28/04/2010

WHAT I HAVE BEEN WATCHING - 19th CENTURY HEROINES

1. FLORENCE NIGHTINGALE  - DVD (2008)

This BBC drama (2008) explores the emotional and spiritual trauma suffered by Florence Nightingale on her return from the Crimean War. After witnessing the horrors of the war first hand, Florence Nightingale (Laura Fraser) campaigned strongly for an investigation when she finally returned to England. The findings however, that many of the soldiers in her care died as a result of her own failings, caused her to re-evaluate her life's mission, breaking her in mind and spirit.

2. MISS POTTER - DVD ( 2007)


The life and story of the woman who created Peter Rabbit, Jeremy Fisher and Mrs Tiggy-Winkle shows that Beatrix Potter was a headstrong pioneer in Edwardian England who had to fight for success in a man's world. She became a celebrity whose secret love affair with her publisher Norman Warne, haunted her throughout her life. Both funny and sad, this makes great use of the beautiful Lake District landscape and stars Renee Zellweger as Beatrix and Ewan McGregor as Norman.

3. THE GOVERNESS - DVD (1998)


 Rosina da Silva (Minnie Driver) is well-educated and unusually curious for a female in an era (1830s) when a woman's primary focus is keeping house and attending to the needs of her family. So when her Jewish father is murdered on the street and leaves behind numerous debts, she forsakes an arranged marriage to an older suitor, transforms herself into Mary Blackchurch - a Protestant of partial Italian descent - in order to conceal her heritage, and accepts a position as a governess for a Scottish family living on the Isle of Skye in the Hebrides


Why I saw these movies
I'm keenly interested in the woman question from Austen to the Victorian Age, from the beginning of the Suffragette Movement to Virginia Woolf's writings. I take an eager interest  in reading books and watch films that can help me to understand and know more about it.

The idealised,  stereotyped Victorian "angel of the hearth" model was refused and defied by the protagonists of these stories.
These three different women lived more or less in the same period and experienced the same men's society full of prejudices and obstacles against their freedom and independence.
They fought against them, strongly believing in their right to freedom and to the acknowldegement of their talent and intelligence.
For instance, both in Florence Nightingale and in Miss Potter there are scenes in which the protagonist,  arguing with her mother,  states her  refusal of  marriage , her right not to make a living becoming a man's wife and his childern's mother. Miss Potter renounced  her freedom only for love, Miss Nightingale renounced  love to be free to follow her ideals.

In a touching scene of the 2008 TV movie (based on letters, diaries and autobiographical writings), young FlorenceNightingale refuses a marriage proposal by an affectionate friend and persistent wooer, Richard Monckton Milnes , and that -  she would say  later on - almost broke her heart every time she thought of him. But she had to prevent herself from becoming like her mother or sister . In her essay Cassandra (part of her Suggestions for Thought to Searchers after Religious Truth) she  - through Cassandra's voice - protests the over-feminization of women into near helplessness,what she recognized in her mother's and older sister's lethargic lifestyle, despite their education. She rejected their life of thoughtless comfort for the world of social service.  Elaine Showalter called Nightingale's writing "a major text of English feminism, a link between Wollstonecraft and Woolf.
Beatrix Potter,  instead,  fought against her family to be free not to marry,  first. Then, at the age of 32, after meeting Norman Warne her publisher, she claimed the right  to marry the man she loved. But her upper class family  considered him unsuitable for being  a tradesman. Though there are some historical inaccuracies in this biopic, though many people didn't like Renée Zellweger's cast for the role, I found  it is a delightful Victorian fairy -  tale-  like movie and I was glad to see it,  also for the appeal of its romance, settings and social implications.

I didn't like Florence Nightingale 2008 DVD as much. This BBC drama has got a very confused storyline, the continuous shifts in time are rather displacing and puzzling and prevented me from feeling involved. Moreover, the biographical account is often interrupted by a popular stage perfomance , a music hall dedicated to Nightingale, that I found quite fastidious and out of place.
The third film, The Governess (1998) is an accomplished, touching and original movie, beautifully craft with a good cast including a brilliant Minnie Driver and a very young Jonathan Rhys Meyers (as Henry Cavendish). Also Rosina /Mary finds her way to indepence, in the end: she  becomes  a photographer noted for her distinct images of Jewish people, a very modern woman with a very modern profession.

5 comments:

Ruth said...

I love Miss Potter but haven't watched that movie in years, I should revisit it sometime soon. The Governess sounds intriguing as well, thanks for the rec!

Luciana said...

All the movies sound very interesting. I really like the period and stories about corageous women.

phylly3 said...

Glad you liked Miss Potter -- it's one of my "faves"! I haven't seen the other 2 films. I really like Minnie Driver so I'd like to see that one. I'd love to see a really good biopic of Florence Nightingale, are there any other ones out there?

MARIA GRAZIA said...

@phylly3
I just found 2 biopic of FN searching the Net , this newer one (2008) and I was rather disappointed, and an older one 1985 with Jaclyn smith and Timothy Dalton (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0089157/)
but I haven't seen it.
Well, actually , there's also an animated film. Not a wide range of choice, I'm afraid!

Avalon said...

I finally saw the Young Victoria and I hate to say it but I was not impressed. I was looking so forward to it too. It was ok, just not what I expected.