Category Archives: History on Film

Status Update – Victoria: Episode 6

Feb 23, 2017

I know, I’m way behind on this and on the blog in general, but it’s been one of those weeks where everything suddenly piles on you at the same time. You know those weeks. I got three emails within 20 minutes on Tuesday night with important, nay, dire business stuff that I had to deal with. Fortunately, most of it is taken care of, and we can now sit back and talk about Victoria.

Read this book this winter. It’s chunky and academic

I’ve give episode 6 about an 80% on the accuracy scale. Pretty darn good! It’s historically accurate that Victoria had mixed feelings about finding out she was pregnant so soon after the wedding, but also that she kind of ignored it and ran off to do stuff anyhow. What I find interesting about the way the show portrayed that is how good of a job they did showing the “old school of thought” about pregnancy, as evidenced by Victoria’s mom, and the new ideas that were just beginning to emerge at that time. Because there WAS a huge change in thought about pregnancy and childbirth in the middle part of the 19th century. Ironically (or not, this is me we’re talking about) I just read a social history book about Europe since 1750 this winter, and there was a whole chapter dealing with changes in the way childbirth and childrearing was thought of. That’s a whole other blog post, but the gist is that people were healthier in general and medical science was (sloooooowly) advancing to more reasonable ways of treating women’s health issues.

But the main thing I wanted to talk about with this episode was the historical reality of the slow but definite transition of power from wild, young Victoria who had no idea what she was doing and had to rely on ministers to Albert subtly slipping in and influencing things. Because he did. And England was better off for it by far!

Incidentally, Robert Peel started the Metropolitain Police Force, which is why cops are called “Bobbies” over there. 😉 (c) Government Art Collection; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

So Robert Peele. Yes, Victoria hated him at first. Because he wasn’t fun, like Melbourne. Albert really did like him, though. They had a lot in common, in that they were both “not fun” men. And while I think they overplayed Victoria’s resistance to new technology, they certainly didn’t exaggerate Albert’s love for it. Remember, this is the guy who would organize the Great Exhibition in a little over a decade. Albert had his pulse on the modern world (which is one reason the upper classes of Britain hated him so much).

Albert not only influenced Victoria to like Peele eventually (he did, she did), but he convinced her to like a lot of other things too. My favorite scene in this last episode, one I think is very historically accurate, is where they sit down at the desk together to tackle all of the documents of state. That was a subtle moment in the show, but it was pivotal in the history of Britain. Because Albert very quickly became Victoria’s most indispensable and trusted advisor. Anyone who scoffed or suggested that Albert was really running the country…was right.

I’m interested to see where they go from here with the show. Because many historians agree that the number one most important thing Albert did for the British monarchy was to convince Victoria to back out of actual governing and just be more or less a rubber stamp. There is a lot of agreement that if he hadn’t accomplished that, the monarchy would have been abolished, like so many other European monarchies were in the 19th century. But in a very real way, Albert’s savvy understanding of the modern world saved the crown.

Status Update – Victoria: Episode 4

Feb 08, 2017

Victoria’s actual wedding dress, photographed when I was at Kensington Palace last summer. Dude, the woman was SHORT!

Well what d’ya know? Sunday night’s episode of Victoria did really well in terms of historical accuracy! I mean, aside from this continuing silliness about a romantic attachment between Victoria and Melbourne, and the fact that none of the servants’ stories are real.

Oh, one more note about the Victoria & Melbourne thing. I kept waiting for her to ask Melbourne if he had a mistress, since she seemed so obsessed with men and their mistresses in the middle of the episode. I would have loved to see Rufus Sewel’s Melbourne try to worm his way out of that one. Because yes. Yes, Melbourne did have a mistress, at that point in history and many before her.

But really, the episode was about Albert, and once again, they did a really good job of portraying him. (Other than my continued complaints about that actor’s vanishing German accent) Historically speaking, the allowance and the title was a super huge deal that had Albert’s knickers in a knot. He was exactly right to think that he was in serious danger of being the German stud, with no point and no power. He didn’t even have the usual power and authority that 19th century men had over their wives. In essence, Albert was the 19th century woman in that relationship (at first) and he knew it.

Albert’s actual wedding outfit

The allowance was also a big deal because it represented independence, like he said in the show. And Parliament really did screw him over on that one. But one thing the show didn’t portray very well (so far) was that the allowance thing, and a lot of other stuff Albert endured, was pure anti-German bigotry. The British people really didn’t like the fact that the queen married a German (not that she had much choice). For decades, up until he died, horrible things were written about him in the papers, and much later, in the 1850s, he was falsely implicated in a plot to…oh, take over the government or assassinate someone or something. I can’t remember what at the moment.

Anyhow, the bit where Ernst took Albert to a brothel? I’m calling shenanigans on that one. Ernst was probably historically right at home in a place like that, but from everything I’ve read about Albert, I can’t see him even beginning to consent to getting into a situation like that. BUT, if he had, he totally would have asked for a lecture and taken notes instead of engaging in the practice, like he did in the show.

One other minor detail that I’m eager to see unfold is the introduction of the character of George Anson. They’ve started out getting him right. Anson really was Melbourne’s man, and Albert totally resented him at first. (And he was ticked off at not being able to choose any of his own staff) HOWEVER, Albert and Anson became incredibly good friends. Like, Anson became one of the best friends that Albert ever had. I’m interested to see where they go with that.

And finally, Albert actually did like Melbourne. And Albert was also responsible for the reconciliation between Victoria and her mother, but I don’t think we’ve gotten there yet.

Salinger

Sep 23, 2013

salinger_ver2_xlgSomehow, I don’t know how, I managed to make it all the way through my formative high school years without ever having to read The Catcher in the Rye. Amazing, I know! But that didn’t take away the experience of going to see the documentary “Salinger” on Saturday night.

“Salinger” is an intimate, 2-hour portrait of writer J.D. Salinger. I’m kind of shocked at how much I didn’t know about him … and a little pleased at how much I did. I knew, for example, that he was reported to be a recluse. This documentary starts with first-hand accounts from several people of their attempts to speak to, photograph, and ask questions of the recluse himself. I also somehow knew that people did this, that they drove out to the middle of nowhere in New Hampshire and waited at the end of his long driveway to catch a glimpse of him.

The film starts with a man who made this pilgrimage, who left his family and his job to seek out the wisdom of the master. This man was rewarded as Salinger drove down his driveway, got out of his car, and asked the man what he wanted. And when the man told of his quest for meaning, the way The Catcher in the Rye changed his life, Salinger told him something to the effect of “I don’t have any answers, I’m just a fiction writer!”

I have mixed feelings about “Jerry” Salinger after seeing this documentary of his life. On the one hand, he was hot! And apparently he was charming and talented too. As a young man he was idealistic enough not to take no for an answer and ended up petitioning the army to be allowed to join WWII in spite of being given a medical write-off. Continue reading

If Javert Had Had A Wife

Dec 27, 2012

I haven’t had any time to write researched, thought-out blog posts this week due to Christmas and my brother’s/best friend’s wedding on Saturday.  So in lieu of something substantial, I give you the ramblings of my overly-romantic imagination….

In Les Miserable, if Inspector Javert had had a wife, then he never would have committed suicide.  Furthermore, he would have given up his chase for Jean Valjean a lot sooner.  And he would have been infinitely happier for it.

This isn’t a new thought to me.  It’s not just because I saw the movie on Christmas and Russell Crowe is one of my long-time Hollywood boyfriends (and pretty much dream casting for the part of Javert in my mind).  I’ve actually held this opinion for over 20 years, ever since the first time I saw Les Mis on stage when I was in high school.

Let me preface the rest of this by saying that I have never read the book and I could be about to make a major fool of myself.  Victor Hugo may have had a very different take on things than I do.  But having seen the stage show three times, listened to the complete symphonic recording at least a million times, and having just seen the movie, this is my take.

First, we know that Javert was born in a prison.  One can assume that his mother wasn’t the most savory sort.  In the awesome duet that Javert has with Valjean after Fantine dies (which, by the way, was the most disappointing part of the movie to me due to terrible directing decisions), Javert describes himself as being born with scum like Valjean and being from the gutter too.  So he had the worst beginning that society could hand to a man.

javert2But he rose above it.  He became a police inspector.  The only way a man is going to rise above his birth like that is if he works tirelessly and keeps rigidly to the straight and narrow.  At some point he probably commended himself to someone in charge by his behavior and effectiveness.  And he probably learned his personal moral code by seeing the worst of humanity, deciding it was wrong, and maintaining constant discipline about being the opposite of what he saw growing up.

Javert is not evil.  In fact, I would describe him as Lawful Good.  Annoyingly and rigidly so.  Javert is an antagonist, not a villain.  His goals and motivations are in direct conflict with Jean Valjean’s, but they are not based on hatred or spite or a desire to see Valjean suffer.  Javert believes with his whole heart that he’s right, that the Law is right, and that Valjean, as a law-breaker, is wrong.  Black and white with no middle ground at all.

In fact, it’s that manic adherence to black and white that destroys Javert in the end.  He realizes that there are shades of gray, that Valjean is a good man in spite of having broken the law, but by that point in his life his black and white belief system has become so deeply ingrained in his soul that he can’t handle the paradigm shift.  He kills himself.

It’s also interesting to note that all signs indicate that Javert was also a deeply religious man, like Valjean.  He was most likely devoutly Catholic.  And at that time suicide was not only morally and spiritually condemned, I’m pretty sure it was outright illegal.  So after a lifetime of defining himself by the laws that he sought to uphold with absolute rigidity, Javert breaks the law and commits a mortal sin.  Perhaps he still believes that the world can only be absolute black and white, and that if Valjean is right then he, Javert, must be wrong.  The only thing he can do to maintain his black and white worldview is to commit the gravest sin and break the most sacred law he knows.  Suicide.

Of course, all of this would become a moot point if Javert had experienced love.  I don’t think he did.  I don’t think he knew how.  He was a robot.  I’d be willing to bet that he was a virgin too.  I seriously doubt, given all the facts about his life, that he would have consorted with prostitutes.  They were on the other side of his moral fence.  He wouldn’t have committed the sin of having sex outside of marriage either.

But if the right woman had come along it would have changed everything.

Here’s my theory.  To catch Javert’s attention a woman would have had to be of sterling moral character.  She would have had to be a hard worker, devoted to her job.  I don’t think she would have been upper class because he would have seen her as being too far above him.  She would have had to have come from a similar background as him, and like him she would have had to have risen above her birth through discipline of character.  I’m pretty sure she would also have had to have had a docile temperament and a quiet disposition.  And she would probably be a neat-freak.

Assuming such a woman came into his life, it would then take some kind of extraordinary extenuating circumstance for him to admit his love, even to himself.  She would have had to find herself in some kind of peril, moral or actual, for him to declare himself.  In true black or white fashion, a situation would have to arise in which she would either fall to ruin or become his wife.  Javert would, of course, have done what he needed to do to maintain the right.

Javert was an extremely obsessive personality.  Once he married that woman, he would have loved her with the same energy that he poured into hunting Jean Valjean.  He would have loved their children as obsessively too, although he would have been a strict and somewhat unapproachable father.  The point is, that his energy would have had a secondary outlet besides the ruthless pursuit of justice.

javert1But the real kicker would have been the feminine influence in his life.  The kind of woman that would have attracted him would have tempered his extreme sense of justice with compassion.  It wouldn’t have been overt, but the daily exposure to something softer than the law would have had an impact on him.  His decision-making process would probably have changed to include doing what was right for his family.  This is a man who would have taken his job as head of household extremely seriously.

And so it is likely that Javert would have ended up at a desk job somewhere.  It would have given him the ability to focus on maintaining the law and bringing lawbreakers to justice while also providing for his family and raising his children to be good, law-abiding citizens.  His path may never have crossed Jean Valjean’s again.

There you have it.  My rewrite of the life of Inspector Javert.  There are probably a thousand extenuating circumstances in the actual book that blow my theory out of the water.  Hugo may have even given him a wife that I don’t know about, but ah well, c’est la vie!  And I’m sure plenty of people have a much harsher take on Javert’s personality than this romantic.  But after seeing the way Russell Crowe portrayed Javert, I’m more convinced than ever that a fully human heart beat under that stiff uniform, and all humans thrive with love.

History on Film – Band of Brothers

Oct 26, 2012

Okay, I’m a romance novelist.  But I can say without reservation that Band of Brothers is the single greatest mini-series ever produced.  And yep, it’s a gritty drama about paratroopers in World War Two.  But if you write it off as just another violent war movie then you’re missing out on one of the greatest stories ever told.

Band of Brothers is the story of Easy Company of the 101st Airborne division of the U.S. Army in World War Two.  It follows the company from training in Georgia, through D-Day, the Battle of the Bulge, and on to the end of the war.  Not only is it the greatest history lesson of WWII that you’ll ever see, it’s a sharply realistic depiction of what war is like and what it does to men.

I’m talking about the good with the bad when I say that.  Because the strength of Band of Brothers lies in its title.  Through the course of the war, the men of Easy Company become like brothers as they experience the triumphs and terrors of the war together.  That’s why you need to watch it.

It’s too easy for those of us who have never gone to war, never lived on the home-front while our husbands, sons, and brothers go to war, to assume that war is just a bunch of explosive special effects and dirty uniforms.  None of us have experienced the long days of waiting for short, intense bursts of chaos and death.  None of us has bonded with men on whom our lives depend in the most real of ways.  None of us has dealt with the nightmare of killing another man because we’re supposed to, because if we don’t he will kill us.  War is so much more than loud noises.

That’s what Band of Brothers does so well.  In a way you could say that it’s a love story.  The men of Easy Company, all of the men who fought for our country, then and now, form a bond unlike anything that we might be tempted to think of as love.  Sure, it was hard for me to tell all of the numerous actors playing the roles apart at first, but it didn’t matter.  The intensity of each character, of what they represented, was there in the smiles and laughter in moments of joy and the horror and heartbreak as friends watched friends being blown apart or slowly bleeding to death.

Don’t let the violence turn you off though.  Band of Brothers is not as gory as its sister (or brother) production Saving Private Ryan.  Both were produced by the same team and the actors involved in each one actually trained with each other prior to filming (or at least using the same facilities and trainers, I can’t remember which off the top of my head).  The point of Band of Brothers is not to shock, it’s to get under your skin, to make you think.

That’s what happens to me every time I watch it.  It gets under my skin and doesn’t leave me for days and weeks.  It’s one of the few DVD sets that I own where I have to watch all of the special features, and there’s an entire disc of them, each time I watch the series.  Ron Livingston’s Video Diaries, a look into the two week training camp all of the actors had to go through before filming, is especially awesome.  It’s no wonder that so many of the actors stayed friends long after the production wrapped.

But far and away the best, most amazing, and most haunting part of Band of Brothers is that each episode begins with first-hand accounts from the real men that the actors are portraying.  Only they aren’t identified as themselves until the very end of the last episode.  Hearing about the drama you’re about to see reenacted straight from the lips of the men who experienced it is a haunting experience.  Each time I watch I wish I could sit down with the guys and listen to them go on for hours, reliving arguably the most important and influential event of the 20th century.

So no, Band of Brothers is not a romance novel.  It’s not a cute society drama or a hilarious sitcom.  It’s just one of the most important true stories ever committed to film.  You really need to watch it, even if you don’t think you like war movies.  Ultimately it’s not a warm movie, it’s the story of friendships that war and death could not destroy.

Oh!  And I didn’t even get into how amazing Damian Lewis is as Richard Winters!  Definitely one of the finest actors going in one of his best performances!