Pop Culture Princess

Pop Culture Princess
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Friday, March 16, 2018

Marching into Women's History with some female focused reads

Since March happens to be Women's History Month, I thought that it would be a good idea to highlight a few new books by female writers who deserve their time in the spotlight this season.

Starting with a debut novel, Julia Sonneborn gives Jane Austen's Persuasion a modern twist or two with By The Book. Her leading lady is Anne Conroy, who teaches 19th century women's literature at Fairfax College.

While being somewhat happily settled into academic life, the arrival of Adam Martinez, her former love who she left upon graduation, as the new president of Fairfax has Anne in a whirlwind of emotion.

Can she establish a good working relationship with Adam without stirring up those feelings from their past? Will new writer-in-residence Rick Chasen become the romantic cure for what ails her or will his own bad blood with Adam make things worse? On top of all that, can her good friend Larry's actor boyfriend ever learn more about Jane Eyre than from the monster mash movie version he's starring in?

Having a new take on Persuasion(my favorite Austen novel,btw) is always a joy and no doubt some plot elements will be quite different from the source material. However, if the all important letter scene from the original can be pulled off just right, By The Book will have fulfilled the title's promise perfectly:

Next up is Greer Macallister's Girl In Disguise, a novel based upon the true story of the first woman to be hired as a Pinkerton detective.

As a widow in need of an income in the 1850s, Kate Warne didn't want to rely on easy sympathy and instead made a case to Allen Pinkerton that having a woman among his crime fighting crew might offer some distinct advantages.

Giving her a chance to prove herself, Pinkerton partners Kate with Tim Bellamy, who finds working with a female troubling at best. Over time, she does gain a few allies but often times, her mistakes are given harsher scrutiny than those of her male colleagues.

Macallister blends the reality of her main character's life with enough vivid imagination to make the story as riveting as an all-out fictional detective saga. With details that include working on security for Abraham Lincoln(before and after he became president), GID provides plenty of page turning action for those looking for a smart satisfying read:

If you're in the mood for something with a truly topical theme,Jennifer Clement's latest novel Gun Love should fit the bill nicely,unlike most of the characters in this turbulent story.

Fourteen year old Pearl has learned to live with a lot of things such as ever changing location of her family home with her clueless mother Margot, which is currently a car permanently parked at a Florida trailer park. Guns are a regular part of trailer life due to alligator infestation as well as one of their neighbors being in the illegal arms business.

When a newcomer named Eli decides to charm his way into Margot's affections, a rift between her and Pearl develops that is made worse when Pearl is forced to make a dangerous decision that truly means life or death.

 The dark charms of this narrative echo our present day dilemma over gun culture but this is not meant to be a mere diatribe. Jennifer Clement gives us a older than she wants to be heroine with a haunting grace that reminds me of  Ree Dolly in Winter's Bone, sort of spiritual sisters of suffering who could teach us all a lesson in learning to do the right thing for the situation at hand:

Being on the look out for new female voices in literature is something that ought to be done year round but Women's History Month is a fine time to make an extra effort in that department.

Many of the best books by women are sadly neglected over the years from their first publication and become lost to time. Fortunately, there are those loyal readers and writers who strive to keep those books alive and are more than happy to introduce to the next generation, a true act of sisterhood indeed:

Monday, March 12, 2018

Springing ahead with a sizable Library haul

With back to back nor'easters hitting my neck of the woods(with another one on the horizon for tomorrow), planning any sort of outing is difficult at best,especially an entertainment related one.

Fortunately, this past weekend provided some much needed relief from these dreary late winter dregs and I was able to make a trip to the library. My haul was pretty hefty, as I took home four books(two of which are written by the same author-more on that soon!).

First up was The Cafe by the Sea by Jenny Colgan , in hardcover no less! Most of the time, the Colgan novels that I've seen are in paperback, which is great, but reading one in hardcover is a nice change of pace there.

The story is set on the Scottish island of Mure, where hometown girl Flora Mackenzie returns from London reluctantly. The legal firm she works for has a client who wants to make major changes in the community and would prefer a local to negotiate with the residents.

Trouble is, Flora is not the most popular person in town, having left after a harsh exchange of words at her mother's funeral. Regardless, her father and brothers do take her in and when things go badly, Flora discovers a passion for cooking that leads her to opening up a seaside restaurant. Should she make a go of it in Mure or see if those burnt London bridges can be rebuilt?

Colgan is truly gifted with a flair for making small towns come alive on the page, with characters that feel real enough to be walking down your own neighborhood streets. So far, the book is a lively read and one that promises to warm my heart during the chilly days to come:

Next, I came across Carnegie's Maid by Marie Bendict, a historical fiction that sounds quite intriguing. The leading lady of the story is Clara Kelley, an Irish immigrant who takes up another identity upon landing in America, due to a mistake made by customs.

Using the higher status unexpectedly granted to her, Clara is able to gain a position as a lady's maid to Margaret Carnegie, whose sons Andrew and Tom are meant to do great things.

Clara and Andrew form a friendship based on a shared intellectual interest, with the possibility of his detecting her true identity. However, their bond must be kept hidden,even though they know that it can never enter the realm of the romantic. Since Carnegie founded many a good library in his day, it seems fitting that I get the chance to read this engaging novel about him from a library.

Now, we come to the pair of books written by the same author that I just couldn't resist. Both are by Mary Simses, with the first one being The Irresistible Blueberry Bakeshop & Cafe.

When Ellen Branford decides to grant her grandmother Ruth's dying wish by delivering a letter of apology to the man whose heart she broke about sixty years ago. Ellen chooses to given the letter over in person.

Upon arriving in the town of Beacon,ME, she finds herself in need of rescue from a fall off of a pier and is saved by Roy, who sweeps her off her feet in more ways than one. With Ellen being engaged to another man, this causes a few complications, not to mention learning more about Ruth and that past love of hers.

Turns out, this book was adapted into a made for TV movie(renamed The Irresistible Blueberry Farm) not too long ago and it might be fun to check that out as well:

The Irresistible Blueberry B&C was Simses' debut novel and by the sheer luck of library shelving, her other book happened to be right next to it that day.

The Rules of Love and Grammar has copy editor Grace reexamining her life as a trio of troubles shakes up her regular routine. To get a chance to clear her head, Grace goes home to her folks in Connecticut with the stated reason being plans for her father's birthday.

While there, she runs into her former high school sweetheart,  a well known film director who is making a movie right in their hometown. As Grace tries to regain his attention and refocus her life, she soon realizes that not everything can be fixed by a flick of her red copy edit pen.

Usually, I don't pick up a pair of books by someone I've never read before,library or otherwise. However, upon looking through one of them at a quiet table in my local library reading lounge, it became clear to me that not getting both that day would be a literary regret that I didn't want to have:

So, hopefully by the time that I will have finished with all of these books and bring them back, spring will have finally sprung some wonderful warm weather upon us. As much as I enjoy the frosty delights of winter, it would really be nice to not have to cuddle up under a heavy blanket to avoid the seemingly everlasting cold outside(although a good book at hand does help ease the chill a bit):

Friday, March 09, 2018

Looking for a better Book Club to join at the movies

When books and movies are mixed together, it can be an entertaining flavor combination, like peanut butter and chocolate.

However, when not blended together well or with the wrong set of ingredients, the whole thing can fall apart faster than a rushed to the oven souffle.

That latter foodie metaphor is the feeling that I got from watching the first trailer for the movie Book Club, due out this spring. It stars a formidable quartet of actresses(Jane Fonda,Candice Bergen, Diane Keaton and Mary Steenburgen) who play a group of long time friends going through various midlife issues who also form a book club.

As a way to "liven things up", Fonda's character decides that they all need to read Fifty Shades of Grey and judging by the obvious open mouthed reaction shots in this trailer, the book magically awakes their collectively dormant sex drives. I'm far from being a prude but I find it hard to believe that these ladies have no idea about what's in that particular novel.

 The Fifty Shades trio of books have been part of the cultural conversation for several years now and the movie version has already aired on cable, both basic and subscription(with the final film adaptation arriving in theaters not so long ago). Already my suspension of disbelief has snapped within the first minute of this teaser:

Maybe it's just me but the faux pearl clutching is annoying yet only the cherry on top of my intelligence insulted sundae here. With Fonda doing a spray-cheesy version of Blanche from Golden Girls that sticks Bergen into a dour Dorothy position to Keaton and Steenburgen both battling it out to be the off color Rose of the group, the comedy goes downhill fast at a sorry sitcom speed.

The most aggravating is the choice of book; Fifty Shades is a lazy pick from writers who I suspect haven't read that series and weren't creative enough to make up a sexy novel that peaked the interests of their characters. Not to mention that it's a book that misrepresents the romance genre along with the erotic novel sub genre. Plus, I am sick of the whole "women reading dirty books" stereotype combined with the "older women feeling sexy" mockery.

I'm also pretty sure that none of the women in this movie have a real conversation about the book's contents and in my opinion, if you call a movie Book Club, I expect to have some scenes where they talk about the book at a meeting! And yes, you can do that with a sense of humor. From what I'm seeing in this trailer, there are SNL skits with better jokes and more depth than this movie has to offer:

Part of the problem here is that this is an original screenplay(written by people who probably think that a book club is just an excuse to drink wine and gossip) rather than based on an actual book.

There are plenty of good novels with a book club theme( even a few with a "naughty books" focus) ripe for adaptation out there. One that was made back in 2007 is still a favorite of mine, The Jane Austen Book Club.

Based on Karen Joy Fowler's book, this tale of five women and one man who explore the works of Jane Austen is everything that Book Club appears not to be. A well nuanced story with fully developed characters that has humor and heart mixed in at the right spots, plus plenty of book discussion scenes.

Some might think that Jane Austen in the title means low key romance and mild plot points but they would be so wrong. Adultery, divorce,betrayal and a couple of May/December romances(one a possible student-teacher hook-up) are part and parcel of this smartly mature film.

It also boasts a respectable cast of actresses, from Kathy Baker to Emily Blunt,plus Maria Bello and Lynn Redgrave(in a small yet pivotal role). In fact, this movie gives both the male and female characters here a good amount of emotional development,something you don't often in most movies of any genre. A special bonus is that director Robin Swicord also adapted the screenplay, making this book truly come to life onscreen with such special care:

No doubt, some would tell me "Oh, lighten up! Book Club is just supposed to be a fun movie, a girl's night out kind of thing. Plus, look at all of those great actresses together in one film!"

Fun is fine but not when it's being condescending and that is the vibe that the trailer is giving me here. Maybe the entire film is different from what is showcased in this trailer but I highly doubt it.

Also, given the credentials of the leading ladies involved, I would prefer a project that made the best of their talents instead of provide drawing power for a script that has one of them blurt out things like "Do you want to be spanked?' and "Do you want to tie me up?" at off putting moments. Also, having a character be a respected judge who can't shut off the sexy online ads at  her work computer in front of a younger assistant is so face palm worthy.

Fortunately, there is a better book club movie due to come out later in the year and it happens to be based on a very good book. The Guernsey Literary & Potato Peel Pie Society will star Lily James as a writer in post-WWII London who seeks out the reading group of the title. That bunch of readers held up each other's spirits during their island's occupation by enemy forces and protected one another as best they could.

If you want to check out Book Club when it comes out in May, I hope you have a good time at the movies. As for me, I'd rather wait and buy a ticket to Guernsey for a better take on book clubs and good hearted readers on film:

Tuesday, March 06, 2018

Oscars 2018:signs of change or still the same?

Well, another Oscar night has come and gone, leaving in it's wake the usual set of happy winners, trying not to look disappointed nominees and a few memorable moments.

One of the latter for me was Jordan Peele getting Best Original Screenplay for Get Out, the first African American to receive an Academy Award in this category.

As a fan of the movie as well as his now classic comedy series Key & Peele, this win was beyond wonderful and frankly, I wasn't sure if he would get it.

My hunch was that Greta Gerwig was going to be the winner here since the Oscar folks would want to give her something for Ladybird(which they didn't as it turned out).  I knew that Peele was a long shot to win anything for this film, due to it being a horror movie that some Academy voters didn't watch or consider an "Oscar worthy" movie.

However, Get Out overcame some of that genre snobbery when it came to writing. In a film that holds more than one type of terror within it's framework, story structure and dialogue become all the more meaningful in order to convey the growing levels of tension. That tone of quiet fear and unspoken menace can be tricky to develop on page and screen but Peele's screenplay balances those much needed highs and lows nicely:

Plenty of people were upset about Ladybird not winning that night but my biggest regrets were saved for Mudbound, which should have gotten way more nominations to begin with.

Mudbound deserved to be up for Best Picture,Best Actor(Jason Mitchell),Best Director and a whole slew of other categories. Yes, I knew full well that Mary J. Blige for Best Supporting Actress(along with Best Song, that she sang beautifully) was the longest of shots but they could have at least made some more Hollywood history by giving cinematographer Rachel Morrison the win.

Having the first woman to win in that category would have been a fine tip of the hat there to the MeToo/Time'sUp movement, not to mention open the door for other women in that field to follow through. Dee Rees really ought to have been up for Best Director and at one point, I thought she might get Best Adapted Screenplay(it went to James Ivory instead).

On the other hand, Rees was honored at the Independent Spirit Awards the night before, receiving their Robert Altman award for the film and giving an amazingly awesome speech. Perhaps one day, the Academy will be fortunate enough to center their spotlight on her for the next wonderful film she is bound to give us in the future:

The show itself was fine, with host Jimmy Kimmel doing a solid humorous monologue and his bit with other Oscar attendees handing out candy to a surprised movie theater audience was entertaining enough.

However, I think the Oscars in general could use a little more spontaneity in their proceedings(and I don't mean that envelope mix-up from last year either!) from time to time. A major reason that the ratings are going down for the show is that everyone involved takes themselves way too seriously when it comes to the films they choose to celebrate.

Sure, stuff like The Post, Dunkirk and Darkest Hour are typical "serious" Oscar fare, along with the occasional quirky/indie flavored offerings like Ladybird and The Shape of Water to round things out.

Yet, they continue to ignore the films that mass audiences truly take to such as Wonder Woman, Star Wars: The Last Jedi and just about any Marvel movie. Yes, some of them do get their place in the cinematic sun during the technical categories, which is rightly so, but would it be so terrible if those genre features were also respected for their acting, writing and directing?

A little leeway in these areas would not only bring better ratings but also bring more people into the film world fold, seeing that the art of movies is not just formal wear. Take a hint from presenters Tiffany Haddish and Maya Rudolph, folks-taking off your fancy shoes and being real with your audience can be the best way to get them on your side:

Congratulations are in order to The Shape of Water, for it's wins including Best Director and Best Picture, Coco for Best Animated and Best Song, Alison Janney for Best Supporting Actress in I, Tonya and Frances McDormand for her leading performance in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.

I have to catch up on all of these movies but am in no doubt of their quality. However, there is more noteworthy material out there that wasn't recognized and while you can't cover the entire entertainment waterfront with one show, it's always good to strive for the better next time out.

Much like art itself, the Oscars need to evolve with the times and while giving a little focus to the issues of women, people of color and the LGBT community here is good, that has to be backed up with way more inclusion reflected in the nominations. Don't rest on your laurels, my movie making friends-work towards making real progress on and off screen:

Friday, March 02, 2018

Checking out some good books to watch on TV this season

While the spring season is bringing us cinematic joy at the multiplexes, there are plenty of small screen delights to savor at home as well.

 A good number of them are also based on books, giving you that two for the price of one value to your entertainment and here's a little list of those waiting in the wings to light up your viewing pleasure time.

Speaking up of lighting up, HBO plans to air a remake of Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451 this May, with Michael B. Jordan as Guy Montag, the unquestioning fireman whose drive to be the best book burner  is challenged by a new person in his life.

Michael Shannon(The Shape of Water) co-stars as his commander and it's clear from the trailer that this futuristic tale of censorship and totalitarian rule has been well adapted into a meaningful look at the troubled times that we're currently facing now:

 For another slice of social commentary, Starz has a miniseries adaption of Howards End on tap for April.

It boasts a nicely solid British cast with Hayley Atwell as Margaret Schlegel, the seemingly more sensible sibling of a formerly wealthy family that has fallen on hard times, Tracey Ullman as her eccentric Aunt Juley and Matthew MacFadyen playing Henry Wilcox, the widowed patriarch of a family suspicious of his growing relationship with Margaret.

 E. M. Forster's searing look at England's class structure also offers a welcome dollop of melodrama and romance,making that metaphoric medicine go down a touch sweeter and the characters all the more emotionally engaging:

If you're in the mood for a childhood classic, PBS is planning to have Louisa May Alcott's Little Women visit us in May. A cast of young newcomers plays along side such venerable performers as Emily Watson(Marmee), Angela Lansbury(Aunt March) and Michael Gambon(James Laurence).

As someone who has adored this book since her own childhood days(still have the copy I was given for Christmas back in the day!) and has yet to see an adaptation much to her liking, I have high hopes for this one indeed.

This will be a three part miniseries, with the first episode airing on Mother's Day. That's a nice touch and a lovely way to celebrate such a timeless tale of mothers and daughters together:

For those seeking something a bit more modern, Starz is setting up the bar for Sweetbitter. Based on the 2016 novel by Stephanie Danler, our leading lady is Tess(Ella Purnell), a young woman new to New York and the fast paced world of fine dining.

Taking a job in one of the most high end restaurants in the city, Tess gets overwhelmed rather quickly but with the help of bartender Jake(Tom Sturridge) and waitress Simone(Caitlin Fitzgerald), starts to find her way.

Sweetbitter is intended to be a regular series for Starz, with the first of it's half hour episodes due to air on May 6. With the author herself on board as one of the producers and writers, this could be a show that really sticks to your ribs there:

It's nice to find good books being adapted for a wider audience and having it become possibly must watch TV is such a bookish bonus as well. There's many more out there that I haven't covered but my one last literary reminder will be for Dan Simmons' The Terror coming to AMC in March.

This is scary historical fiction, with an ice locked ship and a crew being stalked by a deadly unknown entity and for my Outlander friends, Tobias Menzies is a member of the crew,along with Ciaran Hinds late of GOT and a character called Lady Silence. That sounds so intriguing that I can hardily wait to tune in:

Monday, February 26, 2018

Springing forth with new March and April reads for 2018

It still has the feel of winter outside yet mark my words, spring is well on her way with plenty of sunshine,holiday outfits and wonderful new books to read.

Sure, this season does seem to grow shorter and shorter each year but that's all the more reason to cherish it when it does unfurl it's pastel petals. Granted, I'm a spring baby,so I am far from impartial, however, there is so much magical energy in the air that it's really hard for anyone to truly resist.

To that end, here is a six pack of upcoming titles for March and April ready to blossom at a bookseller or library near you:

AN UNSUNG WOMAN OF HISTORY: Writing duo Stephanie Dray and Laura Kamoie have teamed up once again to highlight a lady of historical yet nearly hidden importance in their latest novel, My Dear Hamilton.

Yes, this is the story of Eliza Hamilton, one of the famed Schyuler sisters who happened to fall in love with a rising star of the American Revolution. While he wasn't the only potential politician in her life(Eliza also caught the eye of future president James Monroe), Alexander Hamilton was the man to whom she gave her heart to in marriage.

The struggles of their life didn't end with the war, as Eliza did her best to counsel her husband during his numerous feuds and remain loyal to his interests, even when they conflicted grievously with her own personal dignity and happiness.

Dray and Kamoie gave us a solid engaging read with America's First Daughter(about Thomas Jefferson's eldest girl Patsy) and no doubt that this book will be a charming encore(April):

YOUNG MEN OF INDECISION: In Jonathan Evison's Lawn Boy, we meet Mike Munoz, who knows that he wants more out of life but doesn't know what exactly.

His job as a lawn mower is truly dead end and getting other work is made difficult by having to help look after his disabled brother Nate.  Mike's mom has troubles of her own, including a live-in boyfriend that's a drain on the family finances.

Getting fired forces Mike to seek a new job as well as figure out what to do with the unfocused ambitions that he does have that are blocked by the social class and circumstances that he's stuck in. Evison blends a good amount of humor with the hard times that his leading man has to deal with, reminding me of another literary fella who had more than his fair share of troubles but did find his way towards the good life that he wanted.

I don't know if Lawn Boy will ever be made into a movie but a What's Eating Gilbert Grape for this generation certainly would be welcome right about now(April):

Author Uzodinma Iweala follows ups his acclaimed novel Beasts of No Nation with a look at personal truth and consequences in America. Speak No Evil introduces us to Niru, a high school senior and track star in Washington DC, on the fast lane heading for Harvard in the fall.

When his strict,traditionalist parents discover that Tinder and Grindr messages from men are on Niru's phone( due to apps put there by his friend Meredith), their horror at his sexual identity turns to violent retribution and a summer trip to their home country of Nigeria  that leaves severe emotional scars.

Years later, Niru and Meredith meet again, with unfinished business between them to say the least. Dealing with such harsh realities and complex truths would be daunting for any writer but Iweala has shown that he's more than up to the challenge here(March).

FLAVORFUL MEMORIES: In Viola Shipman's The Recipe Box, a burnt out sous chef rediscovers her culinary passion.

Samantha"Sam" Mullins thought that getting away from the family orchard and pie making business in Michigan would let her become a cooking legend in her own right. However, working for a cruel, demanding boss who knows nothing about the pastries that Sam labors hard to make yet passes them off as his own dashes many of her hopes.

Quitting that job, she heads home to spend the summer working with her mother and grandmother who share their own stories of personal struggles along with the recipes that have lasted for several generations. Slowly but surely, Sam revives her kitchen spirits and possibly even finds a new love ready to appreciate all that she has to give.

Shipman has had good word of mouth from her previous novels such as The Charm Bracelet and I sense a very positive page turning vibe as this new book arrives freshly baked from her imagination oven(March).

JUST A BIT OF TURBULENCE : Chris Bohjalain flies into some uncharted fictional territory with The Flight Attendant as his leading lady wakes up to find a dead man she somewhat remembers from the night before next to her in bed.

Cassie Bowden has never considered her drinking to the point of blacking out to be much of a problem before but now with the police,the FBI and a Russian assassin who regrets leaving a witness behind all after her, the time has come to take serious and sober control of her life.

Bohjalian has jumped around before in genre,ranging from dramatic mysteries to historical fiction, but this seems to be the closet he has come to thriller country. This should be interesting to see, as his talent for thoughtful characters and flair for emotional high points ought to add something extra to the typical thrill ride there(March):

TO DEGRASSI AND BEYOND: Fans of the Canadian teen drama Degrassi High(which has carried on to more than one generation) will be delighted to learn that we now have an insider's look into that series.

Producer Stephen Stohn chronicles his journey into music and then television in Whatever It Takes, offering lessons on just how hard the world of entertainment can be yet giving engaging behind the scenes info about what goes into the show in every incarnation of Degrassi.

Canadian pop culture is often taken for granted yet Stohn has worked with many breakout artists such as K.D. Lang and Drake, proving that our neighbors to the North have plenty of talent on tap indeed. Degrassi watchers will recognize where the title of this book is from and perhaps even sing along to the show's theme as they turn the pages in delight(March):

I hope that a couple of these books will be a good literary companion to you as Spring makes her glorious arrival. Reading is one of those activities that go well with any season and has no problem taking place outdoors(although Mother Nature might want to grab some of your attention with her floral presence and it would be wise to do so when she shows up):

Friday, February 23, 2018

Parting from PBS' Victoria is a sweet sorrow that gives us more to savor

For many of us this weekend, the major departure from our TV schedule will not be the Winter Olympics(congrats to all of the winners) but the season 2 finale of Masterpiece's Victoria.

This second outing with the iconic queen and her beloved Albert has given us plenty of insights into history, such as the Irish potato famine, prime minster Robert Peele's stand against his party to repeal unfair trade laws and Her Majesty's visits to Scotland and France.

 We also saw the final farewells to Victoria's beloved "Lord M" along with her faithful canine companion Dash, witnessed the aftermath of Prince Albert's complicated family affairs and the departure of Lehzen, Victoria's childhood protector. Quite a lot to unpack in seven episodes(it does feel like this series was much longer and I mean that in a good way) but thankfully, we have a third season to look forward to.

To prepare myself for the Victoria less Sundays to come, I plan to watch a prior BBC-made miniseries about her Royal Highness and her great love.

Victoria and Albert stars Victoria Hamilton(known best as the Queen Mother on Netflix's The Crown as well as Lark Rise to Candleford's Miss Ruby) as the queen, Jonathan Firth as Prince Albert and much to my pleasant surprise, Diana Rigg(who is a major supporting player on the current Victoria) as Lehzen.

This two part series covers Victoria's early days but focuses primarily on her romance with Albert, including his growing public responsibilities and their growing family, right up to his death which put her in deep mourning. I haven't seen this miniseries before and very anxious to see how it measures up to the latest Victoria show. Not as anxious as she was to propose to Albert but anxious nonetheless:

I also find the older Victoria just as interesting as the younger,so earlier this month, I checked out the film that is up for two Academy Awards(Costume and Make-up/Hair Design) this year. Sadly, Judi Dench is not nominated for her leading actress work here but we'll get to that soon enough.

Victoria & Abdul is set near the end of her life, when she was going through the motions of her dull daily routines. What gave her fresh interest in life was meeting Abdul(Ali Fazal), a clerk from India who was tapped to present a ceremonial coin for the Golden Jubilee.

At first, Victoria was simply delighted to have someone new around her(and yes, she found him rather handsome to boot) but started to gain an interest in the culture of India from the conversations she had with Abdul, who was more than happy to give her a broader view of his homeland:

Eventually, Victoria decides to make him a permanent part of the household by engaging Abdul as a language teacher(she learned to read and write Urdu) and later as a spiritual advisor.

Over time, their bond grew stronger, even when she discovered that he was married(Abdul's wife and mother in law were sent for ), not to mention the various scandals that her staff and relatives searched in vain for to pin on him.

One of the strengths of the movie is the blatant hypocrisy of the royal household, who consider Abdul an unwelcome outsider at best. Accusing him constantly of unduly influencing the queen is rich, coming from such a pack of social climbers who are envious of anyone having Her Majesty's complete attention, let alone a foreigner:

 Included in the hypocritical attacks was Victoria's eldest son Bertie(Eddie Izzard),a pompous fool who was shameless in trying to drive a wedge between his mother and Abdul. Granted, she wasn't the most loving of mothers but his actions were less about her welfare and more about his eventual ascension to the throne.

While I have no doubt that some historical tweaks were made here, the basic story holds up rather well and does manage to give the viewer a glimpse of what it was like for the people of India under English rule. Faval and Dench do have great chemistry on screen, which makes it easy to understand why these two would have developed such a devoted attachment to one another.

It does help tremendously that Judi Dench has portrayed Queen Victoria before, in a rather similar story(Mrs Brown back in 1997). She does know this lady well, showcasing the various emotional layers of such a powerful woman who was isolated by her position and needing to seek the friendship of someone that did seem to care about her as a person rather than a monarch. She did get an Oscar nomination for Mrs. Brown and it would've been nice to have her get one for this cinematic bookend as well:

If you do go through some Victoria withdrawal, I highly recommend Victoria & Abdul(along with Mrs. Brown) as a good cure for that pop culture ailment. As for me, I not only have the V&A miniseries to watch but a copy of Julia Baird's Victoria biography to tide me over until next time.

I do find it fitting that the second season finale is a Christmas episode, as this series has become quite the gift that keeps on giving to fans of British fare as well as those finding welcome relief in seeing a competent ruler that was truly interested in the welfare of her people: