Drama Other than Shakespeare

Therese Raquin

A-Theresa RaquinZola Novel Vividly Dramatized in Vintage Miniseries 

   Just as—or maybe because—a dramatic adaptation of Emile Zola’s first successful novel “Therese Raquin” is opening on Broadway, Acorn has released on DVD the 1979 miniseries, seen back then on Masterpiece Theatre. This is the  depressing tale of a woman, Therese Raquin (Kate Nelligan) utterly bored with her childish and lifeless husband Camille (Kenneth Cranham), his overly doting mother (Mona Washbourne) with whom Therese runs a small shop, and the same set of friends who gather every week at the Raquins to play dominoes.

One can really feel for Therese, at least at first! When Camille’s friend Laurent (Brian Cox) visits, there is immediate sexual attraction between him and Therese; and a long affair begins (with scenes that were quite shocking for American television back then). It is notable that Zola wanted to show “the brute” in people; and Nelligan’s imitating a cat in bed dramatizes perfectly Zola’s concept.

There is an unforgettable scene at the Morgue, where the naked bodies of recent victims are laid out on tables for the public to identify or simply gawk at. People as brutes and then as meat. Pure Zola.

Emile Zola at an older age

The killing of the husband is a bungled affair and the rest of the drama shows the disintegration of the lovers’ relationship. (I can surely reveal this much, since it is inevitable.) The acting is what makes this a remarkable dramatic offering. Here I must mention Alan Rickman in a secondary role as an artist friend of Laurent.

The picture shows its age, especially during dark scenes, and the subtitles are most welcome. Each of the three episodes runs 51 minutes.

Drama Other than Shakespeare

A Gripping Miniseries Comes from Australia: “A Place to Call Home”


A Gripping Miniseries Comes from Australia

A-Place to Call HomeIt is 1953 and Nurse Sarah Adams (Marta Dusseldorp) is aboard ship on her way back to Australia. By chance, she saves the newly married James Bligh (David Berry) from suicide. This triggers the actions and reactions that make “A Place to Call Home” such a gripping miniseries, yet another superlative one from Australia. Series 1 is now available in a 4-DVD set from Acorn Media.

Never have I become so involved with the characters of a series, mainly because of its many types of conflicts that are still with us.. But first, a look at the Bligh family. The matriarch, Elizabeth (Noni Hazlehurst), has two children: George (Brett Climo), a widower, and Carolyn, a free-living “black sheep” of the family. George’s two children are Anna (Abby Earl), who is in love with a wine-farmer’s son, Gino (Aldo Mignone); and the aforementioned James, who is trying to run from his homosexuality.

The saddest character is Olivia (Arianwen Parkes-Lockwood), who was manipulated into marrying James without knowing his problems. In short, every single member of that family is under the influence of Elizabeth, who is a villain of Euripidean proportions, including her weaknesses.

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It is hard to believe that this sweet looking Noni Hazelhurst could be so evil in this series

Outside the family, among others, are Dr. Jack Duncan (Craig Hall), who hires Sarah and who has some sort of past relationship with Elizabeth; and the nosey Doris Collins (Deborah Kennedy), who does what she can to dig up any dirt about Sarah. George’s sister-in-law, Regina (Jenni Baird), who has always loved him, shows up later to plot with Elizabeth against Sarah, cost what it will.

Sarah, after being rejected by her mother for converting to Judaism, goes to Inverness to work as a nurse and runs afoul of Elizabeth, who is afraid that Sarah will reveal what happened aboard the ship. Anna’s affair with Gino has to remain clandestine. Both George and Jack find themselves increasingly attracted to Sarah. Complications next to and within more complications.

One character describes the Blighs as “the closest we have to royalty.” The main themes are treated seriously and by 1953 standards. Many of the townsfolk are anti-Semtitic, homosexuality is considered “curable,” and Marilyn Monroe is a “loose” woman, whose films should not be seen. It is the superb acting and intelligent script that brings it all off.

A nice touch is the frequent use of 1953 “pop” songs on the soundtrack that comment on the action or emotions being shown on the screen.

I was stunned when each subplot was reaching its climax…and the series ended!!!

Each of the 13 episodes runs 46 minutes and there are subtitles.

A-Place to Call Home 2This brings us to Season 2, now out on a 3-DVD set from Acorn Media, which picks up at the crisis points that ended the last episode. I refuse to spoil things for the viewer, but I can mention a few high points.

A new villain, the spoiled womanizer Andrew Swanson (Matt Levett), has his eye on Anna and refuses to give her up (as if she were his to give) to an Italian winegrower. Then there are several harrowing scenes in which a determined doctor is “curing” James of  his “perversity” by electric shocks and aversion therapy. This is in the early 1950s, mind you.

Then the rotten Regina comes up with news about Sarah’s past that even Sarah does not know (and we are told what she did know in a startling revelation). There is a confrontation scene between Mrs. Bligh and Regina which is chilling; and most of the family’s rejecting Mrs. Bligh makes the viewer say “Good for her,” but yet…. Well, watch and see. This is superior viewing in all senses of the adjective.

Each of the 10 episodes runs about 45 minutes and there are subtitles.

Drama Other than Shakespeare

ANZAC Nurses of WW 1

A-ANZAC GirlsSuperior Miniseries Salutes the ANZAC Nurses of WW 1

A 2014 miniseries from Australia and New Zealand is one of the best “based on true events” productions I have seen. It is a salute to the ANZAC Girls, from which it takes its title, the gallant women from Australia and New Zealand who acted as nurses in World War I. ANZAC is the acronym for Australian New Zealand Army Corps, while “girls” was acceptable back then.

It is told from the point of view of Sister Ross-King (Georgia Flood), who began by serving across the water from Gallipoli where so many young men were being killed and maimed by the Turks. In the fourth of the six 1-hour episodes, her team is sent to France, where they are even closer to the battlefront and risk their own lives to save those of their patients.

Note: I will use “nurse” instead of “Sister” in this report.

Nurses at the Gallipoli campaign

Although a disclaimer at the start of the series says some facts have been changed for dramatic purposes, everything here is absolutely believable There are the inevitable marriages in which bride and groom are soon parted by the war, the first attractions between nurse and soldier, the proposals of marriage to a nurse who refuses to believe her man is dead.

And there is the inevitable scene in which an officer, Sydney Cook (Todd Lasance), whose father is influential in the government gets him a leave and the wife refuses to leave her post just so she can be shown off to those back home. However, most of the male characters are shown in a positive light, such as Harry Moffitt (Dustin Clare) and Pat Dooley (Brandon McClelland).

The characters of the nurses are nicely differentiated: Grace Wilson (Caroline Craig), Elsie Cook (Laura Brent), Olive Haynes (Anna McGahan), and Hilda Steele (Antonia Prebble).

Some are strong as steel, others simply cannot stand the pressure but do their best. Ross-King becomes a problem to the others and to herself by obsessing over the fate of her man; but who can blame her for that? And if the doctors performing surgery are discussing the menu for that day’s meal, the actual doctors probably did the same. (Recall the surgery scenes in “M.A.S.H”?)

Of course, there are many gory close-ups of various wounds and gushing blood. But those who created this series had no intention (it would seem) to show what a glorious thing war is supposed to be. And the viewer cannot miss the irony of the speeches in the script proclaiming the peaceful world that would result from the “War to End All Wars.”

The photos of the actual nurses at the end are charming; and the bonus interviews with several of the actresses are interesting. The subtitles are most welcome.


Drama Other than Shakespeare

Lord Lucan

A-Lord Lucan

Two Points of View on an Unsolved Mystery

A most fascinating 2-DVD set has appeared on the Acorn Media label, “The Mystery of Lord Lucan” (2013). In 1974, Lord Lucan, a self-described professional gambler, told a close knot of his rich friends that he had just saved his wife Veronica from being murdered by a person unknown, who had just killed their children’s nanny. The wife claimed that Lucan was responsible for both crimes, having mistaken the nanny for his wife in the dark basement. The next day, a car Lucan had borrowed showed up in Newhaven and he was never seen again.

Lord Lucan himself

The story is dramatized—and there is no question in the script that Lucan was an out and out villain—in a series of flashbacks. It is all beautifully acted by Rory Kinnear (Lucan), Catherine McCormack (Veronica), Gemma Jones (Lucan’s mother), and a solid cast of secondary characters. The rich have never been shown in a worse light in any film I can recall: utterly arrogant, indignant that their unearned income is being so heavily taxed, and willing to close ranks around any of their class no matter what crimes have been committed.

One of them complains that judges don’t understand people who don’t have to work for a living. Lucan is a prime example of a human who considers himself superior to almost all others and is therefore not bound to follow any of the rules. Since the rich make the laws, it would seem that they are also exempt from obeying them.

Christopher Eccleston plays the most detestable of them all, John Aspinall, who runs a private gambling club and cheerfully advises Lucan to do what must be done to gain control over his beloved children. To watch him is to hate him.

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Julian Wadham as himself

The second disc holds “The Trial of Lord Lucan” (1994). With Julian Wadham as Lucan and Lynsey Baxter as Veronica, it begins with the attempted murder and has the police catch up with Lucan in Newhaven. The rest has flashbacks of scenes redone in the later dramatization and is devoted to the (imaginary) trial in the tradition of “Andersonville.”

Wadham is remarkable in simply sitting still and registering no emotion whatsoever—except for one moment in which a friend gives damaging evidence. Here the stars are Sir Charles Moore (Robin Ellis) for the Defense and Sir James Hallows (James Faulkner) for the Prosecution.

The characters who played important secondary roles in the 2013 drama are not as prominent here; but the assumption is that the viewer has seen the “Lord Lucan” before watching “The Trial.” Grab this set.