Thursday, January 3, 2013

Of 'Downton' and 'The Hour' Brits, Brody, Caitlin Moran & Abe Lincoln

Cheerio and good day! I trust you all had a Happy Christmas and a bloody good time of it on New Year's . . . aw, forget it . . . there's no way I can maintain a cartoonishly dodgy British accent for the length of this sentence, never mind this entire post. Why the feeble attempt? I've come down with a terrible case of Brit fever over the past few weeks.

From a comedic literary romp through modern femininity, to a 1920s English manor, a 1950s British TV newsroom and the outstanding work of U.K. native Damian Lewis playing a U.S. war hero-turned terrorist-turned double agent in Homeland and another Londoner portraying one of the most storied U.S. presidents, I've been positively awash in English pop culture, when I'm not listening to Adele tunes that is.

Here's a little taste of the U.K. pop culture nuggets that have been whetting my whistle as of late:

The Hour

After watching and reviewing the first season of the BBC's The Hour last year, I'm now engrossed by season two which is about to wrap up its second season on BBC America. (You could watch season one and season two DVDs -- the second one is available for sale on Jan. 8 -- or catch both seasons via Amazon Instant Video.)

Set in the 1950s in a BBC television newsroom, The Hour's like a more down-to-earth, hybrid of Mad Men and a humble cousin of HBO's The Newsroom (meaning no one's a walking, talking, eloquently elitist, pompous, inhuman speech-making machine). The Hour's chief protagonists include the program's doggedly tenacious producer Bel Rowley (Romola Garai), the brilliant yet brittle reporter/on air talent Freddie Lyon (Ben Whishaw) and the ruins of the internally smoldering anchorman Hector Madden (Dominic West) who's haunted by his war time experiences.

During its sophomore season, the gang has been bustling around trying to expose an organized crime ring which blackmails famous and influential Brits who can't keep it in their pants. Color me besotted with this cool period period sans an anti-hero like Don Draper (though I'd wager that Don would take quite the shining to Ms Rowley before dumping her as he did with other smart, professionally driven women like Rachel Menken and Faye Miller).

Downton Abbey

First, a beef, which shall be written in all caps so feel free to interpret it as me yelling in a coarse manner as I knit my brow and attempt to fashion a menacing look:


. . . there, now I feel a tad better as I float along on the bubbles of anticipation having just re-watched the season two finale of the Masterpiece Theater melodrama Downton Abbey and anxiously await the start of the new season this weekend. When last the American viewers left off, it was 1920 and Downton's star-crossed lovers were in a warm embrace amid the snowflakes as poor Mr. Bates sat in a jail cell having been found guilty of murder. (In fact, I think his name should officially be changed to "poor Mr. Bates." Indeed.)

As we approach the season premiere on PBS this Sunday, we Downton fans are girding ourselves to watch as a brash American blasts through the Downton doors in the person of Shirley MacLaine, playing Cora's (Elizabeth McGovern) rich, uncouth mother. I cannot wait to not only watch the proper Earl of Grantham (Hugh Bonneville) run up against American sensibilities in the guise of his mum-in-law and witness the Dowager Countess (Maggie Smith) bristle at American audacity.

While I'm hoping we see more of the rebellious, pregnant Lady Sybil (Jessica Brown Findlay) and her socialist Irish hubby, the love story between Lady Mary (Michelle Dockery) and Matthew Crawley (Dan Stevens) is the beating heart of the series and I am interested in how their relationship will progress after such a protracted, tremulous separation.

Then there's poor Mr. Bates. *sigh*


*Warning, spoilers from season two finale of Homeland ahead.*

Brit Damien Lewis absolutely wowed me with his thoroughly American depiction of the troubled former POW-terrorist-Congressman-CIA asset-Carrie Mathison's lover-dude on the run. I'm still not sure where his character, Nick Brody's loyalties lie even after watching the season two finale twice after it grabbed me by the collar and made me say, "What?! . . . No way!"

Is Brody essentially a good guy who was truly broken by his brutal torture and emotional abuse while in captivity? Does he really want a fresh start now that his captor/collaborator is dead? Or is his just playing Carrie (Claire Danes) in order to save his hide or to perhaps attack on another day?

It was genius for the writers to allow Carrie and Brody to not only hook up again, but to afford her the chance to doubt his sincerity again (when she drew the gun on him) as well as to prove to her superiors that her instincts were spot-on when it came to her declaration that he'd been turned while in captivity. The show's premise was, by the end of the season two finale, wiped clean, like Brody had told Carrie he wanted his life to be . . . until his suicide video was released and his name was publicly tarnished.

Cannot even imagine what is ahead for season three. It's been a wild ride thus far. You can watch episodes on iTunes or on Amazon Instant Video.


In addition to seeing The Hobbit with our kids during the Christmas vacation (as I kept texting my husband, "How LONG is this movie?!" and was thankful I'd caffeinated up beforehand), I was fortunate enough to have recently been able to see Lincoln in the theaters as well.

Watching the excellent work of London-born Daniel Day-Lewis as he brought an American president to life, the film made politics appear to be a flesh-and-blood human endeavor, full of flawed acts and flawed people, sprinkled with compassion, righteousness and, at times, morality

Set during the small window of time when President Lincoln was attempting all manner of strong-arming congressmen -- lame duck and otherwise -- to pass a Constitutional amendment to end slavery, Day-Lewis' Lincoln was a bit full of himself, a blowhard if you will who liked to spin a yarn regardless of whether you wanted to hear it. He was also depicted as someone who was willing to use federal appointments and governmental favors as tools to achieve the larger good of liberating people from enslavement even if it meant that the Civil War went on longer.

For all the dirty underbelly of the horse-trading that goes on behind the scenes, Lincoln was humane and focused. As movie-goers observed the lengths the president had to go to force the 13th Amendment to passage so it could ultimately be ratified by the states, one could only hope that our current leaders have such noble aspirations in mind when they are forced to squabble in the mud over things like fiscal cliffs and debt ceilings.

The New York Times' David Brooks wrote an excellent column about the film, in which he said:

"The movie portrays the nobility of politics in exactly the right way. It shows that you can do more good in politics than in any other sphere. You can end slavery, open opportunity and fight poverty. But you can achieve these things only if you are willing to stain your own character in order to serve others -- if you are willing to bamboozle, trim, compromise and be slippery and hypocritical.

. . . The challenge of politics lies precisely in the marriage of high vision and low cunning. [Steven] Spielberg's Lincoln gets this point. The hero has a high moral vision, but he also has the courage to take morally hazardous action in order to make that vision a reality."

It's a must-see for anyone who longs to look at an American politician, albeit one played by a man born across the pond in a film, and feel proud.

How To Be A Woman

I devoured British newspaper columnist Caitlin Moran's best-selling, profane, butt-kicking feminist tome How To Be A Woman in a handful of days over the Christmas break. It was thought provoking, funny and fearless. Mostly, it was fearless and in-your-face. That's what I liked the most about Moran's musings as she heaped self-deprecating humor into the mix while saucily taking on issues like the asinine grooming habits of modern women, sex, sexism, porn, women in pop culture, cosmetic surgery and motherhood.

It is a breezy read that is not for the faint of heart, or those who take umbrage at profanity, say, like the Dowager Countess for example. Lady Sybil, however, would likely have gotten a big kick out of reading it.

Image credit: Amazon.

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