Monday, March 30, 2009

Little Dorrit, Part One

Get ready people - this is a long post. But an epic miniseries deserves an epic, long post, don't you think? ;-)

In watching part one of Little Dorrit last night on Masterpiece Classic, to say I was riveted would be an understatement. Part one was fantastic, and if the rest of Little Dorrit lives up to the promise of last night’s two hours, this is hands down the best Masterpiece presentation in years – probably since Bleak House. Here’s the spoiler-free summary of episode one from the PBS website:

Amy "Little" Dorrit lives in the Marshalsea Prison for Debt caring for her father William Dorrit. To aid her family, Amy works for stern shut-in Mrs. Clennam. Son Arthur Clennam returns from China after his father's death, haunted by his father's final, mysterious words. Is there a long-buried family secret and does it somehow involve Amy and her family?

Settling back into English life, Arthur gets reacquainted with former sweetheart Flora Finching, although true affections are saved for Pet Meagles. Meanwhile, in Paris, sinister murderer Rigaud considers coming to England.

Having now befriended Amy and her family, Arthur makes a financial offering to help one member of the Dorrits. Amy's appreciation and affection for Arthur grows as John Chivery, a turnkey at the Marshalsea who has a longtime love for Amy, watches heartbroken.

To probe more deeply into the Dorrit mystery, Arthur enlists rent collector Mr. Pancks for help, leaving Arthur free to visit the Meagleses. While there, Arthur becomes troubled by Tattycoram (who lives with the Meagleses), and her mysterious connection to Miss Wade.

Now, any and all spoiler free bets are off as I’m going to rip into the episode. (Though since I’ve never read the book – actually never even heard of it until this miniseries was announced – I don’t think you have too much to worry about if you’re concerned with spoilers!)

I can already tell that it’s going to take a couple of viewings of Little Dorrit to get a really good grasp of the multiple plotlines and the huge cast of characters thrown our way (in true Dickensian fashion). The scope and feel of this program immediately recalls the epic Bleak House, presented by Masterpiece in 2006 (hard to believe it’s already been three years!). Both productions were adapted by screenwriter Andrew Davies, who has proven time and again eminently suited to bringing classics to the screen. The broader the scope of the source material, the better I think one can appreciate Davies’s talent for honing it into compelling, relatable television.

Claire Foy plays the title character Amy (“Little Dorrit”), and according to the IMDB, this is her first major role and only her third acting credit. Thus far I’m incredibly impressed with her screen presence and believe she’s going to do an excellent job anchoring this epic miniseries. Her relatively slight frame is in keeping with her character’s name, but she has these wonderfully large, expressive eyes that lend her face a luminous quality. She’s not flashy, but she has an arresting presence – it’s clear that Amy is a character that’s borne much, but the burdens of life haven’t robbed her personality of kindness and strength.

And now we come to the main reason I was excited about this program – the presence of Matthew Macfadyen as our noble hero Arthur Clennam. I fell in love with Matthew when he brought his own unique merits to the character of Mr. Darcy in the 2005 film version of Pride & Prejudice. Arthur definitely comes across as a little less polished, less self-assured than Darcy – that is in no small part no doubt due to being treated like crap by his crazy mother (more on her later). So far, Arthur has proven to be rock-solid in the honor and loyalty departments. He’s also comes across as slightly befuddled, a bit unsure of himself, and that apparently stems from the lack of any sort of positive affirmation in his life. However, the fact that he’s such a good guy, and something of a catch to boot, and he doesn’t even realize it, makes him incredibly endearing. (Though I have a feeling that I’m going to want to smack him upside the head and yell “Wake up!!” before the show concludes – he’s a trifle dense.)

Arthur figures prominently in several of my favorite scenes from last night’s episode (surprise, surprise, I know). When he visits the Circumlocution Office in a futile attempt to find out why William Dorrit was imprisoned, the staging and setting of the scene is the perfect blend of social commentary and wry satire. The winding stairs and never-ending piles of paperwork provide a wonderful visual illustration of the futileness of Arthur’s quest and the general mess of the legal system as a whole. The whole scene was a great reminder of how some things haven’t changed all that much between now and Dickens’s time. I also loved the scene where he’s left his mother and is getting settled into his own place (finally!), and Amy and Maggy drop by because Amy knows he is responsible for rescuing her brother from a foolish racing debt. Matthew Macfadyen is just too stinking adorable for words in this scene as Arthur, obviously desperate for friends, practices playing host.

The Dorrits

Now I want to go back and briefly discuss some more of Amy’s family. Tom Courteney plays the Dorrit family patriarch William, who’s been in Marshalsea debtor’s prison for so many years he’s become known as the “father of Marshalsea.” Talk about a high-maintenance Daddy – one gets the impression that William has pretty well disconnected from reality, and actually enjoys being renowned as Marshalsea’s most famous resident.

James Fleet plays William’s well-intentioned but rather meek brother, Frederick, who’s not a Marshalsea resident and tries to help his brother’s family when and where he can. It was so much fun seeing Fleet on-screen again – his most famous role in my experience is as Hugo in the absolutely hilarious show The Vicar of Dibley. According to the credits, Frederick appears in all of Little Dorrit’s episodes, so I’m curious to see how his character may develop.

Amy has two siblings – Fanny, played by Emma Pierson, and Edward or “Tip,” played by Arthur Darvill. The main thing I can say about them is that if you compare them to Amy, she doesn’t just appear as good and sweet and kind, she comes off as an absolute saint with an unbelievably deep reservoir of patience for tolerating their self-centeredness.

Maggy, played by Eve Myles, is probably the closest thing Amy has to a true sister even though they aren’t actually related. She’s the mentally challenged granddaughter of Amy’s former nurse. Amy is devoted to Maggy and quite protective of her – and considering her own challenges of supporting a family that expects more than they’d ever dream of giving, Amy’s devotion to her friend further underscores her good nature.

The Chiverys of Marshalsea Prison

The Dorrits are watched over by the turnkey of Marshalsea Prison, Mr. Chivery (Ron Cook) and his son John (Russell Tovey), the assistant turnkey who is hopelessly in love with Amy. Their kind treatment of the Dorrits allows the family, particularly father William, to retain some shreds of dignity even while in prison. I absolutely LOVE John’s character. The entire time I was watching last night’s installment, I kept thinking “This is great! John’s like Guppy (from Bleak House), only better, because he’s adorable, sweet, and NOT INSANE.” I haven’t seen much of Tovey’s work, except for random episodes of Poirot or Doctor Who (he’s also in an upcoming Marple episode – look for that this summer!). But since he’s making such a good impression in this series, I have to predict good things for Tovey’s acting future. After all, Burn Gorman’s career really took off following his unforgettable turn as Guppy in Bleak House – then he appeared in Penelope, a Marple episode, Wuthering Heights, and a recurring role on Torchwood. Whenever I see Gorman on-screen I get this uncontrollable urge to jump up and down, point at the screen, and yell “Guppy! OMG it’s GUPPY!!” If John’s character continues to make a good impression, I can only sound (marginally) saner in the future yelling “John! OMG it’s JOHN!!” during forthcoming Tovey acting gigs (which I very much appreciate).

The House of Clennam

Mrs. Clennam, played by Judy Parfitt, is quite a character, to say the least. I think the first thing I can remember seeing her in was as Queen Marie in Ever After (note to self: haven’t seen that movie in ages, need to re-watch asap!). Mrs. Clennam has always ruled her family with an iron hand – apparently Arthur and his father went to the Far East for like fifteen years just to get away from her (which I completely understand given her behavior last night, just sayin’…). In an unusual flash of generous spirit, Mrs. Clennam hires Amy, providing her with some much-needed income. However, she refuses to divulge the reason to Arthur, or to shed light on the mystery he brings to her door in the form of a cryptic message found in his father’s pocketwatch. As an invalid, she’s lived in a gradually decaying old house for a dozen or so years – she reminds me just a bit of Miss Havisham from Great Expectations in that respect. She repeatedly rebuffs all of Arthur’s attempts to honor her with some token of filial respect, like a simple embrace – her treatment of him is quite chilling. Their whole relationship is a fascinating, dysfunctional trainwreck.

The other two residents of Clennam House are Jeremiah Flintwinch (Alun Armstrong) and his wife Affery (Sue Johnston). Armstrong has appeared in several Masterpiece adaptations, playing Daniel Peggotty in David Copperfield and Bucket in Bleak House. Jeremiah’s an interesting, deliciously sinister character. It’s unclear at this point whether or not his loyalty resides with anyone but himself. I feel just awful for his poor wife Affery (and not just because she has a goofy name) – thus far it appears he married her as part of some “grand plan” hatched with Mrs. Clennam, though why they had to join forces in marriage is anybody’s guess. Affery appears to have a kind heart but a very weak-willed nature, the latter tendency exacerbated by years of verbal and physical abuse at the hands of Mrs. Clennam and Flintwinch.

The Meagles Family

The role of the Meagles family is sure to grow and expand as Little Dorrit progresses. Arthur first meets the Meagles on his return voyage to London, and Mr. and Mrs. Meagles take an instant liking to him as a potential suitor for their daughter, Pet (seriously – Pet?!). Mr. Meagles is played by the wonderful Bill Paterson, who has appeared in Wives and Daughters, Doctor Zhivago, ShakespeaRe-Told, Foyle’s War, Miss Potter, and Amazing Grace. Mrs. Meagles is played by Janine Duvitski, who I first encountered when I started watching Waiting for God and One Foot in the Grave (both are hilarious British comedies from the 1990’s).

At this point, I don’t have much to say about the daughter, Pet (played by Georgia King), for a couple of reasons – she’s coming off as spoiled, vapid, empty-headed, and most unforgivable of all, Arthur apparently has a thing for her. Guys can be so annoying. This is the smack-Arthur-upside-the-head situation that I alluded to earlier. Why Pet, Arthur? Isn’t her name enough of a turn-off? You generally appear to be sensible, level-headed, and honorable…so wake up!! (I feel better having gotten that out of my system.) The final resident of the Meagles household is Tattycoram, an orphan they have taken in who has issues with the fact that she’s treated more like a servant rather than an adopted daughter. Tattycoram is played by Freema Agyeman, who I think, quite simply, rocks. She shot to fame as the smart and competent Martha, the Doctor’s companion in season three of Doctor Who. Tatty appears to be headed for trouble – she’s so dissatisfied with her lot in life that she’s ripe for corruption by the mysteriously sinister Miss Wade (played by Maxine Peake). I’m very curious to see where Dickens takes Tatty’s character as the story unfolds.


Being a Dickens novel, there’s a whole host of other characters surrounding the main players, so I have to mention a few of the highlights that stood out to me last night.

Mr. Pancks (Eddie Marsan) is a hard-nosed debt collector whose character gets really interesting when Arthur hires him to try and discover why the Dorrits were imprisoned. Pancks reminds me just a bit of Alun Armstrong’s Bucket from Bleak House, so I’m very curious to see where the story takes his character.

Flora Finching (Ruth Jones) jilted Arthur once upon a time, and during his hiatus in the Far East has been married and widowed. Her altered appearance in the intervening years is initially played for a chuckle or two (filmed really well I might add), but she’s not a simple comic character. Flora makes no secret of the fact that she still harbors a passion for Arthur, and the fact that she is so transparent with her feelings lends the character some real emotional depth. I have to mention her crazy dead husband’s aunt that she “inherited,” played by the fabulous Annette Crosbie (The Slipper and the Rose, One Foot in the Grave). Her brief appearance as Mr. F.’s aunt was absolutely hilarious (the whole dining scene was a comic gem!), and I’m happy to see that she reappears later on in the series.

And finally, I have to mention the sinister Rigaud (also known as Blandois and Lagnier), played by none other than Andy Serkis! I had no idea that Serkis was in this miniseries, and I didn’t realize who was playing him until I started to really examine the cast list today. This is just further proof (as if we needed it) of Andy Serkis’s uncanny ability to completely disappear in a role – I had no idea who he was when watching last night! Honestly I was a bit confused as to how Rigaud fits into the puzzle that is Little Dorrit, so I’m very curious to see how Rigaud is brought into the center of the action, and what this cold-hearted killer’s appearance means for the good guys.

Everything about Little Dorrit screams of top-notch production values. The costumes are fantastic, and every single set is dense with detail and rich with atmosphere. Every frame, every scene of the story gives you a lot to “chew” on, and far too much to digest in simply one viewing. I make no secret of being a huge film score fan, so I have to give a shout-out to John Lunn for his gorgeous work here. And thank you, Andrew Davies – so far this adaptation is proving to be another sterling entry in your resume of outstanding work.

Is Little Dorrit the equal of Bleak House? That remains to be seen. However, for what it’s worth in my opinion this promises to be the best costume drama to come from the BBC since Bleak House and maybe Cranford (almost forgot the latter!).

You can read more about Little Dorrit at the Masterpiece Classic website.
For a limited time, you can watch full episodes of Little Dorrit online.
Pre-order the Little Dorrit DVD (releases April 28th).

You can see a few more pictures of the cast of characters at my Xanga site - I'm finding that Xanga is a lot more "photo-friendly" than Blogger for ease when formatting picture-heavy posts.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Review: Auntie Mame by Patrick Dennis

Auntie Mame: an irreverent escapadeBy: Patrick Dennis
ISBN: 0-7679-0819-8
Publisher: Broadway Books

About the book:

Wildly successful when it was first published in 1955, Patrick Dennis's Auntie Mame sold over two million copies and stayed put on the New York Times bestseller list for 112 weeks. It was made into a play, a Broadway as well as Hollywood musical, and a fabulous movie starring Rosalind Russell. Since then, Mame has taken her rightful place in the pantheon of Great and Important People as the worlds most beloved, madcap, devastatingly sophisticated, and glamour aunt. She is impossible to resist, and this hilarious story of an orphaned ten-year-old boy sent to live with his aunt is as delicious a read in the twenty-first century as it was in the 1950s.


I've always been a fan of the Rosalind Russell film, Auntie Mame, and after recently watching the dreadfully sub-par Mame, starring Lucille Ball, I decided it was finally time to read the book and discover madcap Mame's true story for myself. This book is absolutely hilarious, hands-down one of the funniest, most charming books I've ever read. The Rosalind Russell film is a gem, but the book takes everything wonderful about the film and multiplies it about ten times over. The book is quite a bit more *cough* bohemian than what would've been allowed in a 1950's film. It isn't a straight, linear story - instead it's eleven chapters cover various episodes over the course of Patrick's life as he grows up with his rather unconventional aunt. This device helps make the book an extraordinarily fast read - as soon as one escapade is finished, you want to dive right into the next. Each episode is "framed" by Patrick reading about the "Unforgettable Character" in the Digest, prompting him to compare the Digest's Unforgettable Character with his own Auntie Mame. Patrick reminsces his way through life with Mame in the glittering Roaring Twenties, surviving the Great Depression, her marriage and widowhood, World War II, and my favorite episodes - Patrick's "punctured romance" with the snobbish Gloria Upson and Mame's "golden years" when she starts to long for Patrick to settle down and have kids. The heart of the story is Patrick's relationship with Mame - as he gets older he may get a little more frustrated with Mame's unconventional ways, but underneath it all the one thing that never changes is their love for each other. Auntie Mame is the perfect balance of laugh-out-loud comedy and heart-tugging, genuine emotional depth. HIGHLY recommended.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

New Robin Hood 3 Trailer

Season 3 of Robin Hood started airing in the UK TODAY (so unbelievably NOT FAIR).

Update: I found episode 1 of season 3 on YouTube. Keyword search is "Robin Hood 301 Total Eclipse." Probably won't remain up for long...but oh my GOSH was it good. :)

Little Dorrit

I am so excited about the premiere of Little Dorrit, starting tomorrow on Masterpiece Classic. Here's a brief summary from the PBS website:

Amy Dorrit's (Claire Foy) gentle spirit has never been dampened by the confining walls of the Marshalsea Prison she's lived in her whole life. Despite the dark shadow of debtor's prison, Amy lovingly cares for her father William Dorrit (Tom Courtenay), the longest serving inmate. A possibly redemptive light unexpectedly shines in the form of Arthur Clennam (Matthew Macfadyen), who has been left with the intriguing threads of a mystery after his father's death — threads that will intertwine his family and fate with the Dorrits. Clennam's exhaustive search for answers involves murder, fortunes gained and lost, the upper echelons and lowest dregs of society, and most surprising of all, a tender romance. Adapted by Andrew Davies (Bleak House, Pride and Prejudice), Little Dorrit, based on the book by Charles Dickens, is a sprawling story as timely as it is moving.

This miniseries has got an excellent pedigree. Not only is it chock-full of tremendous acting talent, but it boasts a script by Andrew Davies, who turned Bleak House by Charles Dickens into such a tremendous success a few years ago. After part one airs tomorrow, check back for my review!

Friday, March 27, 2009

Review: The Beekeeper's Apprentice

Now that I've officially joined the Blogger community, I'll be periodically reposting some of my older reviews from Xanga here. Ruth from Bookish Ruth was kind enough to let me join the Baker Street Challenge as a contributor. Here is my first review for that challenge (originally posted on Xanga in January).

The Beekeeper's Apprentice (Mary Russell Mysteries #1)

By: Laurie R. King

About the book:

In 1915, long since retired from his observations of criminal humanity, Sherlock Holmes is engaged in a reclusive study of honeybee behavior on the Sussex Downs. Never did he think to meet an intellect to match his own - until his acquaintance with Miss Mary Russell, a very modern fifteen-year-old whose mental acuity is equaled only by her audacity, tenacity, and penchant for trousers and cloth caps.

Under Holmes' tutelage, Russell hones her talent for deduction, disguises, and danger: in the chilling case of a landowner's mysterious fever and in a kidnapping in the wilds of Wales. But her ultimate challenge is yet to come. Soon the two sleuths are on the trail of a murderer whose machinations scatter meaningless clues...but whose objective is quite unequivocal: to end Russell and Holmes's partnership - and their lives.


In The Beekeeper’s Apprentice, Laurie R. King introduces Sherlock Holmes to the most unlikely companion – a young woman with an intellect that matches the legendary detective in every way. Holmes is well-known for his lack of tolerance for the mental acuity of others – so for Mary Russell to have won his admiration, respect, and affection is a remarkable feat. This series needs to achieve two objectives to succeed – the character of Holmes has to be true to the canon and Russell has to be a true equal to him in mind and mettle. To speak to the first point – in my view King absolutely nails it in her depiction of Holmes’s character, voice, and mannerisms. I’ve read most, but not all, of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s stories, and I’m a huge fan of Jeremy Brett’s portrayal of the detective in the classic television series. For me Brett is the definitive Holmes – when I read Doyle, his is the voice I hear and the face I see, and the same applies for King’s incarnation of Holmes. King lets us see the “real” Holmes, devoid of the glow of “celebrity” that his good friend Dr. Watson applied (much to the detective’s chagrin) in the stories that documented his cases. Russell’s appearance throws Holmes out of his comfort zone and injects new energy into his personal and professional life. Plus, it’s wonderful fun seeing him cope with Russell’s maturation from a gawky teenager to a capable adult. Russell’s voice is the second half of the puzzle that makes this series a successful Holmes pastiche. By the age of fifteen she’s already been to hell and back through the loss of her parents & younger brother. The early tragedy informs her reaction to everything that follows, most importantly her developing relationship with Holmes. For all her hard brilliance, King allows us to see Mary’s vulnerable side – and since she is essentially the other half of Holmes, it provides fascinating insight into his character as well. Finally, the novel’s brisk pace and attention to historical detail results in a tale that positively drips with atmosphere. I particularly enjoy reading about Russell’s college experiences at Oxford and her interest in theology, especially her reaction to her first trip to her mother’s homeland, Israel. The world King builds here is a joy to get lost in, and the characters – both new and canonical – are so real, and such a joy to spend time with. That’s why I keep coming back to this series – the characters are multi-faceted and the world-crafting is so richly done, I feel like I take away something new from the story with each reading.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

There's a Song for Everything...

I got this from my friend Kaye (who picked Dean Martin).

Using only song names from ONE ARTIST, cleverly answer these questions. Pass it on to a gazillion people and include me. Try not to repeat a song title. It's harder than you think...

Artist: Frank Sinatra

Are you male or female: The Lady is a Tramp (I thought about using The Girl Next Door or The Girl from Ipanema, but really Tramp trounces them all - though Luck Be a Lady was a strong 2nd choice.) :)

Describe yourself: Angel Eyes

How do you feel about yourself: Too Marvelous for Words (LOL!!!)

Describe where you currently live: Street of Dreams

If you could go anywhere, where would you go: London By Night

Your best friend is: Mack the Knife (Yeah watch out people...)

Your favorite color is: Blue Moon

What's the weather like: Come Rain Or Come Shine

If your life was a TV show, what would it be called: I'm Gonna Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter

What is life to you: I’ve Got the World On a String

What is the best advice you have to give: The Best is Yet to Come

If you could change your name, what would it be: Adelaide (I'm not particularly fond of the name, but the song is fantastic.)

Your favorite food is: The Coffee Song (Some people might argue that coffee is a beverage and not a food, but I beg to differ...)

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Turning the Paige by Laura Jensen Walker

This week, the

Christian Fiction Blog Alliance

is introducing

Turning The Paige

Zondervan (March 1, 2009)


Laura Jensen Walker


Laura Jensen Walker is an award-winning writer, popular speaker, and breast-cancer survivor who loves to touch readers and audiences with the healing power of laughter.

Born in Racine, Wisconsin (home of Western Printing and Johnson’s Wax—maker of your favorite floor care products) Laura moved to Phoenix, Arizona when she was in high school. But not being a fan of blazing heat and knowing that Uncle Sam was looking for a few good women, she enlisted in the United States Air Force shortly after graduation and spent the next five years flying a typewriter through Europe.

By the time she was 23, Laura had climbed the Eiffel Tower, trod the steps of the Parthenon, skied (okay, snowplowed) in the Alps, rode in a gondola in Venice, and wept at the ovens of Dachau. She’d also learned how to fold her underwear into equal thirds, make a proper cup of English tea, and repel the amorous advances of a blind date by donning combat gear and a gas mask.

Laura is a former newspaper reporter and columnist with a degree in journalism who has written hundreds of articles on many subjects ranging from emu ranching and pigeon racing to goat-roping and cemetery board meetings. However, realizing that livestock and local government weren’t her passion, she switched to writing humor, which she calls a “total God-thing.”

Her lifelong dream of writing fiction came true in Spring 2005 with the release of her first chick lit novel, Dreaming in Black & White which won the Contemporary Fiction Book of the Year from American Christian Fiction Writers. Her sophomore novel, Dreaming in Technicolor was published in Fall 2005.

Laura’s third novel, Reconstructing Natalie, chosen as the Women of Faith Novel of the Year for 2006, is the funny and poignant story of a young, single woman who gets breast cancer and how her life is reconstructed as a result. This book was born out of Laura’s cancer speaking engagements where she started meeting younger and younger women stricken with this disease—some whose husbands had left them, and others who wondered what breast cancer would do to their dating life. She wanted to write a novel that would give voice to those women. Something real. And honest. And funny.

Because although cancer isn’t funny, humor is healing.

A popular speaker and teacher at writing conferences, Laura has also been a guest on hundreds of radio and TV shows around the country including the ABC Weekend News, The 700 Club, and The Jay Thomas Morning Show.

Another book in this series is Daring Chloe

She lives in Northern California with her Renaissance-man husband Michael, and Gracie, their piano playing dog


At 35, Paige Kelley is feeling very "in between." She's still working her temp job after two years, still not dating three years after her divorce, and still melting at every chubby-cheeked toddler she sees while her biological clock ticks ever louder. Paige even moves back home to help her ailing, high-maintenance mother.It's not exactly the life she'd dreamed of!

When her Getaway Girls book club members urge Paige to break free and get on with her life, she's afraid. How will her mother react? How can Paige honor her widowed mother and still pursue her own life? The answers come from a surprising source.
A trip to Scotland and a potential new love interest help launch an exciting new chapter in her life, and lead Paige to discover that God's plan for her promises to be more than she ever imagined.

This latest release in the Getaway Girls collection delivers a smart, funny, and warm account of one woman's challenge to reconcile who she is - a dutiful Christian daughter - with the woman she longs to be.

If you would like to read the first chapter of Turning The Paige, go HERE

Tuesday, March 24, 2009


Hello Blogger-land! I've been blogging at Xanga since 2005, however in order to better keep up with all of my friends on Blogger I've caved and decided to establish a blog here. I'm not abandoning Xanga - for the forseeable future, I'll probably be cross-posting between the two sites. More later...