Blogathons, Classic TV, Drama, Romance, War

The Duchess Of Duke Street (1976-1977)

Small screen 2

This is my own entry for my Small Screen blogathon being held on the 20th of this month.  If you would like to join the blogathon there is still time to do so. Find more details and sign up here.

I am writing about the series The Duchess Of Duke Street

Photo0344
Louisa hard at work in the kitchen. Screenshot by me.

This British series is based upon the life of a real Edwardian woman called Rosa Lewis(1867-1952). Rosa was a renowned cook and she also owned the Cavendish Hotel in London (which is still open today). Rosa was famous throughout British society for her cooking, and also for the rumour that she and Prince Edward (later King Edward V11)were having an affair. It’s not difficult to see why her story inspired this series to be made. 

John Hawkesworth (the man who helped Jean Marsh and Eileen Atkins turn Upstairs, Downstairs into the great success it became)produced The Duchess of Duke Street. Series that John were involved with were noted for their period detail, and a great many of them became huge successes.  

One of my favourite series that John was involved with is the Granada TV series The Adventures, Return and Casebook of Sherlock Holmes, which starred Jeremy Brett (in my opinion the best Sherlock Holmes ever captured on screen).

The Duchess Of Duke Street is another of John’s high quality series. I don’t simply love this one for its story and setting, I love this one because it depicts a woman trying out and succeeding in business at a time when women just didn’t do such things. Louisa Trotter is the main character of the series, and she becomes a successful cook and businesswoman. She doesn’t take no for an answer and she never gives up even when things are tough for her. 

Louisa works with men, she is in charge of men and she gains the respect and admiration of men. I find Louisa quite an inspirational character really, she is not content to stay a wife or a servant. Louisa wants more out of life, she wants to be seen as an equal to the men she works with and she achieves that. 

The series is set in London between 1900 and 1925. We follow the life of Louisa Trotter(Gemma Jones), a young cockney woman who wants to be a cook more than anything else. Working very hard she learns the art of making food. Her food is acknowledged as being superb and is very well liked by all who taste it.

As the years go on, Louisa becomes one of the best cooks in London and becomes the owner of the Bentinck Hotel. The Bentinck is more like an apartment building than a hotel, those who stay there love it and many consider it their home away from home. Louisa has a relationship with the Prince of Wales(later to become King Edward VII), throughout the series Louisa looks back on her relationship with him very fondly.

The real love of Lousia’s life though is the handsome and outgoing aristocrat Charlie Tyrrell(Christopher Cazenove). Their relationship is extremely complex, and it is their relationship that helped make this series become a real favourite of mine. Louisa and Charlie’s story really is the heart and soul of the series.

Photo0358
Charlie. Screenshot by me.

Louisa and Charlie become the best of friends and later on become lovers. They both want their relationship to become something more, but they just never seem to be able to find the right moment to change the nature of the relationship.

They have a daughter together who they call Lottie(Lalla Ward). She is raised by tenants of Charlie’s on his country estate. Charlie helps Louisa run the Bentinck and also keeps a suite of rooms there. 

Louisa and Charlie are not the only focus of the series though. Louisa’s loyal staff at the hotel include the dutiful doorman Starr(John Cater),a former soldier who speaks his mind and whose best friend is his dog Fred. Merriman(John Welsh)the elderly head waiter who wouldn’t thank you for suggesting he retire. Bubbly Welsh maid Mary(Victoria Plunckett). The assistant cook, Mrs. Cochrane (Mary Healey), and the former soldier turned gambler, Major Smith-Barton(Richard Vernon). Louisa and her staff become like family and they share the good and bad times together.

Photo0346
Mr. Merriman. Screenshot by me.
Photo0361
Mr. Starr. Screenshot by me.
Photo0347
Mary. Screenshot by me.
Photo0360
The Major. Screenshot by me.

Besides the relationship between Charlie and Louisa, my favourite relationship in the series is the one between Louisa and the Major. He becomes a father figure to her and a very good friend. His confession to her at the end of the series regarding his feelings for her is one of my all time favourite scenes from the series.

 

Photo0359
Louisa salutes Charlie as he leaves for the trenches. Screenshot by me.

The second half of the series focuses on the brutal and upsetting events of World War One and its aftermath. Louisa turns the hotel into a place for only British soldiers to be able stay. Charlie has to go off to fight in the war. Tragedy, pain and sorrow sadly lie in wait for our characters.

 

I also love how Gemma portrays Louisa’s unwillingness to show any sort of vulnerability, even when she’s alone with Charlie, she very seldom lets her guard down. It is like she always has to appear strong and tough. I think that she feels that way because she is afraid that to appear vulnerable would make her appear weak.

At times it has to be said that Gemma’s shrieking when things don’t go the way Louisa wants them to, does very easily grate on the viewer, but it is all a part of this character and I really like how Gemma shows us that Louisa has flaws and is not perfect. I also like that Louisa’s determination to never be vulnerable is also her weakness, because she makes life more difficult for herself due to her always hiding her inner self. Louisa is a very interesting character indeed. One of Gemma Jones’s best performances I’d say. Since this series aired, Gemma has gone on to become one of our most beloved actresses. 

Christopher Cazenove is so lovable as the fun loving and decent Charlie. I like how we see him transition from playboy, to the more mature Lord Charles, and finally to damaged soldier. Christopher is a great favourite of mine and I never understood why he never became a much bigger star. He was always a welcome presence on screen and this is one of best performances as far as I’m concerned. 

This series is a real character piece and it is filled with great characters, great performances and many memorable storylines. This series is one that really gets you caught up the characters lives and you feel for them. I love it because of that, but I also love it for its depiction of Edwardian life.

I also find the food preparation sequences fascinating. There were some dishes that Louisa prepared that I had never heard of before and they look delicious. I also love how much effort she put into making her meals. It’s also fascinating to me to see how much of an event evening meals were back then, they were almost ritualistic (different cutlery for different dishes, what can be served at what time)and I love the fancy table decorations and food presentations.

Watching series like this really lets you see just what has changed in life. I for one have never seen a dinner table like some of the ones we see in this. I’ve never seen food displayed in such beautiful ways either (even when going out to eat at restaurants) it goes to show that we may have progressed in some ways, but I think we’ve gone back a step or two in terms of food and food presentation. 

If you have seen this series what did you think of it?

Check back on Tuesday for news of the next blogathon I’m hosting. I know, I’m totally addicted to blogathons. 🙂

 

 

 

Advertisements
Drama, Romance, Silent Film, War

Wings (1927)

 

Photo0633
The camera puts us right in the middle of the air fight sequences. Screenshot by me.

It’s been a while since I did a Silent film review. I’d like to talk about one of my favourites from this era. It is set during World War One, and it is one of the all time great war films. It is also one of the best of the big screen epics. The film is Wings.

 

I don’t know about anyone else, but I think it is pretty remarkable just how well Wings stands up when it is viewed today. 90 years after its original release, this film still remains a gripping and realistic depiction of war and also of aerial combat. The film also manages to be a touching portrayal of friendship, and takes a look at the pain of unrequited love.

The performances in this film really come across to me as being very natural. Arlen and Rogers are both equally excellent. I think they both do a very good job of conveying their characters transitions from wide eyed, eager, and very apprehensive newbies in the corps, to seasoned and traumatised veterans, all while still being at such a young age.

Clara Bow delivers the real standout performance for me; she is effervescent and lumious one moment, and then broken hearted and vulnerable the next. This is one of her best performances from the Silent era I think.

Henry B. Walthall and Julia Swayne Gordon are both very moving as David’s mum and dad. The scene where they say goodbye to him as he leaves for the war has me welling up. Henry plays the dad as doing that stiff upper lip thing, he won’t allow himself to break down or hug his son because if he did he’d never let him go. Julia makes the mother more emotional, but she still restrains her full emotions from showing.

 

Photo0632
One of my favourite shots in the whole film. Screenshot by me.

This film was the first ever Best Picture Oscar winner (and until The Artist won in 2011, it was the only Silent film to win the award) and it’s not difficult to see why there was so much love for this one. WW1 would have been fresh in the minds of audiences watching this for the first time; they no doubt would have been able to really connect with the experiences of the lead trio, and have been able to relate to the characters wartime experiences. The film does a good job of capturing the horror of war, and also of the fact that death will come and claim anyone at any time.

 

The performances and characters keep my interest throughout, but it is hard to deny the real stars of this one are the aerial sequences. Real planes and hundreds of pilots feature in the film. The aerial sequences were shot on location at Kelly Field Air Force Annex, in San Antonio, Texas.

 

Photo0629
The planes head into battle. Screenshot by me.

The aerial scenes really keep you on the edge of your seat and add a great deal of realism to the film. I think these sequences take you deeper into the experiences of Jack and David. These sequences also have a documentary look about them.

 

One of my reasons for loving Silent films so much is that I love how visually beautiful and unique so many of them look. I also have a real fondness for tinting in Silent films. Many Silent films were tinted in various different colours and there is some glorious screen tinting to be enjoyed in this one. I especially love the golden tint which features heavily throughout. I also think that the intertitle cards look very nice too.

Wings is a film that manages to be an intimate human drama, while also being set against an epic backdrop of global warfare.

 

Photo0634
Jack and David. Screenshot by me.

In a small town in America life is idyllic. The youth are out enjoying life to the full. Best friends Jack (Charles “Buddy” Rogers)and David (Richard Arlen)compete for the affections of the beautiful and wealthy Sylvia (Jobyna Ralston). Jack is pretty slow (seriously, how on earth could he miss her signals!)to see that his neighbour, Mary (Clara Bow) is in love with him. She shares his adventurous nature and is clearly the gal for him.

 

America soon becomes embroiled in the First World War and Jack and David sign up to join the Air Corps. Headed overseas they are soon fighting against the Germans.  Mary also joins the fight, by signing up as a nurse and ambulance driver. Heartbreak, joy and a tragic twist of fate lie in store for our trio.

The film is notable for several reasons. Firstly of course there are all those spectacular aerial sequences. I like how we also see the pilots in the cockpit and that really makes us a part of the scene as we see the personal effect of these impressive air battles.

The film also features some very striking photography and camerawork. The way the camera zooms across the tables of a nightclub until we find Jack is very memorable. There is also the scene where Jack drinks champagne and we see the bubbles float up out of his glass. When he later gets quite drunk he sees giant bubbles everywhere.

 

Photo0635
Gary Cooper as Cadet White. Screenshot by me.

The film also features a very young Gary Cooper in a small role. Coop makes quite an impression as Cadet White, an ill fated fellow pilot who meets Jack and David.

 

It Happened One Night fans should also keep an eye out for Roscoe Karns who appears here in a small role.

The film also features a famous kiss between Jack and David, many people see it as a gay moment. I can see why they might think that, but is not supposed to be seen as a romantic kiss though, it is simply deep affection and love between best friends. Remember the reason why the kiss is taking place also and see it in that context. I can see why this moment made quite an impact though, and nothing like that would be seen on screen again for decades after this. 

The film also contains a few scenes of nudity. There’s the scene in the examination room when the lads go to sign up with the airforce. Clara is also shown nude in the scene where Mary is caught getting undressed in the hotel.

 

Photo0627
Clara Bow as Mary. Screenshot by me.

My only issue with the film is its treatment of Mary. I wish we had been given a few more scenes showing her experiences during the war in more detail. It wasn’t only David and Jack who were taking part in the war, she was there too working as a nurse.

 

I wanted more of her story instead of her simply being the love interest. I also hate the double standard of how she is punished when she is found in Jack’s hotel room. compared to what happens to him. They were both breaking the rules, so they both should have disciplined equally!

My favourite scenes are the following. Mary helping Jack with his car. The plane crashing into the house which has rows of freshly dug war graves right next door to it. David and Jack meeting Cadet White, sharing his chocolate, getting to know him and then hearing tragic news about him. All the scenes featuring the patriotic Herman Schwimpf. David saying goodbye to his family. David and Jack looking through Cadet White’s personal belongings. Mary thinking she has hurt a soldier when she crashes her ambulance. Jack visting David’s parents. The older woman helping Mary choose a dress to wear when she is with Jack. Mary finding Jack in the nightclub, the look she gives the other woman he is with is priceless(if looks could kill, then that gal would be flat on the floor). All the scenes featuring the planes. I also love the intertitle saying the film is dedicated to the dead airman”To those young warriors of the sky, whose wings are folded about them forever, this picture is reverently dedicated.”

This is a film that I never get tired of watching. It moves and impresses in equal measure. It is one of the very best films to be made during the Silent era. Any other fans of this one? If you’ve never seen it I highly recommend you buy the Masters Of Cinema Blu-Ray disc, the film looks stunning on that and there are some good extras too.