Monthly Archives:: January 2018

Review: ‘Miss Lacey’s Last Fling’ by Candice Hern

January 19, 2018 Review 0

A wonderful read, which starts with a most unusual premise: a girl who has been the downtrodden and unregarded homebody running her widowed father’s country house discovers that she has inherited her mother’s fatal illness and only has months to live. Determined to experience everything she can before she dies, she takes herself to London to stay with her disreputable aunt, where she conducts herself outrageously and becomes notorious.

Given this premise, the remaining twists of the plot are so blindingly obvious that there are truly no surprises. But it doesn’t matter. Rosalind’s vitality and the delightful way she hurls herself into every new experience are glorious. Her hero, Max, a notorious rake and son of her aunt’s great love, is determined to resist her charms but is slowly drawn to her despite himself. The growing love between these two is beautifully brought out.

Now, this is not to say that the book is perfect, because no book ever is. Rosalind’s machinations to keep her illness secret defy credibility, and the ending sagged pretty badly. There was so much stupidity and misunderstanding and angsting and back-and-forth between our hero and heroine that I wanted to box their ears. Both of them. One thing I do dislike is an artificial obstacle before the HEA. Once they both come to realise that this is True Love, then I expect them to behave like sensible, rational human beings and get things sorted out pronto.

But in the end, it didn’t spoil my enjoyment too much. I loved both these characters and their realistic and slow-growing love, and (unlike many Regencies) I can actually imagine them being contented for the rest of their lives. Five stars.

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Review: ‘Return to the Regency’ by Audrey Harrison

January 19, 2018 Review 0

This is such a lovely idea! Who wouldn’t want to be picked up after a difficult year and offered the chance to go back to the Regency era for a couple of weeks? With money, servants, accommodation – everything provided. Even a fairy godmother. Who could fail to be healed and comforted by the gentle manners of two hundred years ago? But for Catherine, it doesn’t quite work out as expected.

And that pretty much summarises this book, too. What should be a delightful escapist read turns out to be… well, rather dull. The modern-day part of the story just didn’t capture my interest and the Regency part was not much more than a run-down of Regency life in Bath. Now, the details were fascinating, and a salutary reminder that, however romantic the Regency seems when it’s got Colin Firth in it, in reality that part of history was really pretty unpleasant. The clothes were uncomfortable, the food was barely edible and the perfect manners concealed a great deal of misbehaviour. And then there’s the healthcare…

But while the author’s research has obviously been pretty thorough, the rest of the book is less up to snuff. The characters are either very good or totally villainous, and it’s not difficult to spot which is which. I’d have liked either heroine Catherine or hero Chris to display something less than goody-two-shoes virtue, which gets a bit tedious after a while. And the inevitable misunderstanding between them is horribly cliched. Then there’s a plot twist at the end which felt utterly contrived.

Now, if this sounds very critical, I did actually enjoy the story quite a bit. It’s a gentle, easy read with two pleasant main characters and a resounding HEA. My only problem with it is that it’s not a Regency romance, it’s really a contemporary romance with a portal element, and if that’s your thing, you might well enjoy it more than I did. But it wasn’t really my cup of tea, so that keeps it to three stars.

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Movie review: Lost in Austen (2008)

January 12, 2018 Review 0

Well, this is a riot and no mistake. A modern woman obsessed with Pride and Prejudice finds a portal to the book world in her bathroom when Elizabeth Bennet materialises there. While Elizabeth stays in modern Hammersmith, Amanda Price goes to Longbourn and tries to steer the characters to their true destinies, and fails in spectacular fashion. Jane marries Mr Collins, Charlotte Lucas goes off to be a missionary in Africa, Lydia runs away with Mr Bingley, Mr Bennet duels him, Wickham is a Puck-like mischievous spirit who’s not wicked at all, and Darcy falls in love with Amanda herself.

There was a huge amount to enjoy in this. I wasn’t much fussed about Amanda or Darcy, not least because he was a foot taller than her, which I found horribly distracting (yes, I know, how shallow of me). I wasn’t convinced by Elizabeth, either. But Hugh Bonneville and Alex Kingston as Mr and Mrs Bennet were an absolute joy, both like and unlike their book versions. Mrs Bennet in particular is far less silly and more… not intelligent, exactly, but certainly streetwise. She knows what she wants for her daughters and nothing will stand in her way.

The other Bennet sisters were terrific, too, and so visually perfect that I was right there with Amanda when she correctly identified each one. I liked Mr Wickham, who had a great deal of charm, but I couldn’t for the life of me see why he would be so helpful to Amanda. Plot reasons, I suppose.

Now, a lot of the logic of the book fell apart because of the oddball things that were happening, and everyone seemed to bounce around the countryside between Longbourn, Kent, Pemberley and Hammersmith as if the distances were nothing at all, and everyone turned up everywhere, often with no explanation, but it never mattered. Historical accuracy went out of the window, too. The writers obviously had no clue about Georgian meals, or correct manners, or legal matters (no, you can’t just get married in two weeks flat, you need a licence, and you can’t annul a marriage for non-consummation). None of it mattered. The whole thing was so gloriously funny that it just rolled along in its own little bubble of craziness.

Great fun. Absolute purists might cringe, but I loved it.

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Movie review: Miss Austen Regrets (2008)

January 12, 2018 Review 0

A bit of a weepy, this one, but a splendid attempt to examine why it is that some of history’s finest love stories were written by a woman who never married. The cast list is stellar, and every single one of them pulls their weight, not a dud amongst them.

The premise is that Jane is called upon to advise her niece Fanny as to whether her suitor Mr Plumtree is a suitable match for her. This causes Jane to reflect on her own missed opportunity, a proposal from a man of wealth and property, accepted initially and then rejected the following morning, which would have secured not only her own future, but also that of her mother and unmarried sister. Because of this refusal, the three ladies slide into genteel poverty, like Mrs and Miss Bates in Emma. There is also an uncle of Fanny’s, who proposed at one time and clearly still regrets losing Jane.

The Jane depicted here is a glorious character, clever and witty, if a little cynical, every line filled with subtle humour. I understand that much of the script is derived from her letters and I can well believe it. Her talent shines in every utterance. And Jane is a flirt! And a romp, running around the garden drinking champagne with Fanny and peering in at the men playing cards, commenting on their attractiveness, both physical and financial. Has he a castle, she enquires at one point.

This is all delightful, but the theme of money runs through the film like a misplaced thread on stitchery. The novels all say to marry for love, but in real life Regency women rarely had the option. One waited patiently, being ladylike, until a man offered for one. Then there were but two choices: accept, and live out your days mired in permanent pregnancy, with all its attendant risks; or refuse, and hope for a better offer, with the risk of a decline into impoverished spinsterhood. In real life, two of Jane’s sisters-in-law died in childbirth (both during their eleventh confinements!), and two others had wives who died for other reasons. It was an uncertain time to be a woman. And yet the genteel but grinding poverty of spinsterhood was hardly much better.

In many ways this is a gloomy film. Jane and her mother and sister spend their lives moving from place to place, struggling to keep their heads above water financially, totally dependent on men for such security and help that they have, and harbouring simmering resentments for years over Jane’s rejected proposal. It’s easy to see that some of her acute observations in the books arise from a degree of world-weary cynicism. And yet when Jane is in party mood, she’s so witty and lively, it’s hard to reconcile the two sides of her character. Purists will probably hate the film, but I loved party animal Jane and the acting is so sublime from all involved that I found the film a joy to watch.

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TV review: Mansfield Park (1983)

January 12, 2018 Review 0

Mansfield Park is the book I know least about, and the one I’ve seen least performed, so I’m not even terribly clear about the plot details, never mind nuances of dialogue use and so on. This is a 6-part series, and after the first episode I really thought I wasn’t going to enjoy it much at all. But it grew on me, and by about part 4 I was really into it. With so much time, the story really was able to take its time and expand enough for me to understand the story and the characters better.

Let me talk first about Fanny and Edmund. I know it’s shallow of me, but I felt both of them were miscast on appearance alone. Nicholas Farrell (Edmund) has a wonderfully strong face, but it’s better suited to character roles than that of young hero. Sylvestra Le Touzel (Fanny) just didn’t fit my mental image of the character. With all the talk of her health, and not being strong, I always envisaged her as a dainty, delicate little thing, and Le Touzel is too robustly healthy, to my mind. See, I told you it was shallow. I have no criticism of their acting skills, although perhaps neither had quite the emotional range that was required at times of high drama. Fanny in particular was too often immobile (although that is no doubt how she was directed to act).

Of the other characters, Anna Massey stole the show as Mrs Norris, a wonderful performance, although it’s so well-written by the author that it would be a plum role for any actress. I also liked Lady Bertram (a minority view, I think). I wondered if her extreme indolence was either an illness, or perhaps a dependence on laudanum (opium). But I loved her fluttering hands and the tremor in her voice and her complete inability to do anything for herself. The contrast with Mrs Norris was delightful. I also liked Mrs Price in Portsmouth, although her husband was a dreadful caricature, and overacted to boot.

Another character who shone was Jackie Smith-Wood as Mary Crawford. I’ve never taken much notice of her in previous versions, or in the book, but here I felt her intelligence and underlying good nature shone through. I liked, too, that Edmund is finally turned against her by a want of principle on her part. It isn’t necessary for her to demonstrate it, but simply the opinions she expresses are enough to sink his esteem. Whereas Henry Crawford has to prove how shallow and stupid he is by running away with Maria Rushworth. To be honest, I always felt this was a flaw in the book, for surely Henry would never do anything to sink his chances of making a respectable marriage. I couldn’t quite work out whether he truly loved Fanny and might have been redeemed if he had married her, or if he just thought he was in love or was merely piqued because she wouldn’t have him. He turned back to his flirtatious ways soon enough when he was away from her. In this version, Fanny’s trip home is not so much a punishment for her ingratitude in refusing Henry, but an opportunity to see what she has left behind, and to reflect on her options.

Honourable mentions go to Bernard Hepton as a very gentlemanly Sir Thomas Bertram, and poor Mr Rushworth, a stupid but perfectly respectable young man, whose bewildered pursuit of Maria and Henry in the grounds of his house made me very sympathetic towards him. He really didn’t deserve what happened to him.

One surprising aspect that was done spectacularly well – the costumes. The men’s costumes in particular were glorious, perfectly fitted to their characters. I wasn’t too sure that Mrs Norris would wear quite such an old-fashioned style of gown, for it was a point of honour amongst the gentry to have the most fashionable attire that you could afford, but it rather suited her bustling nature to wear something so full-skirted and swishy, rather than the tight empire-line dresses, so unflattering to the older lady. Mary Crawford wore an array of wonderful clothes, sharply stylish, direct from the most fashionable modistes of London, which were a nice contrast with Fanny’s much plainer and more feminine gowns.

And a very small detail that absolutely delighted me – this version shows a proper, Regency waltz. We are so familiar with the modern ballroom waltz and the face-to-face positioning of the couple that we’ve come to expect it, but that’s not how it was when it first appeared. The couple stood initially side by side, or (more accurately) hip to hip, gazing into each other’s eyes, holding hands but with one arm raised, with a variety of changes of position during the dance, which might increase in tempo so the couples are moving faster and faster towards the end. A very different style of dance! It was lovely to see it done properly.

An excellent version, the only weakness for me being the miscasting of the lead characters.

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