I have yet to see all of the 1959 film with Shelley Winters of the same title, based on the same diary, so I cannot compare the two. But, I can say, that this 2009 BBC production is heartfelt and striking. Anne here, played by Ellie Kendrick, is a robust girl (in personality, not in physicality). She’s no nonsense and has to be reeled in from trouble by her ever-attentive father and her nervous mother. And, trouble is not wise for a teenage girl living in an attic above her father’s former place of business…hiding ever-so-delicately from the Nazis in early 1940s Amsterdam. Trouble here could get her killed. And her entire family and the other family living with them killed. Trouble here is not just usual adolescent rebellion, as it is with most teenagers. Trouble, here, is strictly taboo. So, trying her best to stay out of trouble, Anne has to experience her coming of age without privacy, friends, or any of the outside world. She’s worse off than those around her since they are not restricted as much as she is. Anne is restricted from both the world and also from the natural process of growing up. Kendrick does a superb job of capturing the right amount of adolescent frustration and mixing it with anger at the entire situation. And, the other actors are all top-notch also, especially British TV regular Nicholas Farrell, who plays Albert Dussel, the only non-family member (from both families) in the attic. Dussel and Anne share a small room together and he does his best to deal with his own pain while Anne is acting out. Yes, we all know the ending here, but unlike most movies where the ending is inevitable, the filmmakers do an especially good job of focusing on the characters and not the plot. But, this also adds to the sorrow of the story: the characters, especially Anne, are fleshed out so vividly that when their sad fate comes to a close, it’s all the more poignant and heart-wrenching.

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An excellent Charles Dickens adaptation, given the full BBC treatment in mini-series form. Well acted, well shot and well written, this comes close to, if not surpasses, the wonderful Bleak House adaptation BBC did in 2005. The set designers, art directors, and costumers did such a good job that I really did feel as if I was transported to 1800s London. The story revolves around a young girl, nicknamed “Little” Dorrit since she is her family’s youngest, who holds the key to her family’s hidden potential. Nominated for a plethora of awards (Emmys, Golden Globes, etc.), this adaptation lives up to the long standard the BBC has set in filming famed classics for the small screen. A must!

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Both of these films are masterpieces in historical dramas. Even though produced by BBC both films play as well…over even better…than most historical dramas put on the big screen. Starring Judi Dench as the main matriarchal member of a small Cheshire, England market town that has been slow (if at all) to progress with the times. Dench’s Matty is a spinster who lives with her sister and they, with their friends, control the town more than any mayor or politician could do. What they want, goes. What they say, goes. Over the course of these two great series, the ladies…especially Matty…change. Some die, some get ill, some suffer, some alter their believes about progress. But, all in all, the town of Cranford would not continue to survive and thrive without the ladies of Cranford.

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Albert Finney plays pre-Prime Minister Winston Churchill to a tee in this historical drama done by HBO. Disliked by many of his Parliament cohorts and thought as a buffoon by others, Churchill, in the 1930s, thought he was on his way out…or at least down…of British politics. Enter Hitler and his pesky little brand of Arians who started taking their rampage through Europe…Churchill saw and felt that Hitler needed to be stopped before most other of his counterparts in Parliament. This desire to defeat Hitler before anymore damage was done is what eventually brought Churchill back into the fray of power in Parliament and eventually to THE position of British power, Prime Minister. But, this film, rightfully so, stops before Churchill comes into power. Rightfully so, since this film is more about the MAN…and the marriage between him and Clemmie than about Parliament and politics and war. Excellent performances by both Finney (who really becomes Churchill in every way) and Vanessa Redgrave as Clemmie.

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Created by author Henning Mankell, Kurt Wallander is not your typical police detective. He’s dirty, he smells, he’s a bad family man, he’s practically suicidal at times…and he looks awful all the time. But, he is good at what he does…it is by far what he does best…solve crimes. The crimes nag at him, infest his person, enter his soul and will not leave until they are solved. To say he takes things personally is a true understatement. Sure, Frost and Morse are both grumpy, unkempt at times and lacking in social skills, but compared to Wallander, Morse/Frost would be your favorite cuddly grandpa. And, these BBC/PBS productions are so skillfully done, they really get into the mind of Wallander. We can almost feel his pain and his angst. We are right along with this daughter as she pleads with him to eat and sleep. Branagh is perfectly cast as Wallander…he is not afraid, here, to let anything show…he is completely exposed. Most actors wouldn’t be able to do this…even if they could. The stories are your average crime fare. What makes the series as great as it is is the character Wallander and Branagh’s portrayal.

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To be honest, I’m not a Dickens fan. His stories are too dark and his characters get weighed down with a lot of murky dialogue and subplots. So, when I heard about all of the attention the 2005 BBC version of Bleak House was getting, I was apprehensive. After it was nominated for a slew of Emmys, I decided to give it a try. And, I sure was surprised…pleasantly so. At over seven hours total (each of the three discs contains five, half-hour (or so) episodes), I started out being daunted by the time commitment alone. But, the episodes flew by as I became more and more entrenched in the world Dickens’ created in 19th Century England. In this case, though, Mr. Dickens probably deserves only a share (a large one) of the credit. The filmmakers of this production do a superlative job of keeping the storylines straight and making sure we know all of the characters, from their dispositions to their importance in the story, right from the start. It’s also shot so we can spot a place where “bad” things are destined to happen…places filled with little light and black, gray backgrounds are filled with evil characters doing evil deeds. For example, the law offices of Mr. Tulkinghorn are shown often during the day but there is a somber, grayish tint, matching the dastardly ways of the man who works there. The story is pretty simple (though that is usual for a Dickens novel)…two “wards” from a family which has been long embroiled in a messy, complicated court battle head to the country house of their guardian, along with a companion. Ok, there is more to it than just this case, but everything in the story…every character, every revelation, every death…stems from the this lawsuit. Trust me, once you start watching, you will be riveted and feel compelled to give Dickens (his novels, that is) another try. Don’t blame me when you do!

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Rupert Everett adds his name to the lengthy list of men who have played the Arthur Conan Doyle classic detective. Here, Sherlock Holmes starts off this case on a sour note with a look into his habitual and problematic drug use. Watson, his pal and partner-in-crime (played here by British actor Ian Hart), tries his best to pull Holmes out of the addiction but when it comes right down to it, what gets Holmes clean is the work. The work of crime and investigating and putting all the investigating together to solve the case. The case, in this instance, is the murder of a series of young women, all from affluent families, who are found with different clothes on and a silk stocking lodged in their throats. Holmes and Watson begin on the trail of plodding and prodding until they find their man or woman. The relationship of the two men is key here, as it always was in the Doyle books and the subsequent many, many movies based on the character of Holmes. Without convincing chemistry between Holmes and Watson, the story is almost guaranteed not to work. Thankfully, here it does work.

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