Mary Queen of Scots – the film

In recent years we’ve been lucky if there is one film on at the flicks within the whole year but this year already we’ve been to see two films – two weeks ago we went to see The Favourite and last week we saw Mary Queen of Scots and I enjoyed it although it is a bit cavalier with the historic details. The Irish actress Saoirse Ronan plays Mary Stuart and she did a good job of it although she must have put a lot of effort into learning a Scots accent, for no good reason as Mary had lived at the French court since the age of five and her mother was French so she would have had a French accent as she lived in France for well over ten years waiting to marry the Dauphin. It was never expected she would return to Scotland but after her husband died the French wanted rid of her.

The film is beautifully shot and I’m glad to say that all the locations are in Scotland. I was puzzled as to why the Scottish castles looked so grim, I swear that at the beginning one of them looked like a cave on the inside with really rough walls that looked like you could have climbed up them. I’ve never seen anything but smooth stone walls inside and outside of castles and of course the walls would have been covered with tapestries.

The murder of Rizzio was much more dramatic than I had ever imagined it to be. Darnley is portrayed as being gay, I’m a bit cynical and so assume that that’s a bid for the pink pound/dollar. And of course Mary and Elizabeth meet despite all of the historians agreeing that they never did meet. Elizabeth’s skin is skillfully made up to show how badly her skin was damaged by pockmarks. I doubt if she ever let anyone see those, hence the thick and poisonous lead based make-up that she wore.

There’s also no sense of all the years that Mary was kept in captivity by Elizabeth – or of her many escape attempts.

Thankfully the film stops short of her actual execution as that was famously very nasty, who knows whether the axeman was deliberately incompetent when he hacked at her neck or if it was just nerves or bad luck.

David Tennant being cast as John Knox was a great touch, I thought he was brilliant in the role.

If ever anyone was in need of good advisors it was Mary Stuart, but either she didn’t have anyone to advise her or she chose to ignore them. She would have been better emulating her royal cousin Elizabeth and eschewing men and marriage, but then we would never have had King James V of Scotland / I of England. I wonder what would have happened if he had never been born.

The Favourite – a film

Yesterday afternoon we did something a bit different from usual – we went to the local flicks. There’s rarely anything on that we want to watch because most of the films nowadays seem to be of no interest to us at all, I suppose they’re ‘action’ films – or shoot-emups. Just watching the trailers for them is like a punishment to me as the sound is so loud, the sound effect guys really let rip!

Anyway, I saw an advert on TV for The Favourite, I’m fairly sure it was billed as a comedy but there isn’t really much in the way of comedy in it – a few sarcastic quips which at a stretch (and if they’re not aimed at you) could be deemed to be funny I suppose.

It’s about time that Queen Anne had some attention to her, it makes a nice change from Victoria anyway, she had such a sad life though and The Favourite is set towards the end of her life when she was beset by ill health. Just about the only thing that most of us know about Queen Anne is that she ‘lost’ seventeen children, either from miscarriage, still birth or disease. When you think about that then it’s amazing that she survived as long as she did – and wasn’t completely off her head. I lost one child through miscarriage and that was bad enough I can tell you.

Anyway – back to the film: Sarah Churchill, The Duchess of Marlborough is Queen Anne’s closest friend/secret lover, but Sarah is really ruling the roost as Queen Anne isn’t up to the job, she’s too ill. It’s Sarah who plots with politicians to take the country into war, a war which is being waged by Sarah’s husband, it was the making of him financially.

Sarah’s pretty young cousin Abigail turns up at the palace looking for work and protection, Abigail’s abusive father had gambled her away when she was just fifteen, life has been more than tough for her but Sarah sets her to work as a scullery maid. But Abigail knows about herbs and manages to soothe the sores on the queen’s legs, and so begins the rivalry between the two cousins for the Queen’s affection.

Money is needed for the war and it’s proposed that land tax will be doubled, Anne doesn’t want to be at war with France, she’s only really happy when she’s with her seventeen rabbits, one for every child she lost, named after each dead child. I found it to be terribly sad, but as ever Olivia Colman, who plays Queen Anne was great in the role, she really is very versatile in so many different parts.

Although I mainly enjoyed the film there were a few things that annoyed me – as often happens nowadays the diction of the actors just isn’t clear enough, there were quite a few instances when I hadn’t a clue what was being said. At one point , just after Queen Anne slapped Sarah Churchill I’m sure that Sarah said “It’s okay” If she did say that it is completely wrong. I think there were quite a few speech incongruities like that. When you think of all the money and care put into getting the settings, costumes and make-up correct, modern dialogue should be a simple thing to avoid. For me the ending was too abrupt.

Jack noticed that this film was made by Film 4 – if we had waited six months or so we would have been able to see it on that TV channel – oh well, you see it all in far better detail on the big screen.

If you are interested in her history you can read more about Queen Anne here. She was the last of the Stuart monarchs.

Dunkirk – the film

This afternoon we went to see the new film Dunkirk. It has been getting rave reviews but we would have gone to see it anyway as Jack’s father George was one of the soldiers lucky enough to be rescued from the beaches. Which is just as well because if he hadn’t been then there would have been no Jack!

The film is very tense, there’s no preamble, it begins with soldiers running through French streets under fire then switches to one of the small rescue boats being kitted out for the journey over to France – to save the British army. The action keeps cutting between that boat, the beach at Dunkirk and the battle going on in the air. There’s really very little dialogue, compared with most films anyway and that probably adds to the atmosphere. Mark Rylance is particularly good as the small boat owner but all the acting is good.

The only thing that sort of annoyed me was that there seemed to be a distinct lack of soldiers on the beach. I’ve seen photographs of it and it was absolutely packed out, as you would expect with up to 330,000 British men waiting to be evacuated, and later 150,000 or so French soldiers. If they didn’t want to pay for so many actors they could have computer generated them easily.

The Guardian film critic wasn’t impressed by the film although he was mainly annoyed by it focusing on one small boat rather than on some of the more dashing real life stories involved, but I don’t agree.

You can see the official film trailer here.

The photo below is of my in-laws George and Nancy on their wedding day which was arranged very quickly when George thought that he was going to be part of the D-Day invasion force four years later. I suppose they thought that the odds were against him surviving and as they had been going out with each other for years and years it might be now or never.

Mary Poppins by P.L. Travers

Mary Poppins cover

At Christmas I watched the film Saving Mr Banks which is about the terrible amount of wrangling that Walt Disney had to go through to get P.L. Travers to allow him to turn her Mary Poppins books into a film. Actually it’s about the only film that I’ve liked with Tom Hanks in it, I’m not a fan. I didn’t really know much about P.L. Travers- beyond that she hadn’t been at all happy with what had been done to her books, anyway the film Saving Mr Banks was enjoyable and it made me think that it was about time that I read at least one of the Mary Poppins books.

Luckily I found a paperback copy of the first book at the Oxfam bookshop in Morningside, Edinburgh. The book was first published in 1934.

It was an enjoyable read and I was surprised that it was really quite similar to the Mary Poppins film, well the bits of it that they used anyway.

Mary Poppins herself comes across as being less prim and snooty than her film version. Presumably Walt Disney thought it would be a good idea to make her ‘posh’ English. I have heard that all English accents are seen as being upper class in America though – or they were in the past.

This was just a good light read that I embarked on when I was in the midst of a heavy cold, and it filled in one of those gaps that I have in children’s literature, I think I went on to adult books too early really.

At the same time I bought this one I also bought a book called The Family from One End Street by Eve Garnett. I hadn’t even heard of it but it’s apparently a children’s classic and it won the Carnegie Medal. Have any of you read it?

The Wooden Overcoat by Pamela Branch

The Wooden Overcoat cover

The Wooden Overcoat by Pamela Branch was first published in 1951 but my copy is a 1961 Penguin reprint. I had never heard of Pamela Branch before I came across this book but I’ll definitely be looking for more of her books. Sadly she only wrote four of them.

If you don’t like any comedy at all with your vintage crime then this book won’t be for you, but I found it to be an absolute hoot.

It begins with a murderer getting off with it, the jury has just brought in the verdict, but the reader knows that Benjamin Cann had indeed strangled his girlfriend. When he gets out of The Old Bailey he is befriended by Clifford Flush who takes him to his house in Chelsea, it turns out that it’s the headquarters of a ‘club’ and all of the members are murderers who have got off with it. For very good reasons they’re all very scared of each other.

The house next door is inhabited by two married couples who are house sharing, they’re all artists of some sort and have decided to start taking in lodgers. Benjamin Cann is their first lodger and it isn’t long before murders ensue, but not at all as you would expect.

This book has some wonderful characters and hilarious situations. It’s a real shame that it wasn’t made into a film by Ealing Comedies, along the same lines of The Ladykillers (1955), it would have been brilliant. The BBC have dramatised it for radio apparently but it isn’t available on the iplayer at the moment.

If you enjoy comedy along with your vintage crime then you’ll love this one. I was lucky enough to pick this one up for about £1 in a local shop but the ones I’ve seen on the internet are stupidly priced. Yet again I wonder if anyone ever buys these wildly priced books.

If you are wondering what I mean by The Ladykillers you can see it on You Tube below.

The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman

The Light Between Oceans cover

The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman was published in 2012 and it was the first novel by the author who was born and grew up in Western Australia.

This one was a good read although at times a really tragic one.

The tale begins in 1926 and the setting is Janus Rock which is a tiny island with a lighthouse on it. Tom is the lighthouse keeper and he and his wife Izzy are the only inhabitants, they stay there for a year and get off it for a couple of weeks before returning. They get a visit from two men on a boat who bring them supplies and any letters once every three months. It takes a special sort of person to be able to cope with such an isolated location.

The action quickly skips back to December 1918 when Tom has got back from the war where he was an officer. Like many others he’s desperate to get a job, he’s glad to be in one piece but he knows that he’ll never be the same again after what he has experienced in the war. The peace and quiet of a remote island is just the sort of work he wants to heal his soul and after a few years there he meets and marries Izzy.

It seems like an idylic existence but Izzy suffers multiple miscarriages/still birth, she longs for a baby so when a small boat containing a dead man and a live baby washes up on the island, Izzy persuades Tom to allow her to keep the baby and pretend it is theirs. Izzy believes the baby’s mother must have been washed overboard so nobody would be missing the baby, it seems like an answer to her prayers but it turns out that it isn’t as simple as that.

This isn’t my usual sort of read but I decided to read it after reading a review on a blog I regularly visit but I can’t find which one it was, as often happens. I enjoyed it although I had to suspend my disbelief at times as how likely is it that a baby will wash up on your island just when you need one!

The blurb on the front says, ‘An extraordinary and heart-rending book about good people, tragic decisions and the beauty found in each of them,’ Markus Zusak, author of The Book Thief.

It has recently been made into a film and you can see a trailer for it below.

Candleshoe by Michael Innes

Candleshoe cover

Candleshoe by Michael Innes was a very recent purchase by me. I bought it when I was down in the Scottish Borders a couple of weeks ago. I hadn’t even heard of this book before but Peggy knew about it and she has seen the film that Disney made of it. In fact the book was originally called Christmas at Candleshoe but my copy is a later tie in to the film. The book has nothing to do with Christmas the festival at all, it’s someone’s first name. As you can see from the book cover David Niven starred in the film, I don’t know how I managed to miss seeing it. Possibly it was released during one of the several times that our local fleapit in Dumbarton was closed due to fire damage. The Rialto,the last surviving cinema was forever going on fire for insurance purposes it was rumoured!

It’s a bit confusing as although the film is apparently aimed at kids, being made by Disney, the book definitely wasn’t written for children. Michael Innes had a habit of using the art world as part of the plot in his books – as he does with this one but it bears no resemblance to his Inspector Appleby mysteries.

A very wealthy American woman tourist is in Britain touring the usual country stately homes. As her son is a student at Oxford and she is very keen on all the ancient history of England, she’s on the lookout for an estate to buy and refurbish. When she stumbles across a house that has been completely bypassed by the 20th century she’s enchanted.

Her son fears that she’s determined to buy the ancient pile and Jay a teenager who seems to be keeping the whole place going is also worried that the very elderly owners would be happy to sell up. Jay believes an old story that there is treasure somewhere in the house and he’s not surprised when the house comes under attack from thieves.

The whole thing is a bit crazy and I have to say that this definitely isn’t one of Michael Innes’s best books. He was always very keen to shoehorn literary elements into his books, I suppose because for his day-job he was a university lecturer in English, but I don’t think that mentioning Meredith and numerous other literati does much for the pace of a mystery. He drops in Latin phrases in much the same way as Dorothy L. Sayers did, which is fine if like me you were lucky enough to do Latin at school, but I suspect that it’s just an annoyance for many people. At least he doesn’t switch to Greek as Sayers did at times!

This is my 21st book read for the Read Scotland 2016 Challenge. That level was originally being named ‘Back O’ Beyond’ but since visiting the Isle of Skye recently with Peggy, I think it is now going to be called Skye, or Isle of Skye – it’s up to Peggy. Any levels beyond that being named Orkney and then the ultimate – Shetland.

I think I’ll be giving this one a three on Goodreads.

The Edinburgh Book Festival – and more

It’s almost festival time in Edinburgh again, it comes around quicker every year. The Edinburgh Festival is of course made up of various festivals, not just The International Festival, there’s also The Fringe Festival and the Book Festival is one of the newer ones on the scene, but it’s always very popular, click on the links above to see if there’s anything you fancy going to see anything.

The View from Castle Rock is an event from the Festival Fringe and it’s based on two short stories by Alice Munro. I quite fancy seeing this – if I can brave the Edinburgh crowds!

Meanwhile The Power of the Dog by Don Winslow is one of many books that has a good shot of making it to the big screen. I haven’t read anything by the author, have you?

Have you been to see the movie of Ab Fab yet? I’m not sure whether I want to see it or not, having heard mixed reviews of it, but the trailer looks quite funny.

Breakfast at Tiffany’s by Truman Capote

Breakfast at Tiffany's cover

Breakfast at Tiffany’s by Truman Capote was first published in 1958 and the paperback I own has three short stories in it too. In fact Breakfast at Tiffany’s itself is really a novella and is quite different from the film.

Although I enjoyed the book I think I love the film, maybe it’s just because of Audrey Hepburn’s performance in it, but the film does have another layer of storyline to it. In the book Holly Golightly’s neighbour ‘Fred’ doesn’t have a relationship with a wealthy woman and that aspect to the film was important to point out double standards.

Truman Capote was a life-long friend of Harper Lee and I believe that Dill in To Kill a Mockingbird was based on the young Capote. It seems quite incredible doesn’t it?!

The short stories in this volume are:
House of Flowers
A Diamond Guitar
A Christmas Memory

I enjoyed the last of them the most.

Below are ten things that you may not know about the film.

Victoria Wood 1953-2016

We were driving along happily listening to the radio this afternoon, it was a beautiful day with a promise of summer around the corner and a day and evening out in Edinburgh on our immediate agenda – when the first thing on the radio news was the death of Victoria Wood. What a terrible year this is turning out to be with the loss of yet another ‘national treasure’.

I remember Victoria Wood as far back as watching her on that TV talent show that brought her to everyone’s attention, and I know I’ve blogged about her before. It was unusual for a woman to be doing stand-up comedy back then in the 1970s, she was a real trail-blazer I think but she was just hilarious. I never tire of hearing that comedy song The Ballad of Freda and Barry (Let’s Do It)

I suppose she knew how much she was loved in the UK, she got a couple of BAFTAs I’m sure – for dinnerladies, which is one of the few sit- coms that I have on DVD. It’s unusual in that the love interest becomes seriously ill so it was always tempered with a hint of sadness, but of course he got better, it’s a pity that Victoria couldn’t write a happy ending like that for her own serious illness, and so typical of her that she kept it quiet as she was a very private person, not at all like most entertainers. She was crippled with shyness in her earlier years and she apparently only really got over that when she was in her late 40s, like many of us – saying that somehow being shy didn’t seem appropriate for a person of her age.

I watched her playing the part of Nella Last in Housewife 49 and was gobsmacked that she turned out to be such a good serious actress. It’s such a shame that she didn’t get a chance to expand on that talent.

To see what Jack said about Victoria on his blog look here.