Casanova mini-series (2005)

David Tennant as Casanova

Oddly enough, there were two versions of Casanova brought to the screen in 2005. The better-known of the two is the lavish movie starring Heath Ledger – I have seen this film, a couple of years ago now, but remember finding it a bit disappointing as a drama, although Ledger was great and I enjoyed the Venetian settings, costumes etc. I should really give it a second try. Anyway, I’ve just belatedly watched all of  the three-part BBC mini-series made the same year, starring David Tennant, Peter O’Toole and Rose Byrne – I’d only seen bits and pieces up to now – and just wanted to write a short posting to say I loved this irreverent version of the story. It isn’t exactly what I’d usually think of as a costume drama, since the characters are very much modern people in 18th-century dress, and the language is very 21st-century too, full of contemporary slang and teasing references to the present day. But I found it  seductively enjoyable – and, perhaps surprisingly given the subject matter, I felt it was ultimately about romance rather than sex.

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It often frustrates me that so many TV adaptations of literary classics made in the 1960s and 70s aren’t available to be seen – so I was interested to see a news story in The Daily Telegraph about the rediscovery in the BBC archives of a version of Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina first broadcast in 1961, starring Claire Bloom as Anna and a pre-Bond Sean Connery as Vronsky. This is being released on DVD in the UK next month. It was released on DVD in the US last year, so the master tape must have been found in the archives slightly longer ago than is being claimed in news reports. Anyway, I think it’s exciting to see a 1960s BBC drama being released, and am now hoping the same might happen for some of the other goodies which still exist – there are several older BBC adaptations which are available to see on a computer monitor if you visit the BFI mediatheque in  London, so there must be a hope that some of these could turn up on DVD in the future if there is enough interest!

Andrew Buchan and Alun Armstrong in Garrow's Law, returning this autumn

Despite all the cutbacks to TV drama, there are some exciting period dramas still coming up – so I thought I’d do a little round-up of what is in store this autumn and winter.  Goodies coming up in the UK include ITV’s major drama Downton Abbey, which is scripted by Julian Fellowes of Gosford Park fame and set in a great country house in 1912 – the amazing cast is headed by Dame Maggie Smith and Hugh Bonneville. This series already has an unofficial fansite.

Also coming up on ITV1 is what I believe is the last drama written by great scriptwriter Alan Plater before his recent death, Joe Maddison’s War, a two-hour film which stars Kevin Whately as a shipyard worker in the Second World War. Sir Derek Jacobi and Melanie Hill are also in this one and it was reportedly filmed on location in Newcastle earlier this year, so hopefully will turn up during the new season.

Also due to be shown this autumn is the second series of the BBC’s 18th-century legal drama  Garrow’s Law , currently filming in Scotland – I’m a fan of this series, starring Andrew Buchan, Alun Armstrong and Lyndsey Marshal, so it is another one I’m really looking forward to.

The BBC is also currently filming an adaptation of Michel Faber’s bestselling novel The Crimson Petal and the White, set in 1870s London and focusing on a secret relationship between a businessman and a young prostitute – this is being filmed in Liverpool and it has been reported that the cast is headed by Richard E Grant and Gillian Anderson. It’s directed by Marc Munden who made Channel 4’s Civil War series The Devil’s Whore.

BBC2 has a one-off drama coming up this autumn called Christopher and His Kind, adapted from writer Christopher Isherwood’s memoir of the same name and looking at his life in Berlin in the early 1930s which inspired Cabaret – filming on this was done in May and June in Belfast. Matt Smith, the current star of Doctor Who, plays Isherwood, with Toby Jones and Lindsay Duncan also starring.

Lindsay Duncan is also among the cast for two-part BBC2 drama The Sinking of the Laconia, a wartime drama scripted by Alan Bleasdale about an armed British vessel sunk by a German U-boat – Andrew Buchan stars in this too, as well as Brian Cox. There are also dramas coming up on BBC2 about the making of Coronation Street (really strange that this one isn’t on ITV, which has been showing the series for 50 years!) and the early years of TV comedy legends Morecambe and Wise, with Victoria Wood cast as Morecambe’s mum.

I’m not sure whether you’d call this next one a costume drama or sci-fi – a cross between the two, I suppose! Mark Gatiss has adapted HG Wells’ classic The First Men in the Moon for BBC Four, and also stars as  Edwardian scientist Professor Cavor. BBC Four also has an adaptation by William Ivory of DH Lawrence’s The Rainbow and Women in Love coming up, melded together under the title The Sisters, starring Rosamund Pike and Rachael Stirling. Another classic being adapted for BBC Four is John Braine’s Room at the Top – I don’t know who is starring in this one.

I don’t think Channel 4 has announced its new season line-up yet but hopefully may have one or two period dramas in store too.

Stratford upon Avon

Al fresco entertainment at Shakespeare's Birthplace. Picture by my husband, Paul

This is slightly off-topic for a costume dramas blog, but I just wanted to say that I had a great time in Stratford upon Avon – we were actually staying  just outside in a small village, which was probably just as well, as Stratford itself is rather overwhelming!  Since I was a tourist myself I’m clearly not in a position to complain about the tourists (though I did briefly live in the area as a child, in Henley on Arden, so maybe I can claim a local link), but the sheer numbers made it difficult to get around the town at times.

I didn’t actually look round the Birthplace Museum, as the queues were enormous, but my husband and daughter, Charlotte, did brave it while I took my son to a local butterfly museum, which we thoroughly enjoyed. Charlotte thought it was too focused on audio-visual items rather than letting her stop and see the First Folio, but the gardens were nice and they enjoyed watching a couple of  actors putting on an al fresco show.

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Twelfth Night (1996)

I’ve just got back from a week’s holiday near Stratford upon Avon. While staying there, I was lucky enough to see two excellent RSC productions, of The Winter’s Tale and As You Like It – and, keeping up the Shakespearean theme, also watched a DVD of Trevor Nunn’s movie of Twelfth Night.  This must be one of my favourites out of the modern films of Shakespeare that I’ve seen, and it would be interesting to know how much is taken from Nunn’s stage productions.

Nunn’s version of Illyria looks visually sumptuous, with turbulent Cornish seascapes and beautiful countryside, while the costumes seem vaguely Victorian rather than Elizabethan. The music, by Sean Davey, adds to the haunting atmosphere. I was surprised at the way the film starts with the play’s “back story”, of the shipwreck – and the startling glimpse of Steven Mackintosh as Sebastian and Imogen Stubbs as Viola both dressed as women, taking part in an on-board entertainment. This seems to have been included to emphasise the play’s element of cross-dressing and to balance against the scene near the end where the two are seen both dressed identically as men.

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Quick note

Just to let anyone visiting my blog know that I won’t be online much for a few days as I’m going on holiday, so if you leave me a comment it might take a little while to appear. Your visits are much appreciated nonetheless!

Little Women (1978)

I’ve been meaning to write a posting about the 1970 BBC production of Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women, which was the first TV costume drama I remember watching. I’ve managed to get hold of that series on VHS and do still intend to write about it soon – but have been distracted from that aim by getting the chance to watch the 1978 mini-series starring Susan Dey as Jo, Meredith Baxter-Birney as Meg and William Shatner as Friedrich Bhaer, which someone has kindly posted on a very popular video streaming website. I hope to be just in time to include this in the William Shatner blogathon, Shatnerthon, over at Stacia’s blog She Blogged by Night, though you will have to read to the end of this piece for the stuff about Shatner’s performance!

I wasn’t quite sure what to expect, and at the start, looking at the vivid colours and the 1970s feeling to it all, feared it might be too sugary – especially after seeing the picture on the DVD cover! That wasn’t the case, however. I loved it and now hope to buy the import region 1 DVD so I can watch it all over again – and compare it with other versions. Little Women was one of my favourite books as a child and I read it countless times, so I know the story well. This version mainly stays fairly close to the book, but makes some interesting shifts in emphasis and sometimes dramatises conflicts between characters which are kept under the surface in the book. Screenwriter Suzanne Clauser and director David Lowell Rich aren’t afraid of powerful emotions and at times there are heart-wrenching scenes, but I thought it only rarely tipped over into sentimentality.

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