Posts By: Mary Kingswood

Film review: Emma (1996) and Emma (1996)

February 12, 2017 Review 0

Screenshot (249) Two films based on the same book, released in the same year, both feature length not serials (albeit one a theatre movie, one made for TV) – what were they thinking? And yet – both are beautifully done, with great scripts, great actors in every role, great settings and attention to detail, to the point that it’s very, very hard to say one is better than the other. I watched them back to back and enjoyed both equally.

The movie version stars Gwyneth Paltrow in the title role and Jeremy Northam as Mr Knightley, while the made for TV version stars Kate Beckinsale as Emma and Mark Strong as Mr Knightley. There really isn’t much to choose between either of the ladies, although perhaps my personal preference would fall for Beckinsale, but only because I’ve always pictured Emma as dark haired, and the very blonde Paltrow jars ever so slightly. Of the men, again, personal preference would be for Jeremy Northam, but they were both admirably suited to the role.

Of the lesser characters, both Miss Bates and Harriets were perfect, and the Eltons in both films were excellent, too. Of the two Frank Churchills, I liked the Beckinsale version better, but only because the Paltrow version had dreadful hair (I know, how shallow of me!). As for the Jane Fairfax’s, if you stood them both in front of me, I’m not sure I could tell one from the other. The only character where I had a strong (and reasoned) preference was Mr Woodhouse – I thought the Beckinsale incarnation of Bernard Hepton encapsulated his old-woman fussing perfectly, while the Paltrow version seemed too vigorous, somehow.

Screenshot (250)Some random thoughts. For the final coming together between Emma and Mr Knightley, I thought the Paltrow version captured the emotion better. The Beckinsale version, on the other hand, caught beautifully the dreadful situation of Jane Fairfax and her fragile emotional state. The Beckinsale film stayed truer to the book with regard to the Eltons – their smug, self-satisfied snobbery, very pleased with themselves, and perfectly suited. The Paltrow version of Mrs Elton was very entertaining, in constantly talking over her husband so that he can barely get a word in, but it leaves him looking rather as if he may regret his marriage, a step away from the book. But I did like her talking to camera during the wedding scene. The Beckinsale film ended with the massive harvest festival dance, clearly designed to bring all the bridal couples together at once, even farmer Robert Martin. I didn’t think it was entirely successful, but it wasn’t a problem.

In many ways, Emma is perhaps the best of Jane Austen’s works. I love it, because all the heroine’s troubles arise from her own personality. If she had not meddled in Harriet’s affairs, if she had been kinder to poor Miss Bates, if she had taken Jane Fairfax under her wing as she should, then everybody’s lives would have been smoother. Of course, then there would have been a lot less story to enjoy!

But one aspect of the book unsettles me rather, and that is Mr Knightley’s age, or perhaps I should say, not so much his age as the fact that he has known Emma since she was born. In fact, he was practically an adult already, and there’s something icky about a man who watches a girl grow up and then falls in love with her. Large age differences were very common in those days, not even worthy of comment (it was disparity of wealth/rank that got people agitated) and in a small, confined society, such things must have happened a great deal, but even so, I found it a little unsettling.

Overall, I can recommend both of these versions, but if I had to pick just one, I’d probably plump for the Beckinsale variant by a whisker.

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New books at 99c for a short time only!

January 30, 2017 Uncategorized 0

Yes, folks, I sent two new books out into the world last week. Grace is the fifth book in The Daughters of Allamont Hall, and it’s a fun ride! Grace is the boisterous, tomboyish sister who would love to have an adventure, but she finds out that some adventures can have dire consequences. Available to buy for 99c (or equivalent) at your local Amazon, or download for free with your subscription to Kindle Unlimited or Amazon Prime.

The sixth and final book in the series, Hope, will be released on 31st March 2017, in which all the final mysteries will be resolved. What did happen to the missing brothers, Ernest and Frank? And what does Mama get up to on those visits to Shropshire? You can pre-order Hope for just 99c (or equivalent) from Amazon. These prices will only last for a few days.

Click the images to buy, borrow or pre-order, or click the Buy! button above.

Click to buy or borrow Click to pre-order

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Review: ‘Carpet of Snowdrops’ by Heather King

January 23, 2017 Review 0

Heather King is a new author to me, but her cover for A Carpet of Snowdrops uses the same Regency-era portrait that I use on one of my own books, so I was naturally drawn to it. The opening is very melodramatic: a heavily pregnant woman is walking through the snow pushing a small cart carrying all her possessions. She’s trying to get to the home of a Duke, the brother of her now-dead husband. A rider approaches at speed and almost runs her down.

The reader’s sympathy is instantly aroused for the widow and her unborn child, and when she is turned away by her husband’s family, her plight seems desperate indeed. But the reckless horseman is Joscelyn, Lord Rollaston, and he’s an honourable man, so he takes steps to ensure the widow, Eloise, is looked after. And thereby begins a slowly developing and gentle romance.

This is a short book (it felt like a novella to me) so there are no real sub-plots and not much scope to develop the minor characters. Nevertheless, the two main characters shine like stars, always behaving in rational ways and never stepping outside the rigid bounds of Regency propriety. The writing is excellent, the descriptions evocative and the story, mild as it is, drew me along with that just-one-more-page syndrome that is the sign of a truly enjoyable book. Five stars.

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TV/film review: Persuasion (1996) and (2007)

January 22, 2017 Review 1

Screenshot (181)I watched these two back to back, so it seemed sensible to review them together. I can’t honestly say that one was dramatically better or worse than the other. They both had good points and weaker points.

The 1995 version features Amanda Root as Anne Elliott and Ciaran Hinds as Captain Wentworth, while the 2007 version has Sally Hawkins as Anne and Rupert Penry-Jones in the hero’s role. I love Amanda Root as Anne – she has the perfect face for it, capable of being made to look quite plain in the early stages of the book, and growing into a luminous beauty as her hopes rise towards the end. Her manner is perfect for the self-effacing but capable Anne, too. Sally Hawkins is less aptly cast, but she has a beautifully expressive face which captured the sad moments to perfection. Of the men, Ciaran Hinds is perhaps a slightly better fit for the role, but Rupert Penry-Jones appeals to my romantic side a little better.

Screenshot (182)Both versions follow the story of the book very closely, using much of the original language and with splendid sets and costumes. The supporting characters are all excellent, so no complaints at all in those areas. Well, it’s hard to go wrong when you have Lyme and Bath as your backdrops. The 1995 version is a tad earthier, with more mud about, and the Harvilles appear to live in quite a hovel. The 2007 version takes more liberties for dramatic purposes. All that running about Bath, the spray-drenched pier at Lyme and the long-drawn-out opening scene of the closing up of Kellynch Hall were a bit much for my taste. But this version also managed to convey brilliantly Captain Wentworth’s gradual reawakening to all Anne’s good qualities, which is difficult to do well, so kudos for that.

I enjoyed both versions, but if I had to choose one or the other, could I just say: I’ll have the Amanda Root version, but with Rupert Penry-Jones as Captain Wentworth? Pretty please?

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Film review: ‘Pride and Prejudice’ (2007) with Keira Knightley

January 12, 2017 Review 0

Screenshot (142)Where to begin? There is so much wrong with this movie I can’t even get my head round it. Let’s start with the good, or at least worthy, parts. Firstly, I like the attempt to place the story in the rougher, more robust late-Georgian era rather than the starchier, more prim version of the Regency so beloved of most adaptations. The early scene set in the Meryton assembly gave a good impression of the more energetic style of dancing that was very much part of the era. The wildness of the younger daughters fits in well here.

Secondly, the romantic element is played up quite well. Elizabeth’s emotions are well displayed, starting with real distress after reading Darcy’s letter, and showing her developing feelings thereafter. At least she’s shown having some feelings before she sees Pemberley, which always strikes me as a particularly awkward moment to start liking Darcy, as if one look at the house is enough to sway her, the avaricious little minx. So I liked seeing a degree of misery before that. Keira Knightley, who is spectacularly ill-suited for the role in almost every other way, pulls this off with aplomb, having strong enough acting skills to pull off the love-sick scenes. And the final scenes are well done and have real emotion – the reunion with Darcy, and the interview with Mr Bennet.

And thirdly, not a good point, but an observation. A two hour movie is necessarily going to be curtailed in a score of ways. Characters were cut out wholesale – Maria and Sir William Lucas, Mr and Mrs Hurst and all the Gardiner children got the chop. Favourite scenes were merged or cut and almost everything was truncated, sometimes to the point where it made little sense. But at least all five Bennet girls survived.

So. On to the bad stuff. Settle down, this is going to be l-o-n-g. Let’s talk about the farm first, that whole thing with the pig, and geese and chickens and dogs and mud everywhere. OK, I get that the idea was to show the Bennets’ lowly status in society, the fact that they haven’t risen very far above the rank of farmer. But… Mr Bennet’s income is some two thousand a year, almost half of Mr Bingley’s. There is NO WAY ON EARTH that they live in the midst of their own farm. The set designer has taken a single line of the book (’[the horses] are wanted on the farm more often than I can get them’) and extrapolated to plonk the entire household in the middle of the farm. Every gentleman of the era living in the country had a home farm to supply their food needs; none of them lived on the farm. Stupid, stupid, stupid.

There are so many historical inaccuracies in the film. The costumes were hit and miss, and I hated that Elizabeth never seemed to wear a hat or gloves (or shoes, sometimes!). I suppose it was intended to show her independence of spirit, but really it shows her to be quite beyond the bounds of propriety. A lady never went out without a hat, and not wearing gloves was incredibly fast – a man might touch one’s bare skin! The horror! And let us draw a veil over the whole matter of hairstyles for the younger girls, and the men, for that matter. Shudder. What were they thinking?

Then there was the question of forms of address. Darcy never seems to call Elizabeth anything but Miss Elizabeth, even when alone with her, even when there isn’t another Miss Bennet within fifty miles. If it’s meant to show intimacy or growing attachment, it fails. It’s just plain wrong. And then when Mrs Bennet and the younger girls arrive at Netherfield, they are announced as ‘Mrs Bennet, Miss Bennet, Miss Bennet, Miss Bennet’. Utterly wrong. It was perhaps intended to be amusing, but instead it just makes the scriptwriter look incompetent.

So let’s talk about the script. I’m not a purist, by any means, and I’ve already accepted the necessity for cutting and modifying to squeeze the story into two hours, but Jane Austen was a brilliant writer. Best to use her words as much as possible, surely? But no, the scriptwriter chose to toss out a great deal of well-crafted prose and replace it with something far more mundane. Sometimes it sounded like dumbing down, as when Elizabeth’s comment to Lady Catherine that she ‘plays, but very ill’ is changed so that she plays ‘poorly’. Is that because the scriptwriter thought the audience wouldn’t understand the expression, or because she herself didn’t? And some of the crucial interchanges lost much of their sense to the need to overplay the emotion, and OK, I get that sometimes Austen was dry and not emotional enough, so I can perhaps forgive that. But it also lost all the wit. The delightful exchange at the piano at Rosings where Elizabeth talks to Darcy through Colonel Fitzwilliam is condensed to bland nothingness, and ends with Elizabeth’s extraordinarily rude comment: ‘Maybe you should practise more’.

It’s the same problem with the chosen settings. Why was the first proposal scene set at a temple in the pouring rain? It creates a dramatic backdrop, and our main characters can be dripping to (presumably) symbolise their rejection of the proprieties (or something), but honestly, it was just silly. And then there was Pemberley. Elizabeth arrives in a carriage with her aunt and uncle, looks around the house (which looks more like a museum, to be honest), and gets lost. Fine. But then she comes across Georgiana and Darcy (wrong: they would never have been allowed in the house if any of the family were at home), is spotted, has her embarrassing conversation with Darcy and then – walks back to the village? Excuse me? Her aunt and uncle left her behind? To walk home alone? And Darcy let her do that? I don’t think so. And as for Lady Catherine turning up in the middle of the night – no, no, no, a thousand times no!

On the subject of Lady Catherine, here we have one of the stellar actresses of our time, Judi Dench, in a role she could fulfil with her eyes closed, yet somehow managing here to be merely ordinary. How does that even happen? With Jane Austen writing the lines and Judi Dench speaking them, what could possibly go wrong? I have no idea, but something did. Then there are Donald Sutherland and Brenda Blethyn, brilliant actors both, underwhelming as Mr and Mrs Bennet, apart from a couple of flashes where the script gave them room to breathe. Other actors were plain miscast, like Elizabeth herself (I’m not a great fan of Keira Knightley, but I’ve seen her much, much better than this), the younger sisters, Mr and Miss Bingley and Mr Collins. I read one review that said (paraphrasing) if one actor is wooden, you can put it down to bad acting, but if they’re all wooden, it has to be a more fundamental problem, either the script or the direction or both. I’d agree with that.

The interesting question is this: if I’d never read the book and never seen the BBC’s 1995 version, would I have rated this more highly? The answer is surely no. There is no charm here, no effervescent lightness of touch that would lift the film above the ordinary. The dramatic scenes of flowing frocks on the horizon or the hero and heroine dripping wet are plain silly. And frankly, any film that puts Judi Dench in the sort of role she was born for, yet manages to make her performance ordinary deserves to die. What an incredible waste. There are a couple of moments at the end when the script rises above the mundane, and I rather enjoyed that energetic country dance early on, but the rest of it was dire.

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Review: ‘The Rake’ by Mary Jo Putney

December 31, 2016 Review 0

It’s a testament to the author’s skill that this book managed four stars from me, because there’s a great deal about it that really rubbed me the wrong way. The hero, for instance, the supposed rake of the title, turns out to be a great deal less villainous than advertised. Most of his duels seemed to consist of summary justice when the law refused to intervene, or defending a lady’s honour, or simple self-defence. His conquests of the female variety seemed to hurl themselves at him, rather. Not a single virgin was deflowered by him, so far as I could make out. His worst offence was drinking to excess, which was more or less par for the course in those days, and anyway he spends the whole book trying to keep off the booze. Not so much a villain as a hero in disguise. Grrr.

Then there’s the heroine. If there’s one thing I hate about a Regency-era novel, it’s finding a character who is really just a modern woman in period skirts. Or trousers, in this case. She’s a reformer, so naturally she’s introduced crop rotation to the farms, and set up small businesses to help out the soldiers displaced by the end of the war, and is busily educating all the children. Oh, and let’s not forget the smallpox vaccination program. And she’s good at everything, and has made all the farms and businesses profitable and everybody loves her, especially the three charming orphans she happens to be raising. Grrr.

What about the plot? Well, there isn’t much of one. There’s a villain, who’s suitably villainous in a cartoony, mustache-twirling kind of way, easily spotted and even more easily defeated. There are some minor romances along the way, which the author never really bothers to develop beyond the most rudimentary meet-fall-in-love-let’s-get-married approach. There are some set-piece encounters – the rescue scene, the ballroom scene, the woman seen creeping out of the hero’s room, the heroic battle scene, you know the sort of thing. And then there’s the stupidly noble for-your-own-good action that involves the hero and heroine splitting up without talking to each other. These are two people who’ve displayed a great deal of intelligence and articulacy, not to mention some very intimate moments, and they can’t simply sit down and talk things through? Grrr.

And then there’s the backstory. Now, I have no complaint with the hero, because he’s had a pretty miserable time of it, all things considered, and as far as I’m concerned, he’s fully entitled to be as grumpy as he likes about life. But the heroine – oh, ye gods, what is there to say about a woman who walks away from her life for such a ridiculously idiotic reason? And then stays away? A great deal of the early part of the book is concerned with building sympathy for this woman in her precarious position, constantly poised on the brink of starvation or worse, when in fact she could have fixed everything in five minutes. Grrr.

But…

Something about the main characters got under my skin. Their obvious physical attraction to each other, their verbal sparring, their repeated attempts to understand and help each other, and eventually their complete acceptance of each other, warts and all – it all worked to make them fully rounded people, and the intensity in their interactions was mesmerising. Their personalities towered over the rest of the book and lifted the story into the realm of the extraordinary. If only there had not been so much to dislike… Four stars.

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Review: ‘Brighton Road’ by Susan Carroll

December 27, 2016 Review 0

This book was an absolute delight, from the moment the dreaming heroine falls off the sofa in the first chapter to the slightly bungled romantic scene on the beach at the end. I loved both main characters, I loved the minor characters, I loved the way everything went wrong in the most natural manner possible, and I loved the growing romance between two such unlikely people. I even loved the dog (although honesty compels me to acknowledge that he was as much plot point as comic relief). This one of those books that I really wish I’d written myself. It’s a perfect Regency romp, with a cascade of escalating and very funny disasters that arise purely from the original premise and the characters themselves (well, all right, and the dog, sometimes), combined with a delightfully judged romance.

Here’s the premise: Gwenda Vickers is a young lady who writes romantic fiction, so when she accidentally overhears starchy Lord Ravenel proposing to a lady, she feels compelled to offer him the benefit of her professional advice on how the business should be conducted. He is less than amused by her suggestions. Thrown together by circumstance (and the dog), his gentlemanly attempts to escort her to her family in Brighton lead to any number of entertaining escapades and a growing romance.

What makes this book so charming is the two lead characters. Gwenda has had a wildly eccentric upbringing, so a demure miss she most definitely is not, yet there’s an innocence about her that constantly leads her into trouble. Ravenel is buttoned up tight, but as one near-disaster follows another, he gradually unwinds enough to begin to enjoy himself. The minor characters are great fun, too, especially Gwenda’s oddball family. The final chapters stretch credibility somewhat, but the ending is lovely. Five stars.

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Review: ‘The Mysterious Heir’ by Edith Layton

December 23, 2016 Birthday Regencies, Review 0

I got off on completely the wrong foot with this one, a 1984 book which is part of my birthday Regency list. The very first scene introduces the reader to a curmudgeonly gentleman, sitting huddled beside the fire with his very much needed walking stick, massaging his gammy leg (an old war wound) and railing at the rain. Naturally I assumed he was a very elderly gentleman, and took the young man, fair of form and face, who bounds in later, as the hero. Not so. The curmudgeon turns out to be thirty or so, an earl and indisputably the hero.

Then I was tripped up by the Earl having to meet three prospective heirs and choose one from amongst them. Excuse me? On what planet did any titled Regency gent get to choose his heir? He might leave his property where he liked (if it wasn’t entailed), but the title followed very strict rules. So I was struggling in the early chapters with both misdirection and historical blunders.

Neither of the main characters really grabbed me by the throat, so to speak. The Earl continues to act the curmudgeon for most of the book, and in his dealings with Elizabeth, the heroine, there’s an edge almost of violence sometimes, that really made me dislike him. He also treats her with unspeakable cruelty at the end, and no, not telling her what’s going on ‘for her own good’ is not an acceptable excuse. And she’s an idiot sometimes, but she probably had more of an excuse than he did.

However, there’s a lot to like about this book. There’s plenty of humour, there are some delightful minor characters, like Bev, the gay friend of the Earl, Anthony, one of the heirs, who is a huge fan of Napoleon, and another heir, Owen, a podgy foodaholic. The writing is excellent and the plot unfolded at a stately but enjoyable pace. The villains are idiotically obvious, but subtlety isn’t a prerequisite for this kind of book.

What saved everything for me was the development of the romance, which blossoms very, very slowly over the whole course of the book. I’m a sucker for a believable romance, and the author is skillful enough to infuse the whole thing with romantic fairydust which, in the end, outweighed the less likable aspects of their characters. And there was enough tension in some of the hero and heroine’s scenes to keep me avidly turning the pages. Four stars.

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Review: ‘The Nomad Harp’ by Laura Matthews

December 17, 2016 Review 0

This is the first of my birthday Regencies (a selection from 1980 to the present bought with my gift cards), the earliest, written in 1980. The author is new to me, and I found it an enjoyable read, with some humour and a nicely drawn romance.

The premise: a career naval officer finds himself unexpectedly inheriting a viscountcy. He feels obliged to retire from the navy to manage his estates, but there’s a wrinkle: he’s betrothed to a woman he scarcely knows, attracted by her virtuoso playing of the harp. When he goes to visit, he finds her unimpressed by his elevation in rank. She had accepted his offer only because he would be away at sea a great deal, which would allow her to maintain her independent lifestyle. She breaks off the engagement after discovering that he’s falling for a much more suitable young lady.

But naturally, that isn’t the end of things. The story devolves into the usual Regency mix-ups and misunderstandings, albeit more believable than is sometimes the case, with an array of minor characters to liven things up. But it’s the main characters which make or break a story like this, and here I had my doubts. Lord Pontley himself is a fairly straightlaced sort of chap, too dour to be obvious hero material, and I confess to not entirely understanding his motives for dealing with the suitable young lady he finds himself engaged to. Indeed, for a serious sort of chap, he gets engaged for the most frivolous of reasons. Still, I rather liked him.

The heroine, Glenna Forbes, I found less likable. For a supposedly forthright and independent-minded young lady, she was a terrible ditherer. It’s conventional in fiction that when a character proposes a plan that the reader can clearly see is going to happen, there’s still a certain amount of argument round and about before it’s agreed to. Here, Glenna protested against perfectly reasonable proposals for far, far too long. I really wanted to slap her upside the head. And some of the things she does are just plain silly (like the whole companion scheme, for instance). The only purpose that I could see was so that she would find out about Lord Pontley’s feelings for the suitable young lady.

Despite all that, however, I found the book very enjoyable. I love a Regency where the romance builds slowly over the whole book, and this is particularly credible example. The minor characters are terrific, the historical accuracy is good and there’s enough humour to leaven the mixture. Four stars.

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Birthday Regencies

December 4, 2016 Birthday Regencies 0

I recently had a birthday, and my kind relatives treated me to Amazon gift cards. Naturally, I rushed to the Amazon Kindle store to buy as many books as I could with their largesse. Since I’m rereading Georgette Heyer at the moment, I thought it would be an interesting contrast to try something more recent for comparison. My tastes just now running to traditional rather than bodice-ripper, I searched particularly for that style, although it was difficult to find them – they tend to be well-buried amongst all those covers with flowing skirts and off-the-shoulder numbers. But here’s what I came up with, in three categories (prices in £ alongside):

1) Older books (pre-2001):

  • The Nomad Harp: Laura Matthews 2.67 1980
  • The Mysterious Heir: Edith Layton 3.85 1984
  • Brighton Road: Susan Carroll 2.20 1988
  • The Rake: Mary Jo Putney 4.02 1989
  • Cousin Cecilia: Joan Smith 2.99 1990
  • Lord of Scoundrels: Loretta Chase 3.99 1995
  • Reforming Lord Ragsdale: Carla Kelly 2.49 1995
  • One Night For Love: Mary Balogh 4.99 1999
  • A Summer To Remember: Mary Balogh 5.99 2002
  • The Viscount Who Loved Me: Julia Quinn 3.33 2000

2) More recent (2001-2012):

  • The Silent Governess: Julie Klassen 3.69 2010
  • The Kiss Of A Stranger: Sarah M Eden 1.09 2011
  • Edenbrooke: Julianne Donaldson 8.59 2012

3) The latest thing – the three bestsellers in the US on the day I looked:

  • The Duke’s Everburning Passion: Charlotte Stone 0.99
  • You’re The Rogue That I Want: Samantha Holt 3.27
  • Gaining the Gentleman: Eleanor Meyers 0.99

I’ve already made a start on The Nomad Harp, and I’ll review everything as I read them.

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