Thursday, January 14, 2010

Do Dankes: Masterpiece is Magical

Maybe it’s because I love classic literature. People just don’t write books like that anymore!

OK, well there are a few good authors these days. But truth be told, no one holds a candle to Tolstoy or Austen or Gaskell or Hardy or even Hemingway.

I am a sucker for a good book (more to come on that at a later date) - but I am also, apparently, a sucker for good books made into good movies.

I don’t mean books of the Harry Potter/Lord of the Rings sort- I’m talking literature.

2005’s Pride and Prejudice aside - though by no means brushed aside; Joe Wright’s adaptation is perhaps my favorite movie ever - Hollywood just doesn’t make blockbuster films based on the books of long-dead British (or Russian...and some American) authors.

Fair. But oh-so-devastating.

that is, until I discovered a gem on the Public Broadcasting Service: Masterpiece Classic.

OMFG. I am obsessed. Literally, literarily obsessed.

Good lord do my coworkers have a field day making fun of me when I get all gaga over Masterpiece. Cranford is their latest poke-fun-at-Katie binge. Hmmmmmpf.
But for reals, yo. These productions deserve so much more acclaim than they get! At least as far as I’m concerned.
Andrew Davies, God of Classic Literature Adaptations and Screenwriting, is pretty much the crown prince when it comes to breathing new life into these beloved tales. He is a 73-year-old genius who has penned scripts for some of my favorite productions including Little Dorrit, Sense & Sensibility, Middlemarch, Pride and Prejudice, and Daniel Deronda.
Masterpiece is so lucky to have such a brilliant man working on so many of their projects.

But though the writing, the nuances, and the dialogue are all part of the magic that is Masterpiece, that is just the beginning.

The actors and actresses that sign on for this PBS program are - in a word - magnificent. From revered veterans like Dame Judi Dench and Imelda Staunton, to famous contemporary stars including Keira Knightley and Johnny Lee Miller and Matthew Macfadyen, to rising talents like Romola Garai, Gemma Arterton, and Eddie Redmayne - the cast is always immaculately chosen.

Though I have seen many, many adaptations of my favorite classics, the actors and actresses that participate in Masterpiece are incomparable. And they just get better and better with each new production!

The costumes, the sets, the cinematography, the direction - breathtaking. Masterpiece Classic offers the whole package. These films are unrivaled (well, perhaps because they have no rivals...but still).

My good friend Jeffery (of jdbrecords) recently posted a blog featuring his top 10 films of 2009. Thus inspired, I will now list my top 10 Masterpiece Classics (of all time).

Honorable Mention - Sense & Sensibility (2008): Though I appreciate the stylishness of this most recent reincarnation, I hold the 1995 Ang Lee’s version closer to my heart. It’s very good but a bit too sensual and racy - Austen surely rolled over in her grave during that opening scene.

10. The Forsyte Saga (2002): Epic. Extremely epic. Hence Saga. But beautifully filmed and acted; the villainous Soames (Damian Lewis) will have your skin crawling with creepiness throughout.

9. Lorna Doone (2000): A Romeo and Juliet-esque tale full to the brim with forbidden love, action, and suspense, Lorna Doone is a classic romance set in the wilds of 17th-century England. (A&E)

8. Under the Greenwood Tree (2
005): A lesser known Hardy novel. Keeley Hawes (Matthew Macfadyen’s very lucky wife) shines as a lady being courted by a quite a few men.

7. The Tenant of Wildfell Hall (1996): Sort of a Jane Eyre in reverse - oh those Brontë sisters! But this understated story will indeed hold your attention till the last.

6. Persuasion (2007): Sally Hawkins plays Anne Elliott to a T. This posthumous Austen novel is brought stunningly to life in a lush, lovely scope. And it’s a must see for three small words - Rupert Penry-Jones (above...bow chicka wow wow).

5. Tess of the d’Urbervilles (2008): This has been a favorite novel of mine since I read it in 10th grade - despite its tragicness. I loved the A&E adaptation starring Justine Waddell, but I must say I that enjoyed Gemma Arterton and Eddie Redmayne a bit more.

4. North and South (2004): It’s unfortunate that Elizabeth Gaskell is so overshadowed by Austen and the Brontës. But her tale of strong-willed, misunderstood lovers during the Industrial Revolution is phenomenal.

3. Cranford (2007, 2009): Another Gaskell gem! This charming, often hilarious production recounts the trials and tribulations of a small country town. It
’s sometimes kooky but always endearing. Judi Dench, ‘nuff said!
2. Jane Eyre (2006): In her acting debut, Ruth Wilson more than holds her own alongside the formidable Toby Stephens. Love, love, love this version! One of my favorite novels, too.
1. Little Dorrit (2008): Though I’m ashamed to say I’d never heard of this Dickens novel, I relished every second of the Masterpiece film. While it waxes Dickens at his lower-class-best, the actors play their parts to perfection. (And it doesn’t hurt that Matthew Macfadyen is one of the leads.)

There are so many treasures out there that Masterpiece has brought into our homes, into our lives. So many books that I can
’t wait to read (I do work in publishing so I feel obligated to say that the book is always better!)

Maybe I’m a Masterpieceoholic because I believe romance is dead and see it living on in these films. Or perhaps because Mad Men isn’t on all year round.

But I agree with the nutty Blanche DuBois from A Streetcar Named Desire. She said, “Their literary heritage is not what they treasure above all else.”
So true. Maybe we should start treasuring this rich, bountiful written heritage of ours. Whether you read the book or watch the Masterpiece Classic. Ah hem, maybe you should start. You won’t regret it.

(If you
’ve actually read this entire opus on romantic period dramas, bravo. As much of an anachronism as I may seem, I will have you know that I did not score 100% on this quiz. Oh no, I got two wrong. See how you do!)

1 comment:

  1. interesting list. i'll have to check 'em out. i just watched streetcar and it was a joy to watch marlon brando's sexiness and vivien leigh go all crazy.