Archives for posts with tag: damian lewis

Boy howdy. When Galsworthy calls something a saga, he is not funning. I know this, because the miniseries takes many, many hours, and also because I read the immense book. It tells the story of a rich London family of solicitors (unsurprisingly, the Forsytes) from the late Victorian era through the early 1920s.

Broadly, there are three intertwining strands of this story. Strand 1 concerns Soames Forsyte (Damian Lewis), solicitor and control freak. Strand 2 is composed of his uncle, Old Jolyon Forsyte (Corin Redgrave), and his cousin, Young Jolyon Forsyte (Rupert Graves, in perhaps the only sympathetic part he has played since he hit 30), who are less conventional–Young Jolyon paints and leaves his wife and small daughter June (eventually Gillian Kearney) for the French governess. Strand 3 belongs to Irene Heron (Gina McKee), a very beautiful and serene and impoverished but also shockingly destructive woman, whom Soames marries. The marriage emphatically does not work out, and the circumstances of their separation drive forward the remainder of the main plot, which works itself out (very eventually) in the lives of their children from second marriages.

Galsworthy was careful to flesh out the Forsytes with both particular and family idiosyncrasies, and the series admirably follows his lead: Winifred (Amanda Root), Soames’s sister, impetuously marries the penniless but charming Montague Dartie (Ben Miles, in a really great part for him); their son Val (Julian Ovenden, very young and dashing) is an interesting study in the son who is always vaguely and sometimes acutely embarrassed by his father (their daughter Imogen is a non-entity); George Forsyte (Alistair Petrie), everybody’s cousin, is engagingly detached but somewhat spiderlike in the enjoyment he takes from observing everybody’s insecurities; Philip Bosinney (Ioan Gruffudd), an architect and June’s fiancé, wreaks truly astounding havoc, for entirely plausible reasons; a dozen others round out the splendid tableau.

Perhaps because most of the actions taken are those that human beings might take, it’s sometimes (though very much not always) hard to take sides. One is never bored. Everyone is well-cast, and, while some of the younger actors sometimes seem a bit tedious and melodramatic, that might really be how they’re supposed be.

The production is gorgeous throughout, in interiors particularly, and most especially with the house that Soames has built, designed by Bosinney. It is a triumph of Arts and Crafts: light, airy, and eminently livable. But the real visual interest of the series is in the clothes. We begin in frock coats and huge skirts, meander through bustles and Edwardian suits, and end in drapey post-war dresses with ankle-skimming hems. Irene wears the most beautiful red dress; all the artistic men wear colored shirts with soft neckties. Soames’s daughter gets him into a blazer, boater, and flannels! It is glorious.

Stray observations:

  • I lied: the real visual interest is the amazing proliferation of good-looking dudes. It’s a pity that Christian Coulson isn’t around for longer.
  • This has to be the only thing written in Britain in the first half of the 20th century that hardly deals with the Great War. No Forsyte serves (all too young or too old), though two went out as soldiers and two as nurses to South Africa in the Boer War. We do encounter a Belgian arms dealer and one young ex-officer.

Directors: Christopher Menaul, David Moore, Andy Wilson
Rating: TV, but PG-13ish
Length: 700 minutes
Score: 5/5

I really liked the novels Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies, and Hilary Mantel (their author) was one of the writers for the show, so it is perhaps unsurprising that I enjoyed the show a great deal. It is told (as the book also) from the point of view of Thomas Cromwell, whose meteoric rise from vomiting on a Putney street to the court of Henry is the backdrop against which all this happens. We manage to follow events with which we are familiar (Katherine of Aragon will be divorced, Anne Boleyn will be be beheaded) with a certain amount of suspense.

So I’ve also seen all of “The Tudors,” which was rollicking good fun, if also absurd and superfluous. As I have said a million times: Henry VIII was a man who married six women AND had a world-changing fight with the Pope. It’s not strictly necessary to add ludicrous extraneous shagging.

And maybe “Wolf Hall” errs in the other direction, a little bit. Everything is dark, things are only intermittently explained (usually using Thomas Brodie Sangster as Cromwell’s slightly backward ward Rafe), and nothing is overstated. Still, that was most of the charm of the novels, so it’s unfair to complain about it in the series.

It is beautifully produced. Costumes are gorgeous and careful, artificial light is limited, meals are archaically choreographed. Mark Rylance (Cromwell) is excellent, though perhaps slightly too calm. Damian Lewis (Henry) seems to revel in an uncharacteristically petulant and unattractive part, and Anton Lesser also seems to enjoy playing Thomas More as a snake. Claire Foy (Anne) is slightly weak–just hateful, with no touch of humanity, even just before her execution.

This series is a capable adaptation of a pair of excellent novels. It’ll be a little slow for some, and the pacing is unpredictable, but this is in aid of mimicking the chaotic, uncertain nature of Cromwell’s real life. He himself is implausibly humane, but it’s important to have a rooting interest, and it doesn’t really bother you. I actually kept rooting for him to get laid, and was very cross at Mary Boleyn (Charity Wakefield, apparently condemned to flighty parts forever) for toying with him.

Director: Peter Kosminsky
Rating: R-ish?  Only for the swearing.
Length: 360 minutes
Score: 4/5

Twitter blurb: Tudor moodiness, but with way less sex and violence than usual. Thomas More is your villain, Henry still isn’t fat. Anne Boleyn? The worst.