Monthly Archives: October 2013

BlogHer – NaBloPoMo – blogging each day through November

Lady bloggers unite!

NaBloPoMo November 2013

I have signed up to blog each day throughout November in association with BlogHer and National Blog Posting Month (NaBloPoMo for short).  If you’re a US-based blogger, there’s a chance to get prizes – but the rest of us are just doing it for the love of blogging!

Follow the link above to see more.

Breathless and Masters of Sex: medical drama takes over TV

Two period dramas set in the world of medicine have hit our screens in the past few weeks, and although both are in the early stages, I thought I’d do a bit of comparing and contrasting:

Breathless is a glossy drama set in a 1960s hospital.  Married women are allowed the Pill.  Nurses only take the job to grab a well-heeled doctor for a husband.  The setting is a gynaecological ward, so there’s a lot of pregnancy, angst, and sexual tension (the latter mainly between the consultant surgeon, Otto Powell, played by Jack Davenport, and married nurse with an absent husband, Nurse Wilson, played by Catherine Steadman).  We’ve already established that Powell has a ‘past’ which may place his icy wife (Natasha Little) and bespectacled son in danger.  We’ve met the villain of the piece, a Chief Inspector played with relish by Iain Glen; the obligatory playaway husband, Dr Richard (Oliver Chris) and his pouty ex-nurse wife Jean (Zoe Boyle, who endured a miscarriage and then got up and walked down the aisle, as you do).

Although the period feel is there – there are dodgy back-street abortions and casual sexism – the dialogue is a bit too modern, and the stereotypes a bit too pat.  And when a young lady turns up in a tight dress and killer heels, you just know there is going to be trouble.When Dr Enderbury (Shaun Dingwall) applies for promotion, you know he’ll be pipped to the post by an earnest Asian – you also know his wife will be plain and floral-frocked, giving the impression nothing much is going on at home.

There might not be much going on at home in the other new drama, Masters of Sex, but the activity in the hospital more than makes up for it.  This is a fictionalised version of how the Masters and Johnson sex studies came into being, and instead of being set in the swinging 60s, it is in the conservative 50s, but still very much in the millieu of babies, fertility issues, and basic contraception.  William Masters (Michael Sheen, who will be forever linked with his two portrayals of Tony Blair) wishes to find out more about the physiology of sexual behaviour but when he moves from the study of animals to ladies using artifical devices to climax, and eventually to watching couples copulate for the good of scientific research, he has to win around his provost and mentor (Beau Bridges, in a rare but very welcome TV appearance) to make the study legitimate.

With the help of secretary and associate Mrs Johnson (Lizzy Caplan) the inquisitive but uptight Masters finds himself studying the sexual habits and behaviour of prostitutes, and by episode three, homosexual escorts.  He’s frustrated by his lack of progress as well as his inability to father a child with his long-suffering wife Libby (Allison Janney).  Of course the prostitutes have hearts as well as strong libidos, and the graphic scenes of sexual behaviour certainly make this series more interesting than the norm.  Having said this, it feels squarely in the 50s.  The reaction of one patient to the idea of ‘a lady doctor looking up my skirt’ was hilarious.  Women were definitely chattels, secretaries, or fluffy creatures to be placated at this university hospital.  The appearance of quadruplets this week brought back memories of that film about the Dionne Quins where the delivering doctor was played by … Beau Bridges.  So kind of fun to see him pass on his gift for successful multiple birthing to Dr Masters in this series.

I’ll be continuing to watch both of these dramas with interest over the next few weeks.

Peaky Blinders – setting up a second series?

After six weeks’ worth of episodes, ‘Peaky Blinders’ finally came to an end last night,  Set in post-Great War Birmingham, this series introduced us to the Shelby family (Arthur, Tommy, John, Ada, Finn and Aunt Polly) who ruled their town with threats, fights, and razor blades hidden in their flat caps.

Although there were real lawless gangs of the type depicted in the series in 1919’s Birmingham, the family is fictional – although the race-fixer, strutting Billy Kimber, is based on a real-life character of the same name.   Steven Knight’s series was touted before its launch on BBC2 as ‘the British Boardwalk Empire’, and certainly in stylised cinematography and eclectic soundtrack (mainly Nick Cave), it was fresh and very different to anything we have seen on British television for a while.

Continue reading

Petula Clark (Theatre Royal Drury Lane)

A run of Sunday night concerts at the Theatre Royal continued last week with a visit from one of the 60s legends of song, Petula Clark.  Now in her ninth decade she might not have the wide range which served her well in performances such as ‘I Don’t Know How To Love Him’, but her set-list here, with an appreciative audience in London, does give an indication of the range she still has.

Her new album, ‘Lost in You’, is a mix of re-workings of old hits, and covers of more modern material (such as ‘Crazy’ by Gnarls Barkley).  We heard several pieces from it – a version of Elvis’s ‘Love Me Tender’, one of John Lennon’s ‘Imagine’, a piece with Clark’s lyrics to the music of Bach – ‘Reflections’, and the title song itself, which is a tender and slow ballad, beautifully put across.

(Here’s Petula singing ‘Lost in You’, on Belgian television).

The 1960s songbook still remains a crowd-pleaser: ‘Colour My World’, ‘Sailor’, ‘This Is My Song’, ‘I Couldn’t Live Without Your Love’, ‘I Know A Place’, ‘A Sign Of The Times’, ‘Don’t Sleep In The Subway’, and, of course, ‘Downtown’.  Her obvious energy and enjoyment in performing these songs is infectious and if she doesn’t always reach the notes, well, she is a bona fide star and still gives a great show.

She also gave a nod to her work in musicals – a couple of songs from the film she made with Fred Astaire and Tommy Steele, ‘Finian’s Rainbow’, and ‘With One Look’ in full Norma Desmond mode from ‘Sunset Boulevard’ (a role I saw her play, and she was sensational, even more so when she confides she did not like the character at all).

I’d also add that this lady is graceful, looks great, dresses well and with style, and is gracious in praise of those she has worked with and known (Elvis, Lennon, Dusty, Karen Carpenter).   It is easy to forget what a huge star Petula Clark was in her day, and she well deserved the standing ovation she received at the end of the night.

Downton, we have a problem …

Now into its fourth series, something has gone rather awry with Downton Abbey.

The series which brought us such off-the-wall storylines as Matthew being paralysed in the War only to find he could suddenly walk again, a Crawley cousin who went down with the Titanic coming back to life with comedy make-up and a Canadian accent, and a butler who was in a music hall act, has gone in a rather strange direction as of last Sunday.

The attack on Anna Bates was horrifying, heartbreaking, and out of step with a show those of us who have been dedicated watchers have turned to for a bit of escapism on a Sunday night.  Yes, we have had shocking deaths (Lavinia, Lady Sybil, Matthew) and the whole storyline around Mr Bates’ arrest for the alleged murder of his first wife, but now we are in the emancipated 1920s, I was waiting for the female servants, especially those who are as strong and sympathetic as Anna, to grow in this world which gives them a bit more of a say.

By the end of the 1920s, women over 21 would be allowed to vote, and things were slowly becoming better for women who were in service.   Anna would and should be on her way to achieving some independence.  This is exactly why seeing her battered and terrified after a violent sexual attack was so shocking.

Rape should never be used as entertainment or to gain ratings, and it is never OK to imply that because of the times or the culture it was ever acceptable for a man to make a pass at a woman, and then batter and rape her if she says no.  I don’t think Downton did show this storyline as entertainment, but the fact is that the show is accepted as light entertainment, something to wind down to at the end of the weekend, and the combined effect of this expectation and the shocking, unexpected storyline was distressing.

I watch gritty shows.   I have no problem with them.  But I don’t expect my period dramas to have women abused in this way, especially when the character concerned has already been through the mill.   Modern TV seems to be saying that no one is allowed to be happy.  It makes me feel just a little bit sickened.

I’m not taking anything away from Joanne Froggart’s performance as Anna – she was excellent and convincing throughout this episode as she has been before,  She is a superb actress.  I just feel sad that the future for her character seems to be a heavy dose of misery and potential disgrace.

With regret, I’m saying goodbye to a show I really liked and from characters I had grown fond of over the past few years.  I wish them well – but the mis-step in this episode is a step too far for me.

Charles Dickens: Hard Times adaptations

There have been two adaptations of Charles Dickens’ novel of a Northern industrial town, ‘Hard Times’, both for television.

The 1977 version (ITV):

In 1977 Granada transmitted a four-hour version starring Patrick Allen, Timothy West, Jacqueline Tong, and Alan Dobie.  I first saw this back in 2006, on VHS, and this is what I thought:

“At nearly four hours, this version of ‘Hard Times’, made by Granada TV, scores highly, moving along at a much slower pace than, say, the 1990s version made for children’s television.

The novel by Charles Dickens is not one of his best known; however, in the tale of the mills of Coketown, the pompous self-made mill-owner Bounderby, and the miserable Gradgrind children, worn down by their father’s insistence that facts are the only things one needs in life, he portrays an interesting set of characters that lend themselves well to film adaptation.

As Gradgrind and Bounderby, Patrick Allen and Timothy West are both excellent. Jacqueline Tong is a feisty Louisa, who handles most of her scenes well, while Edward Fox is an oily Harthouse. Alan Dobie completes the main players as mill-hand Stephen Blackpool, a man confined and crushed by fate.

Long unavailable on home video, this adaptation deserves to be seen by a new generation and it is a pity that Dickens’ collections on DVD have generally included the later version which is much shorter and has much less depth.”

Since then a DVD has been made available of the Granada version, distributed by Network.

The 1994 version (BBC):

Made for BBC children’s television, this version was shorter, sparser, and featured Bob Peck and Alan Bates.  My thoughts, also from 2006:

“A basic adaptation of ‘Hard Times’ is lifted above the ordinary by the impressive cast – Bob Peck as Gradgrind, Alan Bates as Bounderby, Dilys Laye as Mrs Sparsit, Richard E Grant as Harthouse, Bill Paterson as Stephen Blackpool, and Harriet Walter as Rachel.

Of course the story is somewhat compacted in a running time not much over an hour and a half, but the omissions are not that puzzling and the story is left easy to follow. The quality of the acting and the script mean that this adaptation isn’t taking its young audience for granted.

Now available as part of a DVD set of Dickens’ works, and well worth buying.”

I didn’t credit Beatie Edney, who played Louisa.  I don’t recall her as much as I do Tong in the Granada version, which may explain why I didn’t refer to her when I first looked at the 1994 adaptation.  The ‘DVD set of Dickens’ works’ I refer to is an American release,  It is also  available on its own and in a Dutch box set if you are looking for a Region 2 version.


Happy Thoughts, Darling

Classic movies, Classic stars

Film Dialogue

Film Dialogue is a forum for anyone with interest in cinema and film history


TV, film, documentary, animation and music talk


Amy Steele on music, books and other (mostly alternative) entertainment

%d bloggers like this: