Our favorite period dramas: ‘Picture Shows & Petticoats’ ep 8

15 Jul

Miss Wisabus assigned me homework for the latest episode of Picture Shows & Petticoats: narrow down my top ten favorite period dramas.  Much easier said than done.

So I made a list, mournfully scratched a few titles off, and then randomly assigned numbers.  They’re all wonderful and worthy of #1 in their own way.

And since I had to scratch some off, I’m adding them back to my list below for your reading pleasure.

Cranford (Series 1)
2007 mini-series, adapted from the book by Elizabeth Gaskell, starring an all-star ensemble including Judy Dench, Eileen Atkins, Lisa Dillon, Francesca Annis, Philip Glenister, Jim Carter, & Michael Gambon.

What isn’t there to love about Cranford?  The first episode they’ve got you thinking it’s a story that revolves around the authority of Deborah, but as the blossom opens over the next two episodes, you realize it’s a story knit together by Miss Matty’s great capacity for love.  The characters experience grief and find strength and joy in helping others through their own.  Seldom do you find such beautiful performances where loss is concerned.  But Cranford is the whole package.  Not a moment, not a shot, not a sound on screen is wasted.  I love love love this story, and my very favorite performance is from Emma Fielding in the last episode.  I cry with her every time.

Wives & Daughters
1999 mini-series, also adapted from the book by Elizabeth Gaskell, starring an all-star ensemble including Justine Waddell, Keeley Hawes, Francesca Annis, Rosamund Pike, & Michael Gambon.

This is one of my first Masterpiece Classic favorites.  It can be light-hearted and entertaining, but it has moments of intense character vulnerability, family devotion, and friendship.  My favorite scenes in W&D are when Lady Harriet goes to town in Molly’s behalf and when Molly goes to comfort Squire Hamley in his grief.  Oh, they make me wish I lived in Hollingford.  And they also taught me how to correctly pronounce ‘Aimee.’

Enchanted April
1992 movie, adapted from the book by Elizabeth von Arnim, starring an all-star ensemble including Josie Lawrence, Miranda Richardson, & Polly Walker.

The most faithful adaptation I’ve ever seen.  Except even better because on film you can hear the sound of the oboe.  You can smell the flowers and feel the warm Meditteranean water washing over you.  Almost.  Enchanted April is a lesson in love.  The first few hundred times I watched it I was with Mrs. Arbuthnot on it, “Lottie–I can’t keep up!”  But then one day it clicked.  I finally learned a lot from Lottie about what it is to live in a tub of love.  The film is gentle, graceful, and the perfect thing to watch if you need a slower pace and a little peace in your life.  I’ve gone into greater detail about it before.

2003 movie, adapted from the book by Eleanor H. Porter, starring Georgina Terry & Amanda Burton.

If you’ve seen the Disney version, you know the book is set in the deep South.  But if you’ve seen the Disney version, you haven’t really experienced the story in all its glory.  This version is set in period England and is an absolute delight.  You’ll want to wring Aunt Polly’s neck or whack her with a fly pamphlet.  And you’ll wish you could jump through the tv set so you could meet Pollyanna yourself and have her change your life the way she changes everyone else’s.  LOVE that she’s a redhead.  I’m certain they did that on purpose–Aunt Polly’s “redheaded step-child” of sorts.  I’m guessing some sort of Irish in her father’s line that irritated Polly even further (see the Cranford period line about “disease and the Irish”).  I’m also impressed with the gentle faith in this film.  The child leads her elders in the scriptures because she understands that they are for living out…not just listening to sermons.  No offence to Disney, but this Pollyanna is the best.

Pride & Prejudice
1995 mini-series, adapted from the book by Jane Austen, starring Jennifer Ehle & Colin Firth.

I touched on this a little in the vidcast, and I’m certain that Miss Wisabus and I will get around to discussing it further on camera.  This is my favorite Jane Austen film.  I read the book every year (or try to).  I first read it my senior year of high school over the holidays, and it rocked my world.  I had no idea “fancy” books could be so good.  Elizabeth Bennet was everything I wanted to be.  Though so far, no one has made a film that lives up to everything I think it should be.  Miss Wisabus has suggested we should just make it ourselves.

This mini-series gets my vote for the best version of Pride & Prejudice because it is the most faithful to the story itself.  It takes its time and does not rush into sloppy storytelling for the sake of a two-hour time window.  I love the costumes and the sets as well, but I have to hand it to the other version–2005 with Keira Knightley & Matthew Macfadyen–for how well they did everything else.  The use of light and cinematography and music in the 2005 version is tremendously superior.  If only we could take the good from both and blend them together!  I’m not gaga for the casting of Elizabeth in either.  But on the other hand, I have a very hard time choosing which Mr. Darcy I love best–they are both totally fabulous.  This is another one of those I watch when I need a little calm in my life…and I have a whole Saturday to shut myself off from the rest of the world and dive in.  (Like Colin Firth…)

Sense & Sensibility
1995 movie, adapted from the book by Jane Austen, starring Emma Thompson, Hugh Grant, Kate Winslet, & Alan Rickman.

There is so much I love about this film, I hope you will forgive a bit of gushing.  I love Emma Thompson.  I love Alan Rickman.  I love the music and the costumes and the sets and the weather and the cottage with the fire that smoked.  And Elinor in the hallway sipping tea on the stairs while the other female Dashwoods bawl behind closed bedroom doors.  I do not love Willoughby.  I don’t mean the character.  I mean Greg Wise who never finished a sentence with a closed mouth.  As pet peeves go–that drove me totally batty!  But if there is one message in this movie, it’s that there is hope.  There is always hope, and despair is not worthy of us.  It does not deserve to consume our lives.

1995 movie, adapted from the book by Jane Austen, starring Amanda Root & Ciaran Hinds.

(Apparently 1995 was a great year for Jane Austen films.)  This is my favorite Jane Austen book.  And I can tell you why in one sentence:  “You pierce my soul.”  Jane Austen completed this book before she died but did not live to edit it.  Can you imagine writing something that was already so good without any editing?  Her manuscript was one of the two reasons the British Library was on my list of things I must-see in London.  But I digress…

This film is not terribly faithfully adapted, and it is a bit shorter than I would like.  We don’t get a real sense of what Anne’s life at home was like, and we do not get to see the initial courtship and “persuasion” backstory at all.  But I do love Amanda Root and think she is a wonderful Anne.  It’s as if she walked off the pages of the book.  I love Fiona Shaw and adore John Woodvine!  One of my favorite scenes is the conversation between Anne and Captain Harvile about men and women and love–finally someone speaks out about the way of the world!  But the truth is, I love the book so much, it doesn’t matter as much to me what the film version does because I’d rather dive into musty Austen pages rather than a film of it any day.

Little Dorrit
2008 mini-series, adapted from the book by Charles Dickens, starring Claire Foy & Matthew Macfadyen.

As I told Miss Wisabus in the vidcast, I saw this series when it was broadcast and didn’t feel one way or the other about it.  But then I borrowed it from the library and watched it over and over, and the more I watch it, the more I get from it and enjoy it.  I love the characters and their choices and how the performances bring them alive.  It’s full of the silliness and vanity of humankind, but also its tenderness and affection.  There is beauty in ugly places and big time ugly in beautiful places.  The theme music is beautiful.  There is a violent streak in the story–Andy Serkis is pretty stinkin’ scary, and I don’t do well with the murder of people or dogs.  But overall, it will make you think…and it’s a lot of fun to watch.

1996 movie, adapted from the book by Jane Austen, starring Gwyneth Paltrow & Jeremy Northam.

My fabulous cousin introduced me to this movie when I was feeling down, and it chased the blues away.  It’s perky and incredibly entertaining, and Jeremy Northam is terribly handsome.  He can yell at me about Harriet and the farmer any day.

Downton Abbey
2010-present tv series, starring too many amazing actors to name.

If you’ve been living under a rock and need more details, see all of the previous Picture Shows & Petticoats vidcasts and my blog posts on season 2.

An Ideal Husband
1999 movie, adapted from the play by Oscar Wilde, starring Cate Blanchett, Minnie Driver, Rupert Everett, & Jeremy Northam.

What a fabulous story!  I can’t believe I never saw or read this play until a few years ago–I feel my life was terribly deprived.  It’s The Season in London, and ’tis the season for secrets to be revealed…for marriages, friendships and courage to be tested…and for true virtue to triumph.  Minnie Driver is a hilarious treat, and matched up with Rupert Everett, they’re an absolute hoot.

The Scarlett Pimpernel
1982 movie, adapted from the novel by Baroness Emmuska Orczy, starring Anthony Edwards, Jane Seymour, & Ian McKellen.

There are other versions out there, but this one is the best.  My 9th grade English teacher made us watch it…and I’m so glad she did.  Anthony Edwards is hands down the best Pimpernel, and Ian McKellen the best Chauvelin.  Like The Princess Bride, it’s got a lot of cross-gender interest–a knight in shining armor, sword fights, romance, damsels swirling in the life of the king’s court.  This is one I do wish would have gone the mini-series route (like the other version does) so we could have more escapades with the Pimpernel.

The Black Swan
1942 movie, starring Tyrone Power & Maureen O’Hara.

One of the earliest moving pictures made, and a total swashbuckler.  It set the standard for other action adventure movies to follow.  It makes it on my list because it’s period, it features a beautiful and very young Maureen O’Hara, and two very unlikely and opposite characters find love.  If you love Cap’n Jack Sparrow and his Black Pearl, you need to see their grandpappies Cap’n Jamie Waring and the Black Swan.

Amazing Grace
2006 movie, based on the life and work of William Wilberforce, starring Ioan Gruffudd, Romola Garai, Benedict Cumberpatch, Albert Finney, Youssou N’Dour, Michael Gambon, Rufus Sewell, Ciaran Hinds, and more.

One of the most powerful true stories on film.  The life and work of William Wilberforce was not something they taught us in school–either because they only wanted to teach us American history in American History or because the history books are ashamed that it took our country so much longer to abolish slavery than the Brits.  The story makes a lot of flashback and flash-forward jumps, but after a while you get used to the ride.  The deeper you get into the story, the better the cast gets, too.  All I know is, since this movie came out Rufus Sewell has had two tv shows of his own and Benedict Cumberpatch, well…you know.  It’s just a must-see.

The Winslow Boy
1999 movie, adapted from the play by Terence Rattigan, starring Rebecca Pidgeon & Jeremy Northam.

A nice, calm film that’s got a lot of emotion flowing beneath.  So quintessentially British.  It’s a great story about family sacrifice and justice…”Let right be done!”  But the best part of the story is the romance seething beneath the surface that only comes up for air in the last line of the film.  Ah, that Jeremy Northam.  He gets me every time.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

If you haven’t seen these films, proceed immediately to your nearest library or Netflix account to remedy the situation.  Then stop by again and tell me what you think of my favorites…and what your own are.  I don’t mind homework.

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