09/06/2010

WHAT I'VE BEEN WATCHING - TIPPING THE VELVET & BRIGHT STAR

I had some time (not free, nor spare) to watch a couple of DVDs last weekend , DVDs that  had been on my TBS list for a while. As usual,  the weekend means huge ironing pile to me and that's how I, again, managed to find time for my beloved costume films.


1.  I started with the 3-part miniseries TIPPING THE VELVET (BBC 2002). I really wanted to see it but without knowing much about the plot nor the novel it was based on."It's Pride and Prejudice with dirty bits." That's how screenwriter Andrew Davies (Bridget Jones' Diary), in an interview contained on this DVD, describes his adaptation of Sarah Waters' acclaimed novel of lesbian love, betrayal, and redemption in Victorian England. I didn't find any P&P in it and, moreover I  was rather disappointed by Davies's script this time. I found it obvious or simplictic more than once. When I put it in the DVD player, I only wanted to see a costume TV series with several of my drama favourite actors/actresses : Keeley Hawes ( Our Mutual Friend, Wives and

Daughters, Under the Greenwood Tree, Spooks )  Jodhi May (The Other Boleyn Girl, Daniel Deronda, Emma 2009, Strike Back) , Sally Hawkins ( Persuasion 2007) and Hugh Bonneville (Lost in Austen, Miss Austen Regrets, Daniel Deronda). I din't know the protagonist Rachel Stirling (Nan) who was extremely good, instead. Well, though I didn't particularly like this series ,  I must recognize how talented the lead actresses were, all of them. I think  Tipping the Velvet's saving grace is just its actresses illustrating a vast and subtle range of emotions and reactions. They have a grace and sincerity often missing in contemporary films where actors make a show of their acting. Here, the women just are their characters.

Tipping the Velvet is based on a historical novel written by Sarah Waters published in 1998. Set in Victorian England during the 1890s, it tells a coming of age story about a young woman named Nan who falls in love with a male impersonator, Kitty, follows her to London, and finds various ways to support herself as she journeys through the city. I've read that the picaresque plot elements have prompted scholars and reviewers to compare it to similar British urban adventure stories written by Charles Dickens and Daniel Defoe. That maybe true, but I haven't read the book.

Now I've got also  Fingersmith in my TBS list, again set in the Victorian Age and based  on one of Sarah Waters's novel. Will it be better than this Tipping the Velvet? The protagonist is Rupert Evans (above on the right, also in North and South and  Emma 2009) ... I hope I'll like it more!

2. BRIGHT STAR (2009)
I had longed to watch this movie since I saw the first stills and read the announcement. I wrote about it  and made a slide of the pics  I found but... since I got the DVD I couldn' t find the right moment for it and went on delaying watching. I feared I might be disappointed after such expectations. Was I ? A bit, actually.
The title of the movie is taken from one of John Keats’s poems, a sonnet, dedicated to Fanny Browne, the woman he loved. The story is  compelling and  I already knew when I started watching but I thought I'd be more involved while I wasn't,  instead. There was something missing, something I can't explain. As if I had prepared lots of tissues and  din't need them. I liked the movie, especially its beautiful natural setting but the script wasn't involving and I can't blame the actors who did what they could with it. I was rather disappointed in Jane Campion, whose The Piano I had loved so much!

The story
The movie tells the story of the tragic romance between JOHN KEATS, one othe English Romantic poets of the second generation, and Fanny Brawne. Keats has now become one of the most popular poets in the English language, but he died at 25 convinced to be a failure.

Keats, played by Ben Whishaw, met Fanny, Abbie Cornish in the movie, at his friend Charles Brown’s house in 1818 and soon fell in love with her. She was 18 and he was 23. He had already lost his mother for tuberculosis and his brother Tom would soon follow her, just when John himself started showing the first symptoms of the terrible desease.
The screenplay is based on the letters that the poet wrote to his beloved, letters which were published only after Fanny’s death.


Keats had abandoned his studies in Medicine to dedicate his life to poetry but could hardly live on it. So Fanny’s mother, at the beginning, didn’t approve him as her daughter’s wooer. Despite his health troubles, Keats was a cheerful person, full of life, and with the passing of time Fanny started to return his love. The two lovers got engaged, but their happiness was definitely short. In February 1820, on a cold evening, Keats got back home feverish and started coughing blood, an undeniable sign of his next end.

After a while, sure of his approaching death, he wrote to Fanny suggesting to break their engagement but she firmly refused and he couldn’t hide his relief. After seeing his terrible health conditions, Fanny’s mother hosted him in their house where he lived for three months. But his doctor and his friends stirred him to go to Italy where the mild climate might have helped improve his health.

He had seen his mother and his brother die for that illness and, maybe, he didn’t want to give Fanny the same terrible sorrow he had suffered, so he accepted the proposal of leaving England for Italy. She gave him the paper to write to her and a marble oval, used at that time to cool high temperature. He left with his friend, painter John Severn, but he was quarantined for several days at Naples port so when he finally arrived in Rome his health was seriously compromised. He lived at “La Casina Rossa”, next to the Spanish Steps at Piazza di Spagna for about 3 months, dying there on the 23rd of February 1821, at 25.

He never wrote to Fanny nor read her letters but wanted them to be buried with him with a curl of her hair.
On his grave, at Testaccio Protestant Cemetery in Rome, no name nor date were written, just these words: “Here lies one whose name was writ in water”. From the letters Fanny later wrote to her sister, we know she remained deeply in love with the poet. She accepted to get married only after 9 years from his death and had three children. She kept Keats’s letters till her death - secretly from her husband.

BRIGHT STAR is coming out in Italian theatres next Friday 11  June . But if  like me you prefer to watch  it in the original language, you can buy the DVD here.

12 comments:

Alexa Adams said...

You'll never believe it - I have a huge pile of ironing waiting to be conquered while watching Bright Star, which has been sitting next to the ironing board in anticipation for several days. I wonder how many women iron to period drama? Quite a few, I imagine. I'm sorry you didn't enjoy either piece more, as I have been interested in both for sometime. Thanks for the reviews!

MARIA GRAZIA said...

@Alexa Adams
Now I 'm so curious to know what your impressions on Bright Star (while ironing) are!
Are you going to write about it? I really hope so!
Thanks for commenting!

lunarossa said...

Didn't see Tipping the Velvet but I read the book and also Fingersmiths and The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters. She writes beautifully and depicts the historical settings of her novels very accurately and captivating. I refused to watch the TV adaptations of Tipping the Velvet and Fingersmiths because I thought it wouldn't have been possible to convert her writing abilities on the screen and they would have been simply transformed into a lesbian rom-com! Ciao. A.

MARIA GRAZIA said...

@lunarossa
As I told you, I haven't read any of Sarah Waters's books so I can't compare. You are perfectly right, that's the impression I got: no more than a leasbian rom-com. I'm not scandalized by the themes in the series , just ... Andrew Davies first , and the production too, could have done much better!Thanks for sharing!

Nat at RA FanBlog said...

I haven't seen "Tipping the Velvet" but I did watch "Bright Star" recently. I felt the same way you did... enjoyed it, yet thought it was missing something. A happy ending, maybe? (Although not all tales have to end happy... some bittersweet stories are the best.) Or perhaps a lack of chemistry between Fanny and John? I liked Fanny's character way better than John's, who didn't seem as believable for some reason. I did however LOVE the beautiful scenery.

MARIA GRAZIA said...

@Nat
I am sure it was not the lack of a happy ending which disappointed me, since I knew Keats's sad story. But you got it, Nat, it was just the lack of chemistry between the two lovers, that was why I wasn't as touched as I expected. But the scenery so beautiful!

Karen said...

I was going to comment about Tipping the velvet but found out that Lunarossa had already worded my thoughts about it!
I was curious about the series TTV, but decided - as usual - to read the novel before watching. After having read TTV, and Fingersmith too, I felt I couldn't watch the series anymore, just because of Lunarossa's reasons. Now that I'm a fan of Sarah Waters's intriguing style, it's very difficult to be satisfied by an 'adaptation', even written by the great Andrew Davies ;) . But that was the same impression I got from Antonia Byatt's Possession's adaptation: another novel I loved spoiled and flattened by the filmed version, sigh!

MARIA GRAZIA said...

@Karen
Since I haven't read the book, the reason why I didn't like this series is not in the comparison. Anyhow, The lead actresses were very good, so it is not completely worthless. As for Possession, I quite liked the film, though I haven't read the book.
Off to work again. Terribly hot!!! Only want to sleep and rest... Thanks for commenting. Till very soon!
MG

Marianna said...

Thanks for a lovely review of "Bright Star". I had been eagerly awaiting its release in Italian cinemas tomorrow, but now I'll try to keep my expectations in check to avoid being too disappointed1

Judy said...

I loved 'Bright Star' so am sorry to hear you didn't like it so much, MG - I saw it at the cinema and do have it on DVD too but haven't yet seen it for a second time. I haven't seen the two Sarah Waters adaptations as yet but have read the books... and have just realised I've got the two books completely mixed up together in my mind! I know I liked one of them a lot more than the other... but don't remember which way round it was. I also have another one of hers, 'Affinity', which I believe has been adapted too, but I haven't read/seen that one yet.

sambi1968 said...

I just have to say that I absolutely loved Tipping The Velvet. Both me and my partner thought it was very well acted and the lead actresses both of them were brilliant. I've never read the book but I have every intention of doing so now.

Hector Macdonald said...

You might enjoy Book Drum's illustrated profile of Tipping the Velvet. Sarah Waters herself described it as "awesome": Tipping the Velvet