Very excited for this contemporary adaptation of Eagle of the Ninth, with Channing Tatum and Jamie Bell (who’s now turned into the adult Billy Elliot you see at the end of that film), and Donald Sutherland. It looks compelling, and the battles seem realistic but not too over the top.
And, I didn’t realize it was being released so soon. When I first heard about it (last year), 2011 seemed so far away… Guess I’d better get on with the book before the film arrives.
Every time British people try to go on holiday, the very earth rises up to stop them. This summer it was an Icelandic volcano; this winter it was massive amounts of snow pouring out of the sky. It’s all well and good to be dreaming of a white Christmas, but when it’s preventing you from getting on your plane home and there are 50 people in line ahead of you and they’re all crying, you tend to re-prioritize.
We’d been planning to go to England for the holidays for about six months, to surprise Jey’s parents. This meant six months of rigamarole as all the siblings concocted elaborate ruses about where they’d be, how to get presents to where, and so on. So by the time we’d forcibly fit all of our wrapped gifts into a single suitcase, we were already tired.
Little did we know that a stopover in Dallas to see my parents would turn into a much longer ordeal, and we would yearn for the relative relaxation of battling Christmas crowds full of children flying tiny wireless helicopters.
A map detailing every leg of our journey; click to view at a larger size
Hooray! Colin Firth’s latest film is out now and it’s a perfect addition to the Anglofilmia timeline.
“After the death of his father King George V (Michael Gambon) and the scandalous abdication of King Edward VIII (Guy Pearce), Bertie (Colin Firth) who has suffered from a debilitating speech impediment all his life, is suddenly crowned King George VI of England.
With his country on the brink of war and in desperate need of a leader, his wife, Elizabeth (Helena Bonham Carter), the future Queen Mother, arranges for her husband to see an eccentric speech therapist, Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush). After a rough start, the two delve into an unorthodox course of treatment and eventually form an unbreakable bond.
With the support of Logue, his family, his government and Winston Churchill (Timothy Spall), the King will overcome his stammer and deliver a radio-address that inspires his people and unites them in battle. Based on the true story of King George VI, THE KING’S SPEECH follows the Royal Monarch’s quest to find his voice.”
Well, we’ve successfully moved about 2,000 miles to our new home, and I’m happy to say that means we can actually spend time watching movies (and writing about them) again.
In terms of watching, we’re just about to close out the “Roman Britain” period and enter into “Sub-Roman Britain (Saxons and Normans)”, which is a period that yielded plenty of fascinating stories. Since the film version of “Eagle of the Ninth” isn’t coming out until 2011, I’m reading the 1954 book to fill in some of the gaps between 117 AD, Gladiator (192 AD) and the story of St. Patrick (440s).
And finally, it’s a sad fact that this early in the timeline, relevant movies are sparse, and it’s always a bit painful to have to skip over something when we can’t get ahold of a copy. So I’m also quite pleased to have located a copy of the last film in the Sub-Roman segment, a 1976 BBC teleplay called “Penda’s Fen”.
Like many stories that deal with Britain’s mythological history, it blends contemporary and historical elements, the latter of which qualifies it to represent the 650s AD. If we’d had to skip, it would have been a jump from the 440s to the 800s with nothing in between, which I’m sure we can all agree would have been tragic indeed.
If the name is indelible, the image is blurry. Cleopatra may be one of the most recognizable figures in history but we have little idea of what she actually looked like. Only her coin portraits — issued in her lifetime, and which she likely approved — can be accepted as authentic. We remember her too for the wrong reasons. A capable, clear-eyed sovereign, she knew how to build a fleet, suppress an insurrection, control a currency, alleviate a famine. An eminent Roman general vouched for her grasp of military affairs. Even at a time when women rulers were no rarity she stood out, the sole female of the ancient world to rule alone and to play a role in Western affairs. She was incomparably richer than anyone else in the Mediterranean. And she enjoyed greater prestige than any other woman of her age, as an excitable rival king was reminded when he called, during her stay at his court, for her assassination. (In light of her stature, it could not be done.) Cleopatra descended from a long line of murderers and faithfully upheld the family tradition but was, for her time and place, remarkably well behaved. She nonetheless survives as a wanton temptress, not the last time a genuinely powerful woman has been transmuted into a shamelessly seductive one.
Fascinating, right? Based on the interview and the excerpt, I’m definitely going to buy this book. And you can too, right here at Amazon US or Amazon UK!
I’ve been struggling to write this post for something like two months now. How do you tackle something as complicated and epic as Shakespeare’s King Lear, especially when it’s acted by one of the greatest actors of all time in one of the best performances of his life?
Shakespeare made him famous, but the story of King Lear dates back to pre-Roman Celtic mythology. Leir of Britain was a contemporary of the Biblical prophet Elijah, putting his reign somewhere in the 9th century BC.
(For the record, Leir was also the son of Bladud/Blaiddyd, who built Caervaddon, more commonly known as Bath, where he built the hot springs. Using magic.)
Approximately 2450 years later, William Shakespeare turned his hand to the legendary leader’s tale.
But wait, you say — you don’t know the story of Lear? Allow me to illustrate using the excellent 1984 production, apparently the only one that actually places the performance in an appropriate pre-Roman setting (instead of Shakespearean? Will have to research and amend this post…).
Lear had three daughters and no male heirs, and was living a pretty happy life of power and riches, hanging out with his beloved Fool.
“I love you, Fool.”
But as he approached the end of his 60 year reign, he decided to divide his kingdom between his progeny, so that he could retire and be taken care of by the three, dividing his time between their houses.
Give me the map there. Know that we have divided
In three our kingdom: and ’tis our fast intent
To shake all cares and business from our age;
Conferring them on younger strengths, while we
Unburthen’d crawl toward death.
Cordelia, the favorite
Goneril and Regan, two stone cold ladies
His two eldest daughters Goneril and Regan flatter him unrelentingly, but his youngest and by far the most favorite Cordelia can’t bring herself to speak meaningless words of flattery when her affection for him is so great, and nothing exists for her to compare her love.
Tell me, my daughters,–
Since now we will divest us both of rule,
Interest of territory, cares of state,–
Which of you shall we say doth love us most?
That we our largest bounty may extend
Where nature doth with merit challenge.
And yet not so; since, I am sure, my love’s
More richer than my tongue.
Now, our joy,
Although the last, not least; to whose young love
The vines of France and milk of Burgundy
Strive to be interess’d; what can you say to draw
A third more opulent than your sisters? Speak.
Nothing, my lord.
Lear obviously doesn’t take that blow too well, and casts Cordelia off with no property. Then he gathers up his cohort knights and decides to live in the house of his daughter Goneril. Little does he know that Goneril and Regan both decided he was an old fool, and both ladies team up to force him to reduce his party of knights and submit to their power.
Consumed with impotent rage, he bursts out onto the stormy heath, strips down, and goes mad.
Meanwhile a subplot about a power struggle between an illegitimate son and his father (who gets his eyes gouged out!) has brought about a huge battle, which the British win…but not soon enough to prevent the deaths of 99% of the characters.
King Lear was so amazingly engrossing and dramatic, I’m shocked I’ve never had cause to see or read it before now. And this particular production was astoundingly powerful.
For an audience to buy into the portrayal of a king, the actor has to possess the right mixture of bravado, reckless self-confidence and gravitas. I think Jonathan Rhys Meyers nailed this for The Tudors, and I think a lack of weight was what sank Colin Farrell’s Alexander.
Lear seems to be a definitive role for elderly male actors, the one that gets bragged on or quoted as a kind of proof of authenticity. So seeing Laurence Olivier have his turn is really something special.
The Fool, played by John Hurt, is amazing, and Brian Cox puts in a very convincing Burgundy. (Side note, kinda weird to see him so young in this, having seen him so old in our last film, Troy.)
Now that I’ve been exposed to it, I find myself kind of obsessed with the story. I think the story could easily translate to a contemporary corporate setting, with the relationships, lessons and drama intact.
But even without an update, there exist multiple versions of the play, including Shakespeare’s rough draft and a variety of endings, and there are all sorts of performance variations to check out. Up til the early 1800s the ending was revised into a happily ever after for Lear’s youngest daughter, even seeing her married off to the wrongly-exiled Edmund despite her having married the King of France in Act I.
And there are so many versions out to consume that if I were to pursue them all right now, we’d never move further down the Anglofilmia timeline. I’ll watch the latest version with Ian McKellen, though, and Akira Kurosawa’s Ran, plus a version with Al Pacino due in 2012.
It’s been a long working summer here at Anglofilmia HQ, and our movie-watching has slowed down accordingly. (Though the lapse may also be attributed to the intimidating 3.5 hour running time of our next film, Ben Hur.)
There has been some relevant media-related news trickling through, however.
The film version of Never Let Me Go is due out September 15, although it won’t go into wide release in the UK until January. (Why are they making movies of all the books that have made me cry? I’ve just seen the trailer for Norwegian Wood and I’m not sure my tear ducts are up to it.)
October will see Nowhere Boy, about John Lennon’s youth (also with that super-cute sloe-eyed little boy from Love, Actually as Paul McCartney).
Most excitingly, this discovery came within the first two weeks of the researchers’ three-year landscape survey using new imaging technology, so there’s no telling what other new finds lay on the horizon.
To keep us going in the meantime, I’ve put together a list of the best cameos of Stonehenge in films and television programs.
5. King Lear
To start us off, here’s a little preview of our next film post!
Shakespeare’s “King Lear” is drawn from the myth of Leir of Britain, a pre-Roman Celtic ruler. Most productions of the tragedy costume the players in Elizabethan garb, but Laurence Olivier’s 1987 production for the BBC takes the story back to its source.
A great deal of the action takes place in and around the Stonehenge monument, not just to place the story in its correct prehistoric setting, but to provide a stable center for the story’s swirling points of chaos: the assumed savagery of life on the misty heath, the king’s life amongst battles and political intrigues, and Lear’s mind as he eventually descends into madness.
4. Doctor Who, “The Pandorica Opens”
The penultimate episode of the latest episode of Doctor Who, starring Matt Smith (11th Doctor), Karen Gillan (Amy Pond), Arthur Darvill (Rory Williams) and Alex Kingston (River Song) has a lot of Stonehenge action. (Spoilers to follow, so skip ahead if you haven’t seen it yet.)
Doctor Who has often drawn upon various elements of English history and culture to inform its stories, and “The Pandorica Opens” is no exception. In this episode, the monument is surrounded by Roman legionnaires, though it conceals something far older and with deeper implications for the Doctor and his friends.
3. “Tess of the D’Urbervilles”, 2008
Like Lear, Tess Durbeyfield is a tragic figure. At the conclusion of the Thomas Hardy novel, she and Angel, finally reunited, flee through the misty countryside and come upon Stonehenge. Exhausted by her flight and her trials, Tess rests on a sacrificial alter stone, a victim of the will of the gods or her fatal flaw, neatly tying together the novel’s themes of modern development vs. mankind’s close relationship with the earth, and contemporary religious belief vs. nature-worshipping paganism.
“I don’t want to go any further, Angel,” she said, stretching out her hand for his. “Can’t we bide here?”
“I fear not. This spot is visible for miles by day, although it does not seem so now.”
“One of my mother’s people was a shepherd hereabouts, now I think of it. And you used to say at Talbothays that I was a heathen. So now I am at home.”
2. National Lampoon’s European Vacation
The National Lampoon series of films is the American equivalent of the British “Carry On” movies — colorful, goofy, cheeky slapstick comedies. In European Vacation, the Griswold family stumbles awkwardly around England, France, Germany and Italy, causing chaos and insulting the natives at every turn.
Their visit to England includes a day-long trip around a roundabout and several near-death encounters with Eric Idle, hapless bicyclist. Idle is, of course, unfailingly polite, despite having been run over by a car:
“It’s just a flesh wound, honestly.”
Their visit to Stonehenge goes as well as one might imagine, given the above. Clark Griswold delivers a thoughtful speech about the significance of the venerable rocks and their importance for future generations, before…well, see for yourself.
1. This Is Spinal Tap
Perhaps the only movie on this list to pay an appropriately epic tribute to the monument, at least in theory, This Is Spinal Tap is a biting, hysterical mockumentary about a fictional British rock/metal band, consisting of four of the least self-aware humans to walk this planet.
The Spinal Tap Stonehenge moment is supposedly based on a Black Sabbath stage set that was built to scale, ending up too large to fit inside the building. The scene speaks for itself. Enjoy:
Stonehenge has, naturally, appeared in many films. Here’s a notable few that didn’t quite make the cut for the Top 5…
Night of the Demon: You know that line in the opening of Rocky Horror Picture Show that goes, “Dana Andrews said prunes/Give me the runes”? That’s a reference to this 1957 horror flick. Half Wicker Man, half hard-boiled detective story, this film is one of the more innovative creepy creature features of the era.
Shanghai Knights: A buddy cop flick set in Victorian England with a steampunk twist. Stonehenge has a cameo role here when the two main characters crash a car into it, exclaiming, “Who the hell would put a pile of stones in the middle of a field?”
Stonehenge Apocalypse: A made-for-TV movie about all the mysterious ancient monuments of the world…coming to life? Fighting aliens? Not exactly sure on this one.
We hit the theatre Friday to see the new Christopher Nolan flick Inception, and though I won’t discuss it at length here, may I just say, YES.
I also took away from it the trailer for the new 8-part miniseries of The Pillars of the Earth, based on the wildly popular book of the same name. It wasn’t until I saw this preview that I realized it’s actually set in medieval England, during approximately 1135–1154.
As far as this project is concerned, this is great news; there’s not a ton of stuff set in the Norman period that’s applicable. Our other material is a television series from the early 1990s called “Cadfael”, about a Crusader-turned-monk who solves mysteries, which frankly sounds pretty awesome.
But back to “Pillars” — it’s been recommended to me by people who do know my taste in books, and I actually have the book on my Kindle waiting for me. And though I’m a fast reader, it’s about as long as Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, so there’s no way I’ll manage to read it before the series premiere on July 23, this coming Friday.
Picking up where the schools left off - by watching movies!
We are learning about the whole of British history by watching films sorted into chronological order. In this way, we hope to place history's figures and events into a visual context, for easier understanding and retention. Our comprehension is supplemented by research and reading.
We started with Carl Sagan's Cosmos and films about cavemen, and we'll end with movies set in the future (Brazil, if..., A Clockwork Orange, Children of Men).
We will also be doing a branch of American history films when we reach that point in the timeline.
View our film list and offer us suggestions by commenting or emailing us at lehall-at-gmail-dot-com.