sure if the novel wasn't full of her inner thoughts we wouldn't love Rochester as much, or understand how important nature is to her. Thus, her reaction to St. John is colored by her own beliefs and opinions. To Jane, St. John is cold and calcualting  -- brilliant but un-nurturing, and deeply lacking in passion. She is continually comparing St. John and his actions to Rochester baisly. After all, she still deeply loves Edward when she is taken in by the Rivers. Therefore, we will never have a fair picture of St. John Rivers, because Jane's view of him isn't fair.

The Rochester Factor
By the time St. John appears on the screen or in the novel, we as watchers and readers have already fully invested in the dark and tormented soul of Edward Rochester. How does anyone compare to that? St. John comes at time when we're all waiting for Jane to return to Rochester. Let's face it, her going back is no surprise for us, and so we gloss over the option we know she'll not choose. They're both each other's second choice, and that's never good enough for a Bronte.

The Cold Imagery
Jane describes St. John, throughout her time with him, like ice -- immobile, frozen, cold-hearted. Who wants love that? My question is -- is that really how St. John is, or just how Jane sees him? I call in my defense Jamie Bell and his brilliant St. John Rivers (and this kinda goes into my next point as well). Maybe its because we start the movie with the Rivers, or maybe its because St.John is more Jane's age, or maybe its because his undying passion for Rosamund Oliver isn't featured in the 2011 version, but Bell makes me think Jane doesn't give him a fair shot at being a hero. With Jane, St.John continually thinks he must handle her with care, and stays weary of her becuase she is a stranger with no name, and when she needs a reality check, she recoils from his logic -- logic, might I add, that is very sound. He tells her to forget man who lied to her, was willing to force her into a fake marriage, and lasciviously endanger her soul. St. John might be abrupt when he confronts Jane, but its his passionate nature showing through; its just a different passion than she's used to.  Bell's proven to me that we've sided a little too blindly on Jane's side about this man.  

Mini-Series/Movie Time Cuts
As I stated above, St. John's placement in the the movie or novel is critical. If we start with him, he's more of an option for Jane; he compeats dually with our Rochester for our affections. If he's at the end and the end is cut up for time, then his complexity is thrown away. You must agree, there are a few versions were he is solely used as a plot device and nothing more. How then, are we able to understand him enough to connect to him? It's an injustice done to many characters, and just more often happens to poor St.John.

Like Rochester, St.John Rivers believes in educating women - alright he believes women can be educated. And even more so than Rochester, executes this fact. Where Jane is more like a pet (don't make me defend this with bird imagery. I will) to Rochester, St.John sees her as an equal, like his sisters (certainly not the equal in today's standard, but it was 1800's people). I believe St. John and Edward are far alike than we'd like them to be, and it is just a happy (or sad?) coincidence readers take to one and not the other.

Version Round Up - Hamlet

Confused by what version to watch dear reader? Unsure what people mean when they talk about so-and-so's version or that 1980-something version? Well, I'm hoping we can rectify this for you. One week at a time. I thought I'd start on an unbiased topic, that way everyone knows I will not be bias (okay maybe a little) when we get to Jane Eyre and Pride and Prejudice, etc. So we are starting with Hamlet, because what literary lover doesn't love Shakespeare?

If you've never read Hamlet or want a refresher of the story, I vote for you to take a gander below (there are 4 parts).

It's not childish reader! Its funny. Okay, I think its funny. And the best way to explain Hamlet in 20 minutes or less. For my lack of dedication, sue me.

Now to the versions! There are 5 widely watched versions of Hamlet and all are remarkably different in tone, presentation, and composition. Let's start at the beginning and work our way forward.

1964 - Richard Burton's Hamlet
Burton, Drake, Herlie & Cronyn
Filmed stage production. In classic Hollywood, our costume dramas never fail. And while this adaption is very different from "Taming of the Shrew" which co-stared Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton's intensity and command is no different. Burton was one of those intensely furious actors. He brought something to Hamlet only a classic Hollywood star could.This is the era that Shakespeare was made classy, was made elegant, and the bawdy jokes and mirth were turned into melodramatic gems your teachers youtube for class. This version production-wise is a great deal like the 2009 version: a few cameras capture a stage production of Hamlet--think  more classy than your dad taping your high school play from his seat. Watch some clips here.

1990 - Hamlet Braveheart Style
Gibson, Close, Bonham-Carter, & Holm
Zeffirelli did it people! Working with a whole new generation of Hollywood stars, he got his Hamlet made. And now as we watchit post-Braveheart...it looks like Braveheart. Honestly, I haven't watched this movie in its entirity ever. But it exists! Floating around as a testment to American large-budget costume dramas which no longer exist.

1996 - Kenneth Branagh's Hamlet
Brangah, Crystal, Dench, Winslet, Depardieu & Heston
I adore Kenneth Branagh, as an actor and director in ANYTHING else, I think he's flawless. Now this is completely just my opinion (as are most things on this blog...I really should stop apologizing), but I think his Hamlet is a great deal pretentious and narcissistic. More so than Branagh's  was going for. This is the lavish, multi-million dollar production that has become THE version of Hamlet, just because nothing else can go toe-to-toe with it. It's also the longest film on the history of the planet (not true, but I'm sure its close). Don't get me wrong, I adore the cinematography, and LOVE all the actors it in, I  just think its the nature of Hamlet as a play...I get, well, bored. Still, this is the version you simply have to see. No one other than Kenneth Branagh could get this film made in the scope it was made. Chalk one up for team Shakespeare on Film -- Branagh's our president.

2000- Hamlet 2.0 Post Modern
Hawke, Stiles, MacLachlan, Murray & Schreiber
This is the version I just. don't. get. I get is a post modern retelling. I get that in the late 90's everyone was having a huge love fest over modernized Shakespeare (or Julia Stiles in movies?), but this Hamlet just creeps me out. Ethan Hawke and Julia Stiles star in this upscale, post-grunge fantasy version. Where Branagh plays his Hamlet with hatred as his driving force, Hawke plays him as disillusioned and depressed. While both are accurate emotions to build upon for Hamlet's frame work, you can see how differently those intital foundations can drive a character. I think what gets me more, and again personal preference reigns, I don't like the modern setting and modern emphasis with the Shakespeare dialogue. (OMG I think my own sense of Shakespeare integrity just exploded.) Its an interesting version, but highly conceptualized, which somehow disconnects much of the film. In the grand scheme of things, this version did not get nearly as much publicity as 10 Things I Hate About You or O and stands as an interesting version from the turn of the millennia.

2009  - David Tennant's Hamlet
Tennant, Stewart, Davies, Gale & DeJersey
I won't lie. I can't about this version. It was made, purely because the RSC and BBC knew they could sell TONS of DVDs of the Doctor playing Hamlet. And they were right. Well, that's why I bought it? Didn't you? That being said, its brilliant. Tennant is captivating and, like Branagh, gives so much in his character you realize why it's a classic outside of just being Shakespeare's. Its filmed in what I loving describe as Gorilla British style -- a cross between Burton's stage version and hand-held camera operation. Their goal: bring the stage to screen, not directly, but with as little effort as possible. Most live Shakespeare is produced without scenery or sets and this version follows that closely -- with empty rooms and bare hallways. The modern clothing worn by the actors, seems more like a custom of human modesty than and push to "modernize" the play. I just like this version; I like when acting is allowed to shine; and I like when you can see actors so fiercely passionate about their subject matter.

So there we are! They turned out a little biased, didn't they? Oh well, perhaps my thoughts will be helpful. And you all know, I wouldn't write about things I didn't love, even if I don't necessarily like them. Feel like watching any of the versions discussed above? Hop over to youtube, you can find most of them there!

5 little known costume dramas you're bound to love

Do you have your guilty pleasure movie, dear reader? You know, that one movie you shut your door to watch, you hide under all your other DVDs hoping no one sees it, that one movie that you would NEVER say is your all time favorite, even though you've seen it more times than you've seen the sun set. Now while these five films are not the guiltiest of my guilty pleasures, they are some wonderfully creative and entertaining costume dramas not many have heard of, or--more likely--feel like unabashedly discussing. Join me, as we journey through the 18th Century centered costume drama and five movies you're bound to love (hopefully).

Triumph of Love
I start with the obvious. Mira Sorvino's acting (and normally she's a great actress) is AWFUL, pull out your teeth because sugar hurts them awful. But once you get past this, unfortunately pronounced, fact the movie is sweet and ironically funny. Base upon the Marivaux play Triomphe de l'amour first performed in 1732, Triumph of Love is a "classic French comedy" (ie - historically classic, not a film made in France and reflecting the allure of the culture) which bases itself in masked identities and witty dialogue. The short version: a usurper Princess falls in love with the rightful heir to the throne, Agis, who lives with the philosopher Hermocrates and his sister Leontine, from afar. Wishing to have Agis fall in love with her and humiliate those who have kept him from her, she disguises herself as a man of nobility and tries to infiltrate Agis's heart. However, while trying to win Agis's love, she makes both Hermocrates and Leontine fall in love as well. Anchored by Sir Ben Kingsley and Fiona Shaw, and lightened by a strong supporting cast, Triumph of Love is an 18th century period piece at its intellectual best and worst at the same time.

The Abduction Club
My dears, please don't berate me and go into the sordid and cruel real history of the Abduction Club. Trust me, I've been "schooled" on it before and believe when I say that this movie is still adorable. Most people, actually I feel safe in saying practically everyone who hasn't taken 18th century upper class Irish social history, has never heard of the historical Abduction Club. The film, on the other hand, is a movie so lovely I can't believe costume drama lovers have never heard of it! Picture it -- roguish men who are second or third sons, never set to inherit any of their father's fortune, abducting young rich ladies and asking for their hand in marriage, all based upon the highest premise of honor and duty and the fact that this girl already loves the abductor. This is the plot, and then you throw in Daniel Lapaine and Matthew Rhys and well what girl wouldn't want to be abducted? Of course one should have a fortune if they wish to be abducted, most of the time. When I found The Abduction Club it was like finding a best kept secret. Its adorable and goofy and the actors have wonderful chemistry. This movie is one of my favorites, and SO not a guilty pleasure.

The Clandestine Marriage 
We're going with a theme here dear reader, I think. You see The Clandestine Marriage is set in basically the same period as our last two movies. There is just something about 18th century period pieces that MUST be guilty. The Clandestine Marriage--as stated in the title--starts with a marriage that must be kept secret. Filled to the brim with some of our favorite character actors: Emma Chambers, Tom Hollander, and Timothy Spall, the film centers upon a marriage of convenience that suffers all the inconveniences imaginable, including the groom falling in love with the bride's secretly married sister. And then there's the very silly and very foolish father of the groom who just wants to marry a lovely, young anything and will work his dashing whiles as hard as it takes to get it.

Perfume: The Story of a Murderer
Ben Whishaw is masterful as Jean-Baptiste Grenouille, and orphan rat of the streets who has an exceptional nose. Tutored by a famous perfumer (who uses him more to create scents than to learn the trade) Jean-Baptiste discovers the foundation of creating perfumes. And then Jean-Baptiste decides to make the perfect perfume, and it will take the illuminating scents of 13 specific women to make it. When finished, the smell creates unimaginable euphoria and lust. This dark and haunting movie is a remarkable twist in costume dramas and brings us the first leading role for our dear Ben Whishaw. He's a murderer who doesn't fully understand that he's committing murder; he's a young boy driven to make something of perfect beauty no matter the cost. Perfume was shocking when I first saw it, and even more interesting the second time around.

Brotherhood of the Wolf
Like Perfume, its more of a murder-mystery movie that just happens to be centered in a past century. I prefer --especially since this is certainly one of my top guilty pleasure movies-- to watch this one in the middle of the night with the subtitles on. Based on the 18th century study of the beast of Gevaudan, The Brotherhood of the Wolf follows Gregoire DeFronsac and his trusted friend Mani as they try to discover just who is killing in the forests of France. I think I enjoy this movie basically for Vincient Cassel's Jean-Francois de Morangians who is one seriously dark and creepy character. There is never a better way to spend a Thursday night than watching this foreign film.

And there you have it! 5 costume dramas to add to your queue to watch. Most can be found on youtube, and many are playing currently on directTV. But just remember, like all surprisingly delightful costume dramas --and guilty pleasures-- these can be best enjoyed with a little chocolate and a nice cold glass of wine. (At least, that's my way.)

Downton Abbey - back in force

It's official! We officially have an air date for the next season (or 2nd series) of Downton Abbey. In the UK it will begin airing on Sept 18th, 2011 with a 2 hour Christmas Special. US watchers, our starts Jan. 8th, 2012 with no hope of getting the Christmas special.

Series 2 picks up two years after Series 1 and will focus on the years between 1916 and 1918. There are rumors that Matthew will have a new love interest and Mary will also be courted by a wealthy older man. What is completely clear though, is the obvious focus on war and its consequences. Both Robert and Matthew have joined in the army and will no doubt be taken faraway from Downton.

What will be most exciting is to reconnect with all the characters. Two years away from the household at Downton can bring many changes. I think most of us expected the series to pick up right where it left of, but the change will be good for us -- the story lines will be fresh and there will be a sense of mystery and tension behind some of the characters and relationships we had the most questions about. Personally, if Anna and Bates don't do something this season, I might be driven to throw the remote at the TV.

Read more behind the scenes here. And see the Series two trailer here.