Mr Selfridge, Finale Part 1

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In the US, we got episodes 9 and 10 together for our finale.

So I came to them with great anticipation. We’ve known that Nancy’s a con artist and that Loxley’s scheming to get even with Harry for helping Mae, his ex-wife, though Loxley’s so one dimensional, it annoys me. The less screen time he gets the better. Many viewers have read about Harry’s life in Woodhouse’s Shopping, Selfridge and Mr Selfridge and we know that after Rose died, Harry’s life began to unravel as he became more indulgent and reckless. So far this season we haven’t seen too much of that — yet.

Harry’s got a lot on the line as he’s started a price war to make good on the promise to his board to get them a 10% dividend. Loxley’s circling the waters hoping to bring Harry down. As for romance, Harry’s proposed to Nancy completely unaware that she’s a con artist. Granted she seems to be falling for Harry, but she’s still too cunning for my tastes. How I wish Mamma Selfridge or Princess Marie would go to the Information Bureau and have her looked up! Or Violette. She seems to have her suspicions.

This season isn’t the program’s best. It feels like they’ve gotten new writers to take over and they don’t have a sense of what viewers like me want.

The episode begins with Harry showing everyone a warehouse of goods that they must sell so he can keep his board members happy. Everyone rises to the occasion, which does show a devotion to the game of retail and to Harry himself. It reminds me of The Paradise and I would get caught up in the glamor of shopping and sales. There was an art to this business, which is sadly fallen by the wayside.

Loxley, who’s name must be synonymous with unctuous, has a fit when he reads in the paper that Lady Mae, his ex-wife is going to get married. The scene came off as rather over-the-top in terms of emotion. Loxley is meant to be a character your hate, but mainly he’s become a caricature. He then calls a meeting with two board members who for some reason see him as worth listening to. Why? The man’s clearly unscrupulous and was losing money himself until he started profiteering.

Harry stops a supplier from overcharging Nancy who’s buying lumber for houses she didn’t plan to build. In the car to the store she admires his bargaining prowess. He’s saved her. Swoon. Then things go pear-shaped as the car approaches the store. Protestors outside pelt Harry and Nancy with eggs. If you don’t like a business practice, boycott the sale. There’s no reason to get nasty. But this barbarism results in Harry deciding he needs a new head of security and since George needs a new job . . .

So George gets a job as head of security back at Selfridges, where he belongs.

Princess Marie informs Harry that she’s gotten delivery of her family jewels. She can now wipe the slate clean and carry her weight financially. Harry brushes aside any thoughts of repayment. Harry confesses that he and Nancy are secretly engaged, which sets off the princess’ radar. She’s leery of Nancy Webb, so she does some detective work. She discovers that Nancy’s architect is a fraud when she sees him hocking the engagement ring Harry gave Nancy. This storyline has gotten tense. It seems the truth about Nancy will come out and it’ll devastate Harry.

Billy, the biological father of Doris and Mr Groves’ son Ernest, stops by unannounced to visit Ernest. Mr Groves sent him packing and later chewed out Miss Mardle for interfering, which she did do. She responds by calling Groves a hypocrite and criticizing him for seeing things in black and white. She had a point, but could have been more humble. After all, her meddling led to Doris’ death. This storyline has seemed forced. Doris getting hit by the car and having an affair seemed dreamt up to add Drama! The scene where Mr Groves and Miss Mardle have it out, seemed, like many this season, to be forced and unnatural.

The French aviator, who’s something of a churl, takes Violette out on a date — to Victor’s to “play out past history” if you believe what he says. She would have guessed as much before she gets to the alley where Victor’s club is, but never mind. It’s boorish in the extreme to flaunt that you’re going out with someone in front of your or their past love. Violette is extremely uncomfortable and should run from this sadistic man. He completely lacks insight or sensitivity when it comes to women. Violette is a strong-willed woman so even though her father’s meddled in her love life and said Victor’s off-limits, I don’t get that she feels she must go out with Jacques. At home Harry consoles Violette, who for some unknown reason feels she must marry this Jacques though she’s young and attractive. It’s just bizarre. Why does she feel so hopeless? Her mother didn’t marry till she was in her 30s. I doubt Violette’s that old.

Gordon vows to tell his father that he loves Grace. She’d put an end to their romance after Mr. Crabbe caught them kissing.

Mr. Grove consents to allow Billy to visit his son once a month. I do wonder if Billy would continue to visit if at some point he meets a new girl . . . .

Loxley manipulates the board members, who’re putty in his hands, into calling an emergency board meeting. Mr. Crabb gets hysterical, but Harry’s ready for them. He knows he could be ousted and in the end has the last laugh by not showing up. There’s a clause in the store’s by laws that says he can postpone a board meeting for two weeks. So he does.

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The last two Downton Abbey episodes have really moved along. I’m delighted that the pace picked up. In episode 6 Cora discovered that Edith is Marigold’s mother and she made Violet and Rosamund take her to the hotel where they had fled to. As usual, Cora was quite composed, though disappointed that she’d been kept in the dark about Edith’s pregnancy as any good mother would. She cooked up the scheme to bring Marigold into Downton’s nursery under the pretext that the farmers couldn’t afford to keep her and Edith would adopt her. By the end of episode 7, Robert guessed that Marigold isn’t really adopted.

I was surprised that Rose’s engagement was so short. Suddenly, at episode 7’s start everyone’s preparing for her wedding. The only problem is that Atticus’ is Jewish and both his father and her mother don’t approve of mixed marriages. Rose’s mom, the ultimate sourpuss Susan goes as far as setting up Atticus by having a floozie take suggestive photos with him. Fortunately, the ruse doesn’t work. Nor does Susan’s announcement that she and Rose’s father Shrimpy are divorcing stop the wedding, although Atticus’ dad disapproves of divorce. We don’t know that much about Atticus, but he’s good looking and seems nice. I just hope he doesn’t die. Mary, Edith, Tom and Rose’s generation does not have a good track record for marriages. I suppose someone’s spouse bound to live. (I’ll count Edith in this list though she didn’t get a chance to marry her beloved.)

The Lord Gillingham/Mary relationship has been over and it seems he’s moved on. He’s realized that his former fiancée suits him best. Nothing’s moved forward with Mary and Blake and since Mary’s so critical and aloof, I think he can do better. The energy they shared when they saved the pigs has cooled.

The police investigation has slowly moved along.  In episode 6 the police seemed to have Mr. Bates in their crosshairs, but by episode 7, they brought Anna in for a line up and then arrested her. Anna! She can’t have done it, though she had a reason. It seems way out of character.

Tom is seriously considering going with his daughter to Boston to start a new life. I really hope he doesn’t. He adds a down-to-earth perspective to the family and I doubt life in Boston would be preferable. It’s good for Tom to bond with Sybil’s family and he can find love in the village, he just needs to seek out someone with similar values and decent manners. He has valuable work at Downton and couldn’t be replaced.

The episode ended very much like season one of The Village did, with the ceremony for the unveiling of the WWI memorial.

Sepia Saturday

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Translation: Who will it be?

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In honor of Valentine’s Day, Sepia Saturday bloggers are digging through archives to find fitting photos.

The images are from the National Library of Hungary’s files on Flickr Commons. I got a translation for the top one, but the others which end with “sproget” couldn’t be translated with Google translate. I welcome any help with this if you can translate.

You can see more Valentine-inspired posts, click here.

To Marry an English Lord

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If you like Downton Abbey, you really should read Gail MacColl and Carol McD. Wallace’s  To Marry an English Lord. I got the audio book from the library. The narrator had the perfect voice, elegant and slightly aristocratic.

To Marry an English Lord presents all sorts of facts and vignettes about the American heiresses, and there were dozens if not hundreds, who crossed the ocean to marry well. The focus is on New York socialites, whose fathers had fortunes, but couldn’t break into the elite circle of the Kickerbockers. Kickerbockers were the descendants of the first New York settlers from Holland, these people wore knickerbockers, i.e. pants that stopped at the knees. No amount of money could get you into their social circle so those with new money headed for England where they were welcomed not just for their money (though that was key) but also because American girls were so open, confident and free. British girls were sheltered and shy. They were chaperoned everywhere, but the American parents gave their girls a lot more freedom. And they had much larger clothing allowances. A British girl would make do with 3 new gowns a season, but the American would get 18 or so spending about $500.000 in todays money (plus a 50% tariff). The British men noticed, in droves apparently.

The book covers every aspect of the women’s lives from dress, parents, education, hobbies and such to marriage, infidelity and socializing. I found it quite interesting that these girls had the best of all worlds because as was typical in the U.S. at the time they were encouraged to be spirited and confident as debutantes and unlike the women who married in America after they wed they could follow the custom of getting involved in politics or writing, which was normal in England.

The book is a solid and entertaining social history that makes me think a real life Cora had more meaningful work to do, more extravagant parties to give, more friendships and probably more infidelity than we see on Downton Abbey. (Mind you I’m happy Cora did not hop into bed with Bricker, the bounder.) The authors’ style is full of wit and energy.

While I enjoyed being able to listen as I drove, I think I’ll get the actual book, because I can envision wanting to fact check the history and that’s hard to do with a CD.

Downton Abbey, Season 5 Begins

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After months and months of hype and waiting, Downton Abbey’s fifth season began in the U.S. It’s a favorite show of mine, but I’ve never seen so much promotion. For crying out loud I saw three ads for Downton on CBS’ Sunday Morning — they’re in competition. CBS just had one promo for The Good Wife, which is on opposite Downton. Did PBS advertise on other networks as well?

It felt good to see the familiar faces of the Crawley clan and their servants. The costumes are always stunning. Julian Fallows offered his usual fare: verbal digs from the Dowager Countess, plots from Thomas, Cora going along with most everything, light moments with Mosely, Edith unsure and worried, and Mary capably preparing to take over the reins of Downton while mulling over her suitors.

Fallows packed a lot into the episode, which picked up where the last one left off although I was surprised that while the adults haven’t aged much, the children’s ages seem to have doubled. We learned that little Sybil calls her grandfather “Donk” as in donkey. How perfect! I love children’s names for grandparents and this one will keep Robert humble.

SPOILERS

While dedicated fans have already seen the new episode, let me note the following comments contain spoilers .

I’m glad that Miss Baxter told Cora that Thomas was using her and confessed that she’s been to jail for theft. Cora was discrete and fair with Baxter, who now can work without constantly worrying about Thomas.

  • There was no revelations about Bates. Perhaps he killed Anna’s rapist; perhaps he didn’t. It’s hard to say.
  • Edith seems to visit her daughter Marigold at the farmer’s house quite a lot. The farmer’s wife suspects that Edith’s got eyes for her husband, but I’d think these visits would be conspicuous to neighbors too. Alternative theories would come up and someone would get it right. Anyway, the husband’s sharp and he proposes the visits stop and agrees for a new story to explain them, because Edith can’t stop. Funny that she spends more time with her daughter than Mary does with her son, George.
  • Edith’s going to blow it. We all know that. The idea to bring Marigold to England was foolish and too tempting. I do have sympathy for Edith, but it irks me to see foolishness in any form. I’d love to see Edith get some gumption and hard as it is, send her daughter back to Switzerland. Then she should find a life’s passion and throw herself into it. Be a victor, not a victim, Edith!
  • Lord Gillingham visited Downton to woo Mary. Blake’s no where to be seen and Mary seems like the “out of sight, out of mind” type of woman. Any thought of Blake was fleeting. She’s agreed to go off with Lord G. to see if they’re compatible. I’m not sure that’s really historically accurate. Besides a week’s vacation isn’t a great way to learn about a person, especially when you’re traveling first class insulated from life’s trials and tribulations. The tryst is to be hush hush, but all secrets come out on TV. Seems to me there are other ways to gather the information Mary seeks. Also, is this going to be like the horrendous Bachelorette show? Will Mary give Blake a similar week?
  • Daisy’s starting to try to learn math. She’s struggling, but hats off to her for trying to take charge of her life. It’s funny how the high ranking staff had a pow wow about this. Carson and Mrs. Patmore worry that it’s too stressful for Daisy who already has a good job, in their opinion, while Mrs. Hughes supports Daisy’s desire to get more education.
  • As a surprise, Rose decides to invite the teacher Tom befriended to Cora and Robert’s 35th anniversary dinner. This Miss Bunting sets my teeth on edge. Throughout the evening she makes controversial statements such as questioning the need to remember the heroes of WWI (which we still do 100 years hence) and tries to cause trouble. She lacks the awareness to know that you can disagree, but you needn’t be rude and rabble rousing only rouses rabble. Tom’s just embarrassed and it took every ounce of patience and decorum for Robert not to toss this guest out on her tush. Miss Bunting was just boorish and self-serving. Her aim was to stir things up so she could then confirm her prejudices about the upper class. I really don’t like her and would love it if Fallows dropped her from the series, but I do doubt that. I fear Miss Bunting will go after Tom. What a pain!
  • Romance was on the horizon for Isobel Crawley, but Violet interfered as only she can. Violet does not want Isobel (Matthew’s mother) to marry a lord and gain status. So she hosted a big lunch inviting Dr. Clarkson, who’s sweet on Isobel and a beautiful widow who might divert Lord Whoever’s eye’s away from Isobel. It’s too soon to know whether that worked.
  • Robert’s nose got out of joint because the town committee wants Mr. Carson to lead the committee on the WWI memorial. Carson was as if not more upset by this unusual choice. My everything’s in flux!
  • Jimmy’s old employer showed up and they had a thing in the past, which gets rekindled. Almost literally.
  • The show ended with a house fire starting in Edith’s room. I’m not sure what happened. Did Edith try to burn that book with Gregson’s writing in it? Anyway Thomas was lurking in the halls trying to get dirt on Mary and to act as a lookout for Jimmy when he noticed smoke coming from Edith’s room. He swooped in and rescued Lady Edith, thus securing his job, which was on the line since his plot against Miss Baxter was discovered. I like justice so it would be fine with me if Thomas were fired. They can always bring in another devious footman and show Thomas in town, plotting against the family. I’m sure blackmail is in his skill set, as Lady Mary may learn.

I think Fallows could have made more of the fire. It was hard to believe the fire department could get their as fast as they seemed to and even with Robert and Tom’s quick response, I’m surprised there wasn’t more damage.

The Life of Oharu

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Sentenced to Banishment

Sentenced to Banishment

Life in 17th century Japan certainly wasn’t easy for women if The Life of Oharu is anything to go by. I really loved this movie about a beautiful young woman. First Oharu is a courtesan at the Imperial Palace. When she gives in to a lower class retainer’s advances, she’s found out. Then she’s banished from Kyoto. Her parents are also banished because they failed to guide their daughter properly. When they’re led out of the city, soldiers keep back their loved ones separating them with a pole as they proceed to the city limits in tears.

Oharu’s lover did not get off scot-free. He was beheaded after dictating a letter urging Oharu only to marry for love.

After a long banishment, Oharu lucks out. An emissary from an important lord must hunt for the perfect courtesan. The requirements are so specific. Feet must be a certain length, certain earlobes, background, talents. No one fits all the criteria — no one except Oharu. At first she kicks and screams, but eventually she goes to Edo (now Tokyo) where she delights the lord and infuriates his wife. She bears the lord the desired male heir and things are looking up. She finally feels at home, valued. However, the wife, who’s jealous of her husband’s fondness for Oharu, sends her packing with very little cash. Oharu’s father has over extended himself in business thinking he’ll be taken care of for life as his daughter bore the heir. The film continues to show this poor woman’s hardships and to reveal how precarious life could be in this highly structured society. The acting is superb and the story compelling as I had no idea what to expect. I really was shocked that Oharu was tossed out after producing a royal heir.

With the emperor

With the emperor, before she warmed up to him

While the film is melodramatic, there’s humor such as when a prostitute drags a man into an inn, while he’s calling out, “I’ve got to get home to my wife.” Based on the novel, The Life of an Amorous Woman, this film is beautiful with images that will stick with you. For more on the cinematography read this essay on the Criterion Collection website.

The Paradise

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Denise Lovett

Denise Lovett

After Moray shook up The Paradise by jilting the powerful Katherine Glendenning, we’re back at this store a year later to see what’s new. Moray returns from Paris because Katherine, who now owns the store with her new husband, Mr. Tom Weston, a severe and scary man, summoned him. Katherine’s father has died. His loan put the store in his name as a means of keeping Moray faithful. That ploy didn’t work, but it won’t be easy for Moray to get the store back, as he’d like to.

Miss Audrey decides to marry Edmund, Denise’s uncle and she and go off to the seaside to live in a cottage her brother bequeathed to her. Ah, so now there’s a top position open in ladies’ wear. Who will get it Clara or Denise? In episode three Denise gets it in spite of Moray’s warning that the games between Katherine and Tom. Katherine’s drawn to this gloomy foreboding man. God knows why.

Episode 5 of 8 airs Sunday the 26th. Spoilers follow.

Tom treats his daughter, who’s about 7, terribly, belittling her, glaring at her and yelling at her not to touch his things! Miss Flora is sure to grow up in need of Dr. Freud’s expertise. Katherine is the kind stepmother, breaking a long held tradition, but she just indulges poor Flora with shopping trips. The girl has no playmates or friends. Poor thing.

I’ve liked the series and needed a dose of historical drama – corsets and all. I’m not sure whether I’m more draw by Denise’s romance with Moray or her ambition to run ladies’ wear and create the most magnificent department store in the Western world. I know Katherine’s plots are compelling. She’s someone I would watch with care. It’s clear that she want’s Denise to fail and fall as punishment for capturing Moray’s heart.

I miss Pauline, who was Clara and Denise’s roommate cum colleague. I didn’t catch what took her away. She did so want to marry. I should re-watch episode 1 to find out. Sam’s back and I’d like to see him in a more prominent role. He should be doing more at work, not just cutting cloth and uttering witticisms. Susy, who’s mother we learned is a drinker, replaced Pauline. She’s a good supporting character who needs to learn the ropes.

Tom has a back full of scars which Katherine uses to pull him under her influence, or try to. He’s very much a man who wants to be in charge, but he’s living in her father’s house and the money’s from her family. The scars on the back and dialog have suggested that he was attacked while retreating . . . hmm? What’s the story on that?

From week to week, my curiosity remains piqued as I want to know what Katherine’s up to, how Tom will react to any manipulation towards Moray and Denise which will reveal that Katherine married just to show Moray she could.

(By the way, next month my book club will read Emil Zola’s novel A Ladies’ Paradise. Leave a comment if you’d like to join us.)

Désiré

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Released in 1937 starring Sacha Guitry, Désiré is a comedy about a French woman and her household staff. Odette is a former actress who’s beau is a government Minister. Her staff includes a cook, a maid, a chauffeur we never see, but lacks a valet. The night before Odette, played by Guitry’s wife at the time, and her beau are to leave for the countryside, a chatty, meticulous valet comes to interview for the job. His references are impeccable and he’s hired. God forbid the couple goes to the country without a valet.

In the kitchen Désiré gets to know the maid and the cook. He’s very professional about his job and the hardest worker of the group, but also shares lots of observations about employers e.g. in a couple days a servant knows his employer well. In a year the servant can predict the employer’s every move and thought, yet after employing a servant for 5 years the employer probably doesn’t even know the servant’s last name. Touché.

Désiré’s previous employer intimates that while he was impeccable at his job, he made sexual overtures and therefore was let go. Odette is ready to send him packing but he persuades her to trust that it’ll never happen again.

All goes well until madam starts having dreams of Désiré making overtures. Her beau hears her calling out his name. Meanwhile Désiré also has dreams and the maid hears him calling out. Both don’t know what to do and try to hide the problem as best they can.

Désiré is a farce done with wit and intelligence. It makes some good points and is something of a counterpoint to Downton Abbey. Here the characters smoke and joke and toy with each other.  Guitry is a fine comic actor who held my interest from start to finish.

Brief Encounter

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brief encounter
Written by Noel Coward and directed by David Lean, Brief Encounter tells the story of a man and woman whose paths cross in a train station tea room and then again in town. Both married, contentedly, they are drawn to each other. Laura Jesson (played by Celia Johnson) comes to the town of Milford every Thursday for a day away from housekeeping. On one excursion Dr. Alec Harvey (Trevor Howard) helps her remove some grit from her eye. Every time he bumps into her he pours on the charm.

The movie is narrated by Johnson who’s thinking about this four week relationship while sitting in front of her husband who’s working on his crossword puzzle. The plot is compelling and Laura especially because there’s so much danger of bumping into people they know and the main characters carefully weigh the cost of the lying and secrecy demanded by their affair. I’ve never seen such thoughtful characters on the precipice of starting an affair.

The only weakness of the film was how little we know about the doctor. We don’t get much past his charm and the superficial facts about his work.

Another Criterion Collection DVD, it’s enriched by a documentary on David Lean and mini-documentary on the film. Both were worthwhile.

Apart from You

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apart from you

Directed by Mikio Naruse, Apart from You (1933)  shows two geishas who’re stuck in an ignoble profession they wish they could escape. The film starts with an amusing scene in a geisha house run by an old woman who smokes and gambles. She studies the racing statistics in the paper like a scientist.

While Western books and films Orientalize geishas accenting their musical skill and gorgeous clothes, I’m finding films and books created by Japanese people portray this life as hard and soul killing.

I can’t improve upon Michael Koresky‘s synopsis so I’ll simply quote it:

Apart from You also gives us our first glimpse of Naruse’s careful way of dramatizing geisha life. The film concerns two melancholy working women: the long-suffering Kikue (seen in an early shot plucking out telltale gray hairs) and the younger Terugiku, whose beauty and seeming optimism mask growing disillusionment. Their internal wounds slowly become apparent: Kikue is having difficulty with her teenage son, Yoshio, who, bitterly embarrassed by his mother’s profession, has stopped attending school and fallen in with a pack of delinquents. Terugiku harbors deep resentment toward her family, especially her alcoholic father, for forcing her to become a geisha to help support them. An attraction develops between Terugiku and Yoshio—in the film’s most moving segment, she takes him on a trip to her family’s impoverished village; there, she instructs him that it’s wrong to be ashamed of and mistreat his mother, who works in her profession only to provide for him and his education. The verisimilitude with which Naruse depicts the geisha existence reaches its apex in the film’s frenetic party scenes, startlingly physical, decadent displays based on the director’s observations of a geisha house near Shochiku Studios.

Apart from You is a moving film though there were a few shots that were awkward as if the director was trying to figure out the medium. These were rare, but glaring errors, which given the power of the whole film, are easily overlooked. Similarly, the hoodlums Yoshio joins seemed like caricatures, but they’re not on screen that much. Both actresses who play geishas were quietly compelling and sympathetic.