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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If you ever are tempted to commit a crime, watch this. I say this, because this British mini-series is, I would say, the strongest piece of material I’ve ever seen or heard of that covers each aspect of the criminal justice system…from police station to trial. But, the accused here, Ben Coulter, does NOT commit a crime. He, which you know from the beginning so I’m not ruining anything, is an innocent victim. Yes, he had a one-night-stand with a strange lady he had just met. Yes, he drank WAY too much. And yes, passed out in her kitchen after having consensual sex with her. After he wakes up and finds her stabbed to death, he panics and flees the scene, has a car accident, where the police are called and eventually find out Ben was the one in the dead girls’ house. We (the audience) know he did not do this. But, the police, lawyers, judges, fellow inmates, and even his parents are not so sure. The evidence is overwhelming. The coincidences are just too insurmountable. He just HAD to have done it, right? Well, step-by-step, each of the pieces is chipped away as the wheels of Lady Justice roll on. Even though the story is set in England, the same principles apply…justice, for all its merits, moves slowly and is not above imperfection.

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An excellent, compelling British drama about what-ifs: what if I had left the restaurant two minutes earlier…what if I had taken a different road…what if I had gone slower. All of the what-ifs here pertain to a car crash on a motorway, as the British call them, and the people who were all involved in it. Told in flashbacks all stemming from the present where a senior and very troubled police detective is investigating the crash…its origins, its causes, its motives. One of the drivers fled the crash scene and there is an abundance of confusing evidence of why and how the crash began, so the detective has a lot to sort through. And, as he does, he “imagines” or flashes back to what might have been going on at different points, with the passengers of the different cars of the crash. These flashbacks really do the job of immersing the audience into the lives of each of the drivers and passengers. We get attached to these people. We want them to be good. We want them to survive…both figuratively and literally. Excellently acted, this is one of the strongest television dramas I’ve seen in a while. A must see!

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As an Anglophile, I guess my most deep, dark fantasy (no, NOT that kind) is that I will find out that I was switched at birth…and that my real parents are British! Trust me…this is not an insult to my American parents. They would be MORE than happy to trade me to an unsuspecting couple across the pond. But, alas, my fantasy is just that…fiction. Well, in this novel, the first by stand-up comedienne/actress Alison Larkin, the main character, Pippa, is raised by British adoptive parents in England but finds out that her biological parents are truly American. This immediately makes sense to Pippa, since she’s always considered herself something of an American-phile but most importantly, she is NOTHING like most the British people around her. This information propels Pippa on a quest to find her true identity and the reasons for all of her non-British idiosyncrasies. Larkin, herself, is a biological American and adoptive Brit, so the story resonates very true. Larkin’s writing style is sharp and witty and Pippa is a truly engaging and highly enjoyable character. We want her to be happy…whether in America or England. For me, I will just keep searching for that one day when I find my true parents…and I’m able to go home where I belong…England! Sorry mom and dad.

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Escape into the world of the early 20th Century English Countryside with Noël Coward’s Easy Virtue, an enchanting romp of manners, moral conduct and forbidden love. Fun from the first scene, playwright Coward writes a taut, clever piece here, that is dazzled up for the big screen with a strong cast and a beautiful setting. British period piece stalwarts Colin Firth and Kristin Scott Thomas shine as the patriarch and matriarch of a dizzy, dysfunctional family, the Whittakers. Mrs. Whittaker tries desperately to keep her family proper, which is a task that seems impossible at times and the entire family spends most of its time trying to live up to the expectations their stern, rigid mother has set for them. Case in point, her son, John, brings home an American widow, Larita, as his new wife and the mother has to find a way to accept this sophisticated yet unrefined woman into her household. Or, better yet, John has to find a way to shield Larita from his mother’s tyrants and constant quibbling about the fact that Larita is less than ready for British country society. Constant banter from mother, son, wife and the whole gaggle of Whittakers provides non-stop entertainment.
Jessica Biel as Larita could be seen as an unconventional choice. But, Biel lives up to the Larita that Coward himself might have envisioned. She is playful and sweet, without being too over-the-top. Her frustration with her mother-in-law’s acceptance of her seems convincing, though Biel’s Larita does not in any way give in to Mr. Whittaker’s demands and streaks of terror. Kristin Scott Thomas shines here as the dominating, over-bearing mother. Out of major filmmaking for a time, Thomas made several recent films in France, though she is best known for her work in The English Patient, for which she was nominated for an Academy Award® for Best Actress. Colin Firth, in my opinion, steals the show here, as the gruff, unruffled, disheveled, recently resurfaced father. His character has a seemingly small role, but it is intricate to the plot and Firth makes it so when Mr. Whittaker is on screen, you cannot notice anything else…which for the nutty, whirlwind behavior of this family is saying something. The soundtrack adds not only to the time period, but to the franticness of the antics…altering lively, modern tunes into 1920s-style rhythms.
All-in-all, a fun, exciting two hours in the English Countryside…with some quirky characters along for the ride.

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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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GREAT series with a stodgy superior detective who’s assistant seems always to be wrong and/or one step behind. Yes, it’s similar to Morse and Lynley, but the rural setting and the clever dialogue make this one stand-out among the others. I really like the rapport between the senior detective Barnaby and his always second-fiddle Sergeant Troy. For those who love British detective shows, this one is a MUST SEE!

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Taking over the role of “mentor” detective, Lewis returns sans Morse after being widowed and taking a long holiday to drink a lot and forget. Once back in Oxford, he is partnered with a new sergeant (a little less naive than Lewis used to be with Morse, but still pretty green) and they begin protecting Oxford from all things nefarious. The one major difference here between this show and Morse is that the new assistant, Hathaway, is the more cultured, educated one…taking those reins from Morse. Lewis is once again, usually a step behind. So, even though he is Hathaway’s mentor, once could also say Hathaway teaches Lewis a lot too. Excellent stories and wonderful acting really round out this series as a winner. I thought for sure I would be lost without Morse. Yes, Oxford is different without the old guy, but Lewis is a more than capable replacement.

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