Shakespeare and I

Not only has April 23rd been the International Day of the Book (or World Book Day) ever since 1995… for much longer it has also been the birthday (and death-day, actually) of a certain someone called William Shakespeare, and today we are celebrating it for the 450th time. Since the birthday boy is unable to make it to the party for obvious reasons (well… IF they were already done filming Series 8 of “Doctor Who” and IF they’d had the good sense to include a Shakespeare-themed episode this would have been a different story, perhaps, but alas, it isn’t to be 😉 ), I thought it would be nice to write a bit about my personal “encounters” with The Bard.

The first time I read anything by Shakespeare was in late 1996, around the time when the “Romeo & Juliet” movie with Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes was released. I read the play before I’d seen the movie (I think) and even though I was struggling with Shakespearean English (I was 15 and had only been learning English for about 4 years), I thought the story was lovely and I even liked the writing (well, the parts I understood, at least). To be honest, though, I found it a bit weird to read about a pair of lovers who were only around my own age and wanted to be MARRIED (!!). Back then I didn’t really know much about history and that it was quite normal for people from a certain era to be married at such a young age. However, this didn’t diminish my enjoyment of the play and I wanted to read more of Shakespeare’s works. My friends got me The Complete Works of William Shakespeare for my birthday that year – a big, chunky paperback edition that is still sitting on my bookshelves to this day (and looking quite battered and well-loved by now).

The next time I came across a Shakespeare play was when we watched “Dead Poets Society” at school and that movie made me want to read “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”. I didn’t get very far, though, because to be honest, I found it a bit too silly and weird with all the enchanted humans-/woodland creatures-/fantasy-themed drama. That wasn’t my cup of tea back then (it still isn’t, really), so I stopped reading pretty soon and when we did the play in class at uni several years later (what with me doing English Lit and all), it took some convincing to get me to pick it up again. This time around, I enjoyed it a bit more but I can’t say that it’ll ever be among my favourites.

Another play I came across at school was “Much Ado About Nothing”. I had watched the Kenneth Branagh/Emma Thompson movie adaptation first and got to watch a brilliant modern performance of the play during a visit to Berlin with my mum in 1998 before actually reading the play myself for class. Sadly my English teacher at the time wasn’t very successful in getting my classmates interested in the play, so we basically just read it and talked about the text very briefly. Still, it’s my all-time favourite of the plays I’ve read, I just love all the witty wordplays and innuendoes and the characters of Benedick and Beatrice.

In 2000 we went on a week-long school trip to London and got to do a workshop at The Globe Theatre there, which also included going up on stage and reciting/acting out a few lines from various Shakespeare plays. To this day I never fail to mention to everyone who cares to hear it (and those who don’t 😉 ) that I once stood on the stage of The Globe, reciting Shakespeare! 🙂 We also went to Stratford-upon-Avon during this trip and saw Shakespeare’s birthplace and Anne Hathaway’s cottage and also Shakespeare’s grave in the Holy Trinity Church there.

When I started uni I got my first taste of Shakespeare’s history plays and it came in the form of “Richard II”. I absolutely hated that play! Well, not the play itself, but the character of Richard with his whiny, spoilt-brat-personality, who kind of reminded me of Dudley Dursley from the Harry Potter books. He totally ruined the play for me. And yes, I know that the reader is supposed to hate him but I just couldn’t get past this and enjoy the plot, I just kept thinking what an awful person he was and that overshadowed everything. I plan on reading it again sometime, though, hopefully I’ll enjoy it a bit more then.

For the same class at uni I had to read “Hamlet” and “Macbeth” and I quite liked both of them, possibly “Hamlet” a bit more than “Macbeth” because I got really fed up and annoyed with the character of Lady Macbeth, kind of in the same vein as with Richard II. These two I plan on reading again sometime as well because I’ve forgotten quite a lot about their plots already.

A different class at uni dealt with a few others of the history plays, namely “Richard III”, “Henry IV (Parts 1 & 2)” and “Henry V”. Out of these, I liked the two Henries the best but for some reason I wouldn’t want to read them again, as opposed to “Richard III”, which I somehow feel I’ll enjoy much more now that I know quite a bit more about the real Richard III.

That’s it for the plays I’ve read so far. Not too many, I know, but hopefully that’ll change over time. As for the poetical works of Shakespeare, I’ve only read a few of the sonnets. My favourites are Sonnet 18 (“Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?”) and Sonnet 116 (“Let me not to the marriage of true minds admit impediments”). I can still recite both of these off by heart, even though I haven’t read them in ages. They are just so lovely!

So which are your favourite works by Shakespeare and why? Let me know in the comments.

Lark Rise to Candleford

I spent the past few months watching all 4 series of ‘Lark Rise to Candleford’. As with so many British series I was late to the party on this one – it finished airing in early 2011 – which gave me the chance to watch all series straight through without having to wait for the next one. Not that there would have been massive cliffhangers, though. ‘Lark Rise…’ isn’t that kind of show, it doesn’t focus on big drama or action, it’s all about the little things, the random acts of kindness, the often petty quarrels and the friendships that keep a community, or rather two communities, going.

The two communities in this case are Lark Rise and Candleford, Lark Rise being a tiny hamlet about 8 miles from the neighbouring prosperous market town of Candleford in rural Oxfordshire at the end of the 19th century. Laura Timmins is a Lark Rise girl just on the brink of adulthood, who swaps her family’s cottage for the hustle and bustle of the Candleford post office, where she starts working alongside her mother’s cousin: formidable, headstrong and independent postmistress Dorcas Lane. Situated right at the centre of town, the Candleford post office – and Dorcas Lane in particular – provides the customers with advice on matters of both business and the heart. Through Laura’s eyes we get to experience what it means to be a woman in late 19th century England and Dorcas Lane teaches us that we can achieve anything if we only set our minds to it. The series shows the daily lives of the townsfolk as well as the villagers and the various grievances that come with it. Through all of those grievances, however, there is the post office and there is Miss Lane, who, though not short of problems of her own, is always there to give her opinion on the matter at hand – if sometimes not entirely welcomed by those around her.

Over the course of the 4 series we get to see Laura grow up from a teenager into a young woman, we get to follow postman Thomas Brown’s courtship of the timid but kind and funny daughter of the town’s vicar, we see hamlet families struggling through periods of extreme poverty without ever losing their appetite for life and we get to know a good deal about 19th century society and its ways.

While I like almost every one of the characters in the series, I particularly love Thomas Brown and Margaret, his wife. Whatever life throws at them, they take it in their stride and they must be one of the funniest TV couples I’ve ever had the pleasure of watching. The following scene is one of my favourites:

Another favourite of mine is Pearl Pratt (solo and in combination with her sister Ruby), the proprietor of Candleford’s ’boutique’. Her character is probably changing the most over the course of the series, from an annoying, gossip-loving nag to a loving and kind person who is very protective of her and her sister’s livelihood. This scene is probably my favourite of the entire series and perfectly captures the essence of the plot and what makes it so special and lovely to watch:

So, have any of you ever watched this series? What did you think? If you haven’t, please do give it a try! I think almost all episodes can be found on YouTube and it’s out on DVD as well, of course. Since the series is based on a trilogy of semi-autobiographical novels by Flora Thompson, I’ll be reading those at some point as well (you can click on the image below to buy an all-in-one copy of the trilogy at The Book Depository):

Lark Rise to Candleford

The Golden Couple of Politics?

Thursday night BBC 2 aired the third and final episode of its contemporary political drama ‘The Politician’s Husband’ starring David Tennant and Emily Watson as a married couple with high ambitions in the microcosm of Westminster politics.

After ‘Broadchurch’ (see this post to read about my thoughts on that one) I was curious to see what Tennant would make of this role. I hadn’t really read anything about the storyline beforehand, so when the first episode played out as it did I was pretty surprised. Some people might say the title of the show was a suggestion as to how things would go but I certainly didn’t see it coming. That said, though, it was really enjoyable to watch Freya basically outwitting her husband and becoming her own person as opposed to the pawn in his powerplay.

The beginning of the second episode seems to be quite ambiguous among TV critics and viewers. Alison Graham, TV editor at the Radio Times, writes that in her opinion rape and, as in this case, especially marital rape doesn’t belong on a freeview channel. The comments to her article show that even though quite a few of her readers agree with her, there’s also the odd disagreeing voice among them and I am one of those as well. If we can have murder, child abuse, suicide and other deeds depicting the darkest depths of the human soul on TV on a daily basis, then why should we shun something that occurs just as frequently in real life – even if behind closed doors and not as openly discussed – as the other things I mentioned? Just because it makes us uncomfortable to watch doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be shown. I’m sure there were times when watching a psychopath torturing his victim before killing it off made us uncomfortable, too, but did we ban those plots from our TV screens? No? So there.

‘The Politician’s Husband’ shows how a woman rises from the shadows of her husband to becoming a powerful figure in her own right, though at first it is by a mere coincidence which no one expected. It all comes at a price, though, and for me it was much more uncomfortable than watching that rape scene to watch the scenes where Aidan and Freya play the happy couple and they are so good at it that the viewer almost believes it’s not an act at all. But then you see the underlying hostility and distrust between them in their eyes and you realize that even when they are at their strongest, most united point in the storyline, which is right at the end of the final episode, it’s all just superficial and nothing has really been resolved between them. For me this final scene is all about that saying “Keep your friends close but your enemies even closer” and it’s just really sad to watch how this marriage that seemed so strong and happy and genuine at the beginning of the first episode turns into this farce. At some point in either the second or the third episode Freya asks her husband “Love without respect, is that even possible?”. I think by the end of the third episode their relationship has sadly changed to respect without love.

However, even though I was saddened by how it all played out for their marriage and their relationship, as a woman it was certainly very entertaining and satisfying for me to watch how Aidan’s pathetic scheming backfired and he got his just deserts in the end, having to yield the real power to his wife. 🙂

What really bugged me throughout the episodes, though (and I know it’s nitpicking and doesn’t really take away anything from the plot and the acting, which was brilliant, but still), is that a) the entire show seemed like an advert for Apple (iPhones galore, an iMac in the office, a Macbook on the kitchen counter, an iPad on the nightstand… Did Tim Cook write the script or what?) and b) the aforementioned iPhones kept ringing loudly throughout the episodes and almost every time when the call’s recipient picked them up they were ALWAYS set to silent mode and the little orange thingy on the side was clearly visible. Hello, editing department? Are you familiar with iPhones at all?

Yes, I’ll shut up now. 😉

Broadchurch: Final Verdict

So ‘Broadchurch’ has been over for a little while now… And though I do believe in the saying “If you’ve got nothing nice to say, just don’t say anything at all” (or somesuch), I think I need to voice my reasons for being thoroughly disappointed with the way it ended. Because I’m sad to say that the final episode really ruined the entire series for me. I know from reading the show’s fansite on Facebook and all the positive comments about it that I’m probably in the minority here, but I know at least two other people who feel the same way I do. So here goes…

The Pauline Quirke character: What the hell was that about? First they give us all those ‘town weirdo’ stereotypes, then they reveal her very troubled and tragic past and then she just vanishes and nobody seems to notice or care? Why introduce this character at all if she’s not going to give anything to the story in the end? I really don’t understand it and I think it’s really poor writing.

The David Tennant character: I pretty much only started watching this show because of David Tennant and I’m not ashamed to admit it. I think I already said in my previous blogpost about the show that I hope they give us a bit more insight into his character’s backstory. Well, they didn’t. Except for some farfetched plot line about his ex having an affair. Oh, golly, how original! So all those questions I (and probably everyone else watching) had about why he had those PTSD symptoms have stayed unanswered. Great. So why have him be like that in the first place? Another example of bad writing.

Which leaves us with the third and most important blunder in the storyline: The killer. Seriously, am I the only one who saw that coming from miles away? Well, OK, maybe not miles but at least the second to last episode. That scene at the skate park where Ellie was talking to her husband and he said something along the lines of “I’m available for questioning in the bedroom, you know?” and then when she wasn’t looking his face just turned really dark and hostile. That was such a major indicator that he had to be the killer, I can’t believe so many people were actually surprised when they revealed he really was the one who killed Danny! Hello?? Did you watch that episode at all? Also, this entire plot line with him being in love with Danny and the murder being more of an accident than an actual murder is so ridiculous. Child abuse? Really? After all that build-up that is what the writers came up with? So after the newsagent’s storyline they just thought “Oh what the heck, no one will notice that we just transferred that whole plot element from one character to another and took the easy way out”? I was really majorly disappointed with that. Actually, I’d like those 8 hours of my life back that I spent watching that show because honestly, I could have written such an ending myself, I don’t need to watch TV for that. The writers managed to keep me in the dark for more than 6 episodes, I’ll give them that, but the way the whole thing was resolved in the end was such a let-down. And yes, I do realize that a second series is coming sooner or later and they will probably tie up a few of those loose ends then (at least I hope so!), but still, no one knew it was going to be more than one series and seeing how the murder plot itself was solved and pretty much done with at the end I don’t see why any of the other threads couldn’t have been tied up now as well.

Oh well… I guess you can’t please everyone and apparently a lot of folks really liked the ending, so I’ll just shut up now. 😉 But at least my opinion is out there now. I feel much better already after this little rant. ^^

Broadchurch: A Seaside Whodunnit

For the past few weeks my Monday evenings have been reserved for watching one of my all-time favourite Doctors actors, David Tennant, in ITV’s new crime/mystery drama ‘Broadchurch’. I have to admit that I only learned about this show a few hours before it started airing but it had David Tennant in it, it was set in Dorset, which is an area of Britain I have been to and really like, and I always like a good whodunnit, so I was excited to check it out.

The story is set in a rather ordinary seaside town called Broadchurch and the characters seem pretty ordinary at first glance as well. There’s the friendly and slightly chaotic family who’s friends or acquaintances with basically everyone in town; the grumpy old newsagent; the bustling female police officer with a devoted house-husband at home; the male police officer with a dark secret in his past; the town weirdo (actually there are quite a few of those); the sensitive but slightly geeky vicar; the high-flying reporter from the Big City and many others. The victim of the crime that sets the story in motion is Danny Latimer, the young son of the aforementioned family. After he is found dead at the bottom of the cliffs and it has been established that his death was not an accident a frantic search for his killer begins and the lives of the townsfolk are disrupted as almost everyone is being put under scrutiny. Suddenly the viewer realises that nothing is as it seems to be in this quaint little town and that everyone seems to have a secret.

Usually with crime stories I’m quite good at making out who the killer is very early on but this one is different. For the first five episodes I had basically no idea whatsoever as to who it might be and now that the sixth episode aired last night I’m still undecided. It might be due to the fact that apparently only 4 people involved in the production knew who the killer was while it was being filmed and the actor or actress playing the killer was only told a few hours before the crucial final scenes were filmed. There are two more episodes to go and I really can’t wait to find out who did it! And after last night I’m really keen to know if the dog is OK (anyone who’s seen last night’s episode will know what I mean)!

The other thing I would really like to know is what the hell is wrong with DI Hardy? Illness? PTSD? It really bugs me that we don’t get to know more about his past and so far his character seems rather one-dimensional due to that which is a shame. :-/

So, anyone else watching this? What do you think who did it?

Armed bastards!

When I first started watching British television a few years ago I had a look at ‘Life on Mars’ and dismissed it after the first episode. Back then I was after shiny London-based plots with good-looking heroes like Adam Carter from ‘Spooks’. There’s a lot to be said about ‘Life on Mars’ but shiny and good-looking definitely aren’t among the words I would choose to describe it. And yet, upon trying it for a second time about 1.5 years ago, I instantly fell in love with it. Or rather, with its distinctive non-shiny-ness and its flawed heroes Sam Tyler and Gene Hunt.

The series starts off in Manchester in 2006, where we meet DCI Sam Tyler (played by John Simm), a policeman with the Greater Manchester Police. After he gets hit by a car while on an investigation, he wakes up in 1973 and discovers he’s now working as a DI for the Manchester and Salford Police, the predecessor of the GMP. His DCI there is Gene Hunt (played by Philip Glenister), a foul-mouthed, boisterous old-school ‘copper’ who loves booze and Gary Cooper in ‘High Noon’. Throughout the two series of the show we see the relationship between Sam and Gene evolve from being continually at loggerheads with each other to becoming friends and comrades-in-arms. Over the course of the 16 episodes of both series the viewer is faced with the question of what really happened to Sam. Each episode starts with him saying “My name is Sam Tyler. I had an accident and I woke up in 1973. Am I mad, in a coma, or back in time?” and this conundrum is only solved in the very last episode of Series 2 (though even then his fate is open to interpretation by the viewer). However, even though the question of what happened to him is continuously addressed throughout the episodes, the main plot is really the life and work of Sam, Gene and their team at A-Division CID. It has been said by several real-life police officers who were on active duty in 1973 that the depiction pf policing in the series has nothing to do with what it was really like back then, but I’m sure the reality simply wouldn’t have made for such amusing entertainment as the made-up world of 1973-policing in ‘Life on Mars’. Of course, what with Sam being from a different time, the comic aspects of the series are stressed whenever he mentions any kind of technology to his colleagues that hasn’t been invented yet in 1973, or whenever Gene or the team make some comment about what they think will or will not happen in the future, e.g. Gene’s declaration of “There will never be a woman prime minister as long as I have a hole in my arse” in the first series or Sam trying to introduce a TV to the local pub to the indignation of everyone around.

I urge everyone with a love of good storytelling and well-written characters to watch this series. And if you do (or if you’ve already seen it), please comment and let me know what you think about it. There is also a kind of sequel to this series called ‘Ashes to Ashes’ that deals with Gene and his team at the beginning of the 1980s (minus Sam, though), which is very high up on my to-watch-list, but seeing as I’m still kind of mourning the end of ‘Life on Mars’ I haven’t had the energy to invest myself into the new world of ‘Ashes to Ashes’ yet – even considering the fact that this one IS set in London! 😉

Now, enough with the talking (or, in this case, writing). Here is my favourite fan-made video about the TV gem that is ‘Life on Mars’. Enjoy!