“I went somewhere…America. And you know what? Being a nobody in a country where everybody thinks they can be a somebody, that’s infectious. It’s exciting. I want that, for me. Keep up, Hector.”
Final papers, the holidays, and general end-of-semester concerns have really put a damper on my blogging. Which is sad, but has not stopped the ideas from flowing. So, what I have wanted to say for about three weeks now is…I am really enjoying the new season of The Hour. I’m not completely convinced it got away from its missteps of last season, but it is still very intriguing. And looks gorgeous in HD. And it’s a good way to fill that post-Cloud Atlas, post-Skyfall Ben Whishaw void. (I am more concerned about the world after The Hour ends…next Ben project?!) It premiered last Wednesday on BBC America and will be airing its fourth episode on the BBC this week. Here’s a few reasons why the characters on The Hour have returned rejuvenated:
Freddie: Fresh off touring the world, Freddie returns to The Hour with new confidence and closer than ever to the job he has always wanted. After losing the lead anchor position to Hector early in the first season, Freddie has been called back to co-anchor by the new Head of News (Peter Capaldi). He is not the Mr. Lyon of yesteryear and it reinvigorates the show. Oh, and when Bel decides to show up and “rekindle” her emotional dependency on Freddie, what does she find? Freddie has married a French woman he met on his travels. Yikes. But from his lingering glances at Bel and his new wife’s mood swings, will we soon see Freddie revert to old ways?
Bel: She’s grappling not only with ITV competitors, who want to steal Hector, but also with Bill Kendal of ITV, who wants to steal her heart (maybe). Which is certainly a relief after that embarrassing moment with Freddie. She still cares for Hector, but has clearly lost that loving feeling, as he has slowly descended into his worst drunken tendencies.
Hector: Talk about a reversal of fortunes. Freddie is the confident newsman and Hector can’t be bothered to show up for work. He no longer even keeps up an act with his wife. (She’s even booked her own cooking show, which prompts her to maintain the marriage for outside appearances only.) He is close to being fired and starts off this season’s other dramatic storyline by being accused of assault by a local showgirl.
The strength of The Hour, in my opinion, is with the character work the writers put into the last season. I love spending time with Freddie, Bel, Hector and the rest of the team. It falters more on cultivating its season-long “mysteries” as they tend to start off very broad and tangential before eventually being revealed as tied to our characters. Whereas last season’s tied to Freddie, this season our entry into the seedy El Paradis is brought to us by Hector. Bel (and eventually Freddie) set out to discover why Hector was framed for assault and find a dark underbelly at the club, fueled by police corruption. It is hard to determine how effective this storyline will be before the end, but for now, it suffices.
Meanwhile, dealing with immigrant racism and sexuality issues circulating at the time, as well as the looming figure of Sputnik, are much more adept at fitting in with the character arcs.
New faces: Bill Kendal (Tom Burke), wooing both Hector and Bel at the same time for various reasons. Kiki (Hannah Tointon), the showgirl that’s in a little too deep. Commander Laurence Stern (Peter Sullivan), who has close ties to both Hector (as an informant) and the club. Camille (Lizzie Brocheré), as Freddie’s new wife. And Randall Brown (Peter Capaldi), tired of Hector’s antics and harboring a secret past with Anna Chancellor’s Lix Storm.
The bottom line: The Hour is back and better than ever in the field it does best (characters) and consistent in its ability to drum up some late 1950s mystery.
If we believe that humanity may transcend tooth & claw, if we believe divers races & creeds can share this world as peaceably as the orphans share their candlenut tree, if we believe leaders must be just, violence muzzled, power accountable & the riches of the Earth & its Oceans shared equitably, such a world will come to pass. I am not deceived. It is the hardest of worlds to make real…A life spent shaping a world I want [my son] Jackson to inherit, not one I fear Jackson shall inherit, this strikes me as a life worth the living.
Cloud Atlas, with the combination of huge buzz and Ben Whishaw, was a significant discovery for me; the novel speaks to me on a level that most books cannot, it reached into my own soul and displayed my beliefs on the page. I was not in Toronto yesterday and did not see the film (which is unfortunate since October 26th is too far away) but the generous five minute trailer is enough to make me believe the Wachowskis and Tom Tykwer (Run Lola Run, Perfume) have really translated the core material into a complex, compelling cinematic narrative. In a surprising move, the Wachowskis even talked about the process of getting the film made.
The Wachowskis and Tom Tykwer introduce their five minute trailer:
The trailer itself, massive in scope…
The author, David Mitchell, approves of the script and believes the film could be better than the novel. How rare is that for an author to say? This post mainly serves as a sounding board for my indescribable excitement over the project and its subject matter (and its stars). Ben Whishaw has a tendency to choose projects that simultaneously challenge me intellectually and depress me thoroughly. Ben’s star is ascending, and I hope he finally gets on America’s radar with this and November’s Skyfall. But enough gushing, how about some images/quotes from the novel?
I stopped hoping/predicting Emmy nominations a long time ago because going down that road inevitably leads to disappointment. But foregoing your hopes and dreams allows for another thing: pleasant surprise. Yes, most of the nominations were easily predicable but more so than usual, this year is shaping up to showcase some very deserving ensembles and individuals. One thing I won’t discuss: the snubs. I fear making that list will result in insanity and depression. Forewarning: since my thoughts range from actual having an observation to just “yay!” this is a mishmash of ideas more so than an actual post. For a better breakdown of exactly how this year is surprisingly positive, check out Tim Goodman’s analysis at The Hollywood Reporter.
Downton Abbey: Having returned for a second season to PBS, it was necessary for DA to move from the miniseries category to the drama series category. It took America a year to catch Downton fever, and I am just a little bummed that it happened on a less than stellar season. Nevertheless, I am happy for it to be included. The show even garnered far more acting noms than expected: Hugh Bonneville, Michelle Dockery, Maggie Smith, Joanne Froggatt, Brendan Coyle, and Jim Carter were all nominated. The Brits are already laughing at our outdated obsession.
Mad Men: What do I love about the Mad Men noms this year? Well, Jared Harris for one (who replaced John Slattery in this category). I was a huge fan of Lane this season and while I could sit here and work myself into a fit over how much I think Weiner blundered his storyline, Jared Harris was awesome throughout. He devastated me for well over a week. I was happily surprised by the nomination for Ben Feldman as Michael Ginsberg in the Guest Actor category. His scene where he describes himself as a martian to Peggy is one of the standout moments of the season. And semi-related: Jon Hamm was nominated for Don Draper but he was also nominated for Guest Actor in 30 Rock. I know he doesn’t consider himself a comedian but he never ceases to be hilarious in comedies and on SNL. He may not be able to win for Mad Men, but he was definitely a standout on the 30 Rock live episode.
American Horror Story: Due to what can be deemed downright mischievous, FX submitted AHS as a miniseries, arguing that each season is a self-contained anthology (never mind the fact this was decided after it aired). Due to a sparse field of competition, this has allowed AHS to CLEAN UP. I am very excited to see Denis O’Hare recognized in the Supporting Actor category because he’s awesome.
Sherlock: And speaking of strategies, PBS entered “A Scandal in Belgravia” into contention as an TV movie. Huh? It is a single episode in a continuous series that involves the same principal characters but okay. I can’t really complain too much because I may in fact be rooting for Benedict Cumberbatch in the Lead Actor category far more than anyone else at the ceremony. Martin Freeman also got some love in the Supporting Actor category so I can’t argue with the results of this subterfuge.
The Year of the Creator/Actor?
Girls: Not only was it nominated for Outstanding Comedy Series, but Lena Dunham got nominations for writing, directing, producing and Lead Actress in a Comedy Series.
Louie: Louis CK may have missed out on getting his actual show nominated but he successfully got nods for writing, directing and as Lead Actor in a Comedy Series. Even more impressive? He now holds the record for most nominations for an individual in a single year (7).
Max Greenfield: I know that Zooey Deschanel also got the nomination, but I have to give it up to Max Greenfield for making New Girl one of the funniest new shows on television this year. The evolution of Schmidt was a great thing to watch throughout the season and I am very glad that it was noticed.
Writing in a Comedy Series: Talk about a category that got it completely right. Girls, Parks and Recreation, Louie, and Community (The “Remedial Chaos Theory” episode!!!) all represented. I can’t wait to see what episode picks up the award but they are all so deserving.
The Hour: I just recently devoured the first season of The Hour and adored it so I am sad to see that the series was ignored (or “miniseries” I should say…er) as well as Dominic West and Ben Whishaw. However, Abi Morgan did get a nomination for Outstanding Writing.
Modern Family: I…don’t get it anymore. I watch it and it often makes me laugh but not everyone on the show needs to be nominated particularly since it wasn’t a very strong season. I would nominate Ty Burrell, that’s all folks. Instead of some of the other adults I would also nominate the kid that plays Luke, Nolan Gould, because he makes me laugh more than most of the cast combined.
For God’s sake, let us sit upon the ground
And tell sad stories of the death of kings —
How some have been deposed, some slain in war,
Some haunted by the ghosts they have deposed,
Some poisoned by their wives, some sleeping killed,
All murdered. For within the hollow crown
That rounds the mortal temples of a king
Keeps Death his court…
Unlike most of the schlock that America parades out for summer television, the BBC is debuting new adaptations of Shakespeare’s most prolific history plays: Richard II, 1 Henry IV, 2 Henry IV, and Henry V. I have somewhat promised myself to get through as much of my complete works of Shakespeare as possible this summer and the incentive of these adaptations has certainly helped. And since Prince Hal and Falstaff represent my first experience with Shakespeare (picture a “gifted” class that I attended in fourth grade where my teacher was obsessed with the Battle of Agincourt and Joan of Arc, from what I remember…) I am very excited to revisit these plays in particular.
I entered my viewing of Richard II with much anticipation: it was nearly 2 and a half hours (signifying to me that only a few bits would be excised) and Ben Whishaw, as the titular King Richard, was sure to impress. In fact, the credits were a roster of well-known talent: James Purefoy, David Morrissey, and Patrick Stewart, among other notable faces. And largely, I wasn’t disappointed. On performances alone it was great (save for Tom Hughes as Aumerle…I’m not sure what he was aiming for but it didn’t translate for me). Other than pretty much every monologue by King Richard, I also love John of Gaunt’s (Patrick Stewart) description of England, his glittering praise even making this American wonder at its magnificence:
This royal throne of kings, this sceptered isle,
This earth of majesty, this seat of Mars,
This other Eden, demi-paradise,
This fortress built by Nature for herself
Against infection and the hand of war,
This happy breed of men, this little world,
This precious stone set in the silver sea,
Which serves it in the office of a wall,
Or as a moat defensive to a house,
Against the envy of less happier lands,
This blessèd plot, this earth, this realm, this
Now, on to Ben Whishaw and his portrayal of King Richard. I don’t have much experience with his career (although I watched the first episode of The Hour to get a clearer, non-Shakespearean view) and he is talented, fo sho. As one would hope with a title character, he is the most compelling presence in the adaptation. I am absolutely not an expert on British history so the pampered, almost fairy-like demeanor that Whishaw exudes was in stark contrast to what I pictured when I was reading the play. According to the greatest of all quick Internet sources, Wikipedia, I guess Whishaw was going for a more historically accurate portrayal of Richard II? He “lacked manliness” and most likely had a narcissistic personality disorder, something that must be hard to avoid when you spend your childhood being groomed as king.
I do have a few gripes. First off, the lack of a defined time span didn’t really work for me. In the play, the acts serve as a mental jump for your mind that allows you to insert however many months in between that seem appropriate for the action. Richard must go to Ireland and stay long enough for Bolingbroke to return and amass his army — and more popularity, etc. Without the benefit of these time gaps, and with no indication by what is going on onscreen, it almost looks like Bolingbroke is banished only to return on the same boat the next day. Also, the transitions and staging weren’t the smoothest; this is where adherence to the play was too strict. [Cut to: beach scene; the Welsh force has given up on waiting for Richard’s return.] I just watched Kenneth Branagh’s Hamlet, so I may be coming to this adaptation with too much in the way of innovative expectation. I mean, there is a movie where all of the scenes were fully realized for cinema, versus simply moving the acting from the stage to a few standing sets and shooting locations. I almost signed audibly at the number of times action simply took place on what appeared to be the same beach in Richard II.
And finally, I think the shades inherent in Bolingbroke’s character are lost in translation from page to screen. In the play, he is a bit more murky — he claims he only wants what is rightfully his, but the idea that he might go for the crown is always there, even if it is also only in the back of his own mind. In the film. he says he only wants his due but doesn’t look surprised that Richard so willingly agrees to step aside (once again, things that are a bit clearer when you allow for the movement of time).
BUT, what I value most about this play is the way that Richard II slowly transitions from apathetic and heartless despot into sympathetic and downtrodden former king. That is very much on display in the film. I actually don’t think the play works if you miss out on this, if you don’t get through the majority of it and begin to feel for Richard in his defeat. Ben Whishaw and company aptly demonstrated this reversal of fortune and I had a grand ol’ two and a half hours.