Mike Kueber's Blog

November 6, 2016

Saturday Night at the Movies #151 – The Crown

Filed under: Movie reviews,Uncategorized — Mike Kueber @ 11:10 pm
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The Crown was released on Netflix this week, and I binged its ten episodes this weekend.   As a British period film, it was recommended for Downton Abbey fans, and that certainly includes me.

The first season of The Crown centers on post-war Great Britain and Queen Elizabeth II for the first ten years after her 1947 marriage.  Five additional seasons covering approximately a decade each are already planned.

Because Downton Abbey is still fresh on my mind, it was impossible not to compare the two.  Indeed, after watching the first episode, I made the following comment to a friend:

  • I watched first episode, too, and although I like the King, Phillip, and Elizabeth, the cast of interesting people needs to be bigger.  I saw 2 or 3 former Downton characters, like I usually do when watching a British show.

But subsequent episodes in Season One did not expand the cast significantly.  Yes, we get to know Winston Churchill and Princess Margaret, but everything revolves around Elizabeth and her relationships with her father King George VI and his husband Prince Phillip.  And her dominance among the cast is OK because this is not an ensemble movie; rather, it is about the crown that has fallen on Elizabeth’s head.

Elizabeth is played marvelously by Claire Foy.  Although the modern world now knows the Queen as a dowdy, matronly woman, old photos reveal an attractive woman, and Foy is certainly that.  And she projects warmth and good judgment.  Those traits might seem to complement each other, and they would in a normal life of an English countrywoman, but because the crown fell on Elizabeth’s head so young, she is often torn between doing the right thing as a warm, sensible countrywoman (which she was) and the right thing for a monarch (which she is learning to be).

Of course, my nature is to question formality and tradition, so my inclination is to side with Elizabeth’s uncle King Edward VIII, who abdicated the crown for love, and her sister Princess Margaret, who had similar romantic issues.  But I couldn’t help but admiring Elizabeth for deciding that a thriving Monarchy was sometimes more important than satisfying her personal preferences.

After my second day of viewing, I wrote the following to my friend:

  • I watched five more episodes yesterday, and they kept me watching, despite the mundane, pedestrian content.  I almost believe the life of a queen is a burden that the woman would prefer not to assume, although surely Lady Mary of Downton Abbey would have loved it.  The Queen seems to be a bit like Forest Gump, always around the big events, and even plays a larger role than expected.  Obviously, the Diana years in later seasons will be fascinating.

I’m sure that subsequent seasons will further present conflicts between common sense and thinking like a monarch.  And examine how a monarch gets involved, but not too involved with the politicians.  If the Earl of Grantham sometimes felt besieged in trying to keep Downton Abbey viable, I’m sure Elizabeth would say that is child’s play compared to saving the Monarchy.

As an American, I don’t really appreciate the Monarchy and I don’t know why Brits would want to subsidize the modern British Royal Family.  Perhaps I will learn this in subsequent seasons.  Can’t wait.

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April 5, 2015

Saturday Night at the Movies #145 and Sunday Book Review #155 – Downton Abbey

Filed under: Book reviews,Movie reviews — Mike Kueber @ 4:19 pm
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Downton Abbey (2010-2015) is a BBC series that was imported to America by PBS. It recently finished its fifth season and announced that its sixth season will be its last. As with Pride & Prejudice, it is about the landed gentry in Great Britain, but it occurs in the early 1900s, while P&P occurred in the early 1800s. Another similarity with P&P is that both involve a family of daughters, which means that the family will lose its “entailed” estate to a distant male relative. A dissimilarity is that P&P focused almost exclusively on the family and its neighbors while Downton Abbey focuses as much on the lives of the servant class and its interaction with the gentry class.

What I love about Downton Abbey is the writing (so witty) and the acting (superb). Some of the DVDs include special sections that describe the wonderful production values. The Rotten Tomato critics score the five seasons at 95%, 100%, 78%, 69%, and 80%. The audience is a bit less erratic – 93%, 94%, 86%, 76%, and 83%. I loved all five seasons with four stars out of four, but Season Three with Matthew and Mary was the best.

Based on my earlier fascination with Pride & Prejudice, I went on to read an annotated edition of Jane Austen’s book and Deborah Moggach’s wonderful script for the 2005 movie adaptation of the book. Since then, I have become just as fascinated by Downton Abbey, and was fortunate to find both the script and definitive annotations for Seasons One and Two in two books in the San Antonio Public Library. A similar book for Season Three is scheduled for publication later this year in December.

These script books contain the definitive annotations because they are provided by the series’ creator and writer, Julian Fellowes. He explains not only historical context, but also why the characters act as they do and say what they do. It is also interesting to learn about how filming deviates from the script and how the actors have as much control over character development as the creator and writer of the series. Not as interesting are the numerous references to incidents in Fellowes’s life that prompted him to create similar incidents in the series.

Downton Abbey is special to most people because of the characters and their relationships, and these books are invaluable in bringing greater depth of understanding to the viewers and readers.