Friday, 28 September 2012

The Hobbit: an Unexpected Journey (Trailers)

These are trailers from the other upcoming film that I'm really looking forward to. Don't they just look brilliant? I see Les Miserables as being my birthday present and The Hobbit as my Christmas present  : )

The things that get me excited about them:

  • The music
  • Seeing the Shire again!
  • That brief glimpse of Elijah Wood and Ian Holm as Frodo and Old Bilbo
  • Martin Freeman as Bilbo. I think he'll be brilliant. 
  • Seeing Ian McKellen, Cate Blanchett and Hugo Weaving as Gandalf, Galadriel and Elrond again.
  • The comedy! It looks like it's going to be funnier and more light-hearted than The Lord of the Rings, which is true to the more light-hearted tone of the book. I especially love the shot of Bombur making the table collapse in the first trailer!
  • Seeing Aidan Turner as Killi. He's well fit : )
  • Seeing James Nesbit as Bofur. I think he's a really underrated actor and it's great that he's going to be in such a big film. 
  • Seeing Richard Armitage as Thorin Oakenshield. He's a great actor and it's awesome that he's got such a big part. A shame that they've toned down his extremely good looks but I grudgingly accept their reasons for doing so!
  • The song that the Dwarves sing. Richard Armitage is a great voice and I love how haunting the song sounds. Whenever I read the poetry and songs in The Hobbit and LOTR I always imagined them as sounding like this, as being haunting and beautiful.
  • I can't wait!

Monday, 24 September 2012

Phantom of the Opera (25th Anniversary UK Tour)

I saw the 25th anniversary tour of Phantom of the Opera in Bristol back in June. I was originally supposed to be seeing it in May but I had to change the date so I could go to a friend's wedding. I saw John Owen-Jones play the Phantom, Katie Hall play Christine and Simon Bailey play Raoul. I can't remember any of the other actors in the production I'm afraid. I really enjoyed the production and I'll be seeing it again in Birmingham next March. Earl Carpenter will be playing the Phantom then. Originally I was going to hold off on reviewing this 25th anniversary tour until I saw it for the second time but I've noticed that this 25th anniversary tour has been quite controversial so I just thought I'd defend it and explain why I liked it.

The 25th anniversary tour production is still basically the same show as the one that's playing in London and New York but it has different sets and different direction. A lot of fan reaction to the show has been quite negative but I really liked it! It's far better than what people are making it out to be! I thought that the majority of the changes that were made were good and actually worked really well. Most of the new staging is actually really cool. I enjoyed almost everything about this touring production and I only have a few minor complaints. There are far more positives about this production than negatives. The West End version is still better of course but I thought the 25th anniversary tour version made for a very interesting alternative and I'm glad I saw it. This touring production is still very much Phantom of the Opera and if you go in with an open mind then you'll be likely to enjoy it.

I won't mention all the differences between the 25th anniversary tour version and the West End version in this post, just the ones that really stood out to me. I thought the new journey to the Phantom's lair during the title song was amazing. Christine and the Phantom go down a long flight of stairs and it reminded me a bit of Christine's journey to the lair in the Lon Chaney film. I loved the Phantom's lair itself too. They didn't use the dark, scary looking lair that's used in the West End version. They made the lair richly decorated and it actually looked like a house - just like in the book! I liked how they staged the Prima Donna song as well. They did what the 2004 film did and had the song take place throughout the whole opera house. I think it's a bit stuffy to have Notes and Prima Donna both take place in the same room so I approved. I liked how they staged Why Have You Brought Me Here? too. Towards the end of that song Christine steps towards the edge of the roof and there's an implication that all of the stress that she's going through is making her feel suicidal (which is very Leroux). Raoul then beckons Christine away from the roof and starts to sing All I Ask of You. The chandelier didn't come down at the end of Act One in this version. I did miss the actual crash but the way they went about it was still really good. The chandelier swayed back and forth, started fizzling and sparkling, and then went out with a loud bang. That might not sound all that impressive but the bang was actually pretty shocking. It made a lot of people jump including myself! The chandelier not coming down was something that I found disappointing when I saw the 25th anniversary concert DVD but I can now say that it does work a lot better live. I thought the staging of the Masquerade scene was pretty good too. I did miss the grand staircase but at the same time I did like the fact that the song took place in a Hall of Mirrors. It seemed like a nice nod to Gaston Leroux's book since Erik builds a Hall of Mirrors in that.

That's not to say that I thought all of the changes that were made were good though. In fact there are some downright silly ones in places! I really didn't like how they staged Music of the Night at all. They didn't use the creepy Christine mannequin in this version, so Christine didn't faint towards the end of the song and the Phantom didn't catch her and swoop her off her feet. Instead Christine just gets tired and yawns so the Phantom just sort of... puts her to bed. It was a lot less dramatic and was kind of weird : S I wasn't keen on the Phantom blindfolding Christine for part of the song either. I thought the Phantom's costume in the Masquerade/Why So Silent? scene was rubbish because it was too much like Gerard Butler's costume in the 2004 film for my liking. I didn't like the fact that you don't get to see the monkey box until the final five minutes of the show. A tent keeps covering it the entire time. I think the worst change that they made though was having Christine slap Raoul during Notes/Twisted Every Way. I hated that!

But... I still really enjoyed the show and I still had a great time. Yes, it's not as good as the London version but it's still great and an interesting alternative. Most of the audience seemed to love it too! The leads were brilliant as well. Simon Bailey played Raoul when I saw Phantom at the West End back in January 2010. I thought he was pretty good then but I'd say he's even better now. He has a really strong voice and his Raoul comes across as very sweet and loving. I thought Katie Hall made for a really good Cosette in the 25th anniversary of Les Miserables and she was really strong in Phantom as well. I must admit that there were quite a few times when she kept covering her ears with her hands, which I think she did to try to convey Christine's anxiety. But apart from that her acting was really good and her singing was excellent and lovely. I especially loved her "tears of hate" line in the Final Lair scene. The way she sings that line is hands down the best I've ever heard! She BELTS out the word "hate" and puts a lot of venom into it! I'll try to include a link to show how awesome her delivery is. And as for John Owen-Jones, well, I've heard so many good things about him over the years. I know that many regard him as the best performer to have played the Phantom in the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical. I was certainly impressed when I saw him in various YouTube videos and he WAS brilliant when I saw him. I think I still prefer Ramin Karimloo as the Phantom but JOJ was brilliant nonetheless. Now I'm really looking forward to seeing Earl Carpenter's Phantom in March next year.  I really want to see the show again at Her Majesty's in London at some point too. I hope to go again in 2014. That would make it four years since I last saw the show in London. I think it's safe to say the show would still be running since Phantom is still going strong! To round off the review here's a trailer for the 25th anniversary tour (so you can get an idea of what it looks like) and a video of Katie Hall's "tears of hate" line:

There are various Christines in this video. If you can't be bothered to go through them all just go straight to 25.17.

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

Clueless (1995)

Clueless is a modern-day update of Jane Austen's novel Emma. It was a successful film and it even got its own TV spin-off show. The Emma Woodhouse character in Clueless is called Cher Horowitz and is played by Alicia Silverstone. Like Emma, Cher is a rich girl who lives with her single father but she's 15 years old and lives in Los Angeles. Cher's mother is dead in this film, like Emma's, but her mother died from a "routine liposuction" that went wrong. Cher has a best friend called Dionne (no book equivalent) and the Mr Knightley character is called Josh and is played by Paul Rudd. Josh isn't the brother of Cher's brother-in-law in this film and is in fact her ex-step brother.

Clueless loosely follows many of the plot-points of Austen's book. When Cher hooks up two of her schoolteachers she decides that she's an excellent matchmaker. Then a new girl called Tai joins Cher's school. Tai is the Harriet Smith character in the film and is played by Brittany Murphy. Cher thinks that Tai is a loser and decides to improve her image. She then gives Tai a make-over and tries to hook her up with Elton, after convincing Tai that the stoner guy called Travis that she fancies is no good. Of course this backfires spectacularly and Cher is disturbed when Tai becomes more popular at school than herself. Cher then tries to seduce Christian, the Frank Churchill character of the film. Christian isn't secretly engaged to Jane Fairfax in this version (her character isn't even in the film) but he has another reason for not going for Cher. And I won't bother explaining how the film ends because if you're already familiar with Emma then you'll know.

I know there are people out there really love this film, with some even thinking that it's the best adaptation of Jane Austen's book. I'm sorry but I really have to disagree. Admittedly I did quite like Josh, there are some funny lines, and some of the updates are clever. Nevertheless I think that most of the characters are annoying and obnoxious and not likeable or charming at all. Tai doesn't make for a sweet and cute Harriet Smith, and Cher is far more irritating than Emma Woodhouse ever was! I'm not sure if it's because of the way Cher is written or if it's because I find Alicia Silverstone irritating in general but I suspect it's a bit of both. Either way the character just comes across as your stereotypical superficial, shallow, dumb blonde. I think it's odd that the film has her fall in love with her stepbrother as well. In fairness, the film does stress that Cher and Josh aren't blood relations and that Josh's mom wasn't married to Cher's dad for very long. I still think it's a bit weird though!

Another big problem that I have with this film is that it treats some inappropriate behaviour far too lightly. Maybe I'm taking the film too seriously but the references to drug-taking and casual sex in this film make me feel uncomfortable, especially when I think that that these characters are 15 years old and are based - however loosely - on characters from a Jane Austen novel. Cher disapproves of Travis for smoking weed yet she's perfectly happy to smoke weed herself at a party. Tai is a "loser" but she's still had plenty of sexual experience. Also, Cher is convinced that she's the only virgin at her high school and makes a failed attempt to seduce Christian. WHAT?! Emma trying to shag Frank Churchill?! No, no, a million times no! OK, I know that times have changed since Austen's day and I guess you could make an argument that the film is only providing a realistic picture of what really goes on in American high schools. But Austen's heroines were usually very moral and had strong principles. They had morals and principles that often exceeded those around them. Emma Woodhouse might be flawed but I just can't accept a character who's supposed to be her modern-day 15 year old equivalent trying to shag Frank Churchill; especially when she doesn't really love him and only feels that she should because that's what all the cool kids are doing. My final problem with this film is that some of the clothes that the characters wear are hideous! There's some very bad 90s fashion in this film! On the flipside there is a lot of 90s slang in this film that nobody actually uses any more. I find that quite amusing.

Anyway, I'm sorry if my review of this film upsets anyone. Clueless seems to be one of those films that people often get all nostalgic and misty-eyed over but I'm afraid I'm just not a fan. It doesn't bring out any warm, fuzzy feelings in me! If you share my dislike of Clueless though then I'd recommend trying the Gwyneth Paltrow and Romola Garai Emma versions if you want to see a far better and more accurate adaptation of Austen's book. And if you're just after a good teen film than I'd recommend 10 Things I Hate About You or Mean Girls instead.

Rating: 2/5
Film Certificate Rating: 12

Sunday, 16 September 2012

Emma (Kate Beckinsale, Gwyneth Paltrow & Romola Garai versions)

As with my Jane Eyre adaptation review I thought I'd review most of the Emma adaptations that I've seen together. I've left out Clueless because it's a modern-day update and is only loosely based on Jane Austen's book. Emma is either my joint favourite Austen book (along with Pride and Prejudice) or my second favourite Austen book - but I wasn't that impressed with it when I first read it. I did find it funny of course but I found Emma herself annoying and I was a bit freaked out when Knightley told her that he'd been in love with her ever since she was 13 (shudders). But then I watched the Gwyneth Paltrow film and I really loved it so I went back to the book again. I enjoyed it so much more! I still find Emma's character annoying at the start of the book but she has good intentions, she's funny to read about, and I love how she matures as the book goes on. I also realised that Knightley wasn't being serious about falling in love with Emma at 13. Thank goodness! The period drama adaptations of Emma that I've seen and am going to review are: the 1996 ITV version which starred Kate Beckinsale as Emma Woodhouse, the 1996 Hollywood film which starred Gwyneth Paltrow as Emma, and the 2009 BBC adaptation which starred Romola Garai as Emma. I've reviewed them from least favourite to my most favourite (hmm, is that bad grammar?)

My least favourite period-drama adaptation of Emma is the ITV version, which was written by Andrew Davies and starred Kate Beckinsale as Emma and Mark Strong as Knightley. I have a bit of a love-hate relationship with Davies but I don't have any particular complaints with his script for this version. Apart from Knightley mentioning to Emma that he held her in his arms when she was a baby that is. Eeeewww! That's not romantic, that's disgusting! What was Davies thinking?! The main problem that I have with this version is due to the leading actors. I don't think Kate Beckinsale is bad in this. It's just that the way she plays Emma isn't particularly how I imagined the character when I read the book. She was too cold for my liking although it was nice to see a brunette Emma for once. Mark Strong on the other hand.... oh dear! He is bad in this! I'm not saying that Mark Strong is a bad actor. I like him. He was excellent in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and The Young Victoria and made for a great villain in Stardust. But he's bad in this version because he doesn't seem to understand the character he's playing. He's far too shouty and his Knightley just comes across as being really angry and reproachful all the time! Where's the sense of humour?! I never once believed that Strong's Knightley loved Emma. And I think if I'd gone into this version without reading Austen's book beforehand I'd be wondering why on earth Emma puts up with him! Another thing that bothers me about this adaptation is that it isn't very visually appealing. There's a lack of colour and it has quite a dark and dreary look. The costumes aren't that nice either. This version isn't the worst Austen adaptation that I've ever seen and I know it has its fans but I personally found it quite boring. I gave up on it halfway through and I wouldn't recommend it. 2/5

Kate Beckinsale as Emma and Mark Strong as Angry Knightley
Fortunately, however, the other period drama adaptations of Emma that I've seen are much better. For this reason I think Emma has fared better than Austen's other books in terms of their adaptations. The first adaptation of Emma that I love is the Hollywood film which came out in the same year as the ITV version. It was written and directed by Douglas McGrath and starred Gwyneth Paltrow as Emma and Jeremy Northam as Knightley. It's a great film and really helped me to enjoy Austen's book more! Even though it's a Hollywood movie it's historically accurate and the locations, costumes and cinematography are all very visually appealing. Being a two-hour film adaptation it does of course leave out some scenes from the book and I do wish that they'd spent some more time on the Frank Churchill/Jane Fairfax subplot in particular. The film doesn't feel rushed though and it doesn't leave out anything major. The focus of the film is very much on Emma and Knightley's characters, which is as it should be even if it's sometimes at the expense of the other characters. As for the acting, Gwyneth Paltrow gives a brilliant performance as Emma Woodhouse. As we all know she can do a brilliant English accent. Her Emma isn't as lively as Garai's but she comes across as being very refined and elegant and sophisticated. I didn't really like Paltrow's hair-styles in this version though. Her hair is always very tightly pulled-back. It isn't flattering and looks uncomfortable. I wasn't that keen on the scene where Paltrow's Emma insults Miss Bates at the Box Hill picnic either. She insults Miss Bates with a hint of malice. When Romola Garai's Emma insults Miss Bates it just seems like genuine lack-of-tact which is how I interpreted the insult in the book. I still really love Paltrow's take on the character though and she brings a lot of warmth and charm to the role. I really love Jeremy Northam as Knightley in this film. Although it's very obvious right from the start that he's in love with Emma he still does a great job. He's dashing, attractive, charming, sensible and is very refined and elegant himself. Even his dancing is excellent! He and Paltrow have very nice chemistry too. Alan Cumming and Juliet Stevenson are both good fun as the Eltons and Ewan McGregor is my favourite actor to have played Frank Churchill, probably because this version portrays his character in a more sympathetic light than the others. It's a shame that he has a silly wig though. McGregor was bald at the time he filmed Emma because of shaving his head for Trainspotting - couldn't they have found him a better wig?! But McGregor is very charming in this film and the duet between him and Paltrow is a definite highlight since he has a great singing voice.

The only actor who really lets the side down for me is Toni Collette. I really didn't care for her Harriet Smith at all! Harriet is supposed to be 17 and slim. Why cast someone who's in their 20s and even make them put on weight? I'm really not keen on Collette's acting in the role either. I'm not saying that Toni Collette is a bad actress. It's just that I don't like the way she played Harriet's character. Harriet isn't the brightest girl in the world but I think Austen intended for her readers to find her endearingly sweet and simple. Collette interprets the character as being a stupid, annoying bimbo! Even her voice is annoying in this film! I still really love this adaptation of Emma though. It's true to the tone and the spirit of Austen's book and overall it's an excellent film even though it's no longer my favourite adaptation of the book. 4.5/5

Jeremy Northam as Knightley and Gwyneth Paltrow as Emma

My favourite Emma adaptation is the most recent BBC version which came out in 2009. It was written by Sandy Welch and starred Romola Garai as Emma Woodhouse and Jonny Lee Miller as Knightley. Initially I was annoyed when I heard that the BBC were going to tackle Emma because I do really love the Paltrow version and I didn't really see the need for another adaptation - but when I finally saw it I was completely won over. Welch's adaptation of North and South is brilliant but I was really disappointed with her attempt at Jane Eyre. With Emma Welch is back on form and I think this version does the best job at getting the light, fresh, fun, romantic tone of the book across. The production values for this version are clearly very high and it looks great. The cinematography, locations and costumes are all beautiful. I especially loved the location they used for Hartfield - and I really wanted some of Emma's dresses in this version! Also, the four hour running time allows them to flesh out the secondary characters more. It covers Austen's book in more depth than the Paltrow version does, especially when it comes to the Harriet Smith/Robert Martin and Jane Fairfax/Frank Churchill subplots. We see much more of John and Isabella Knightley in this version as well.

As I've mentioned the role of Emma is played by Romola Garai. She's beautiful and I admit to having a bit of a girl crush on her. She's also a very talented actress and has been in many period dramas. Now I know people go on about Kate Winslet starring in loads of period dramas throughout her career but surely she can't compete with Romola Garai's record?! Garai has been in Emma, Daniel Deronda, Nicholas Nickleby, I Capture the Castle, Vanity Fair, As You Like It, Amazing Grace, Atonement, Glorious 39, The Hour and The Crimson Petal and White! All period dramas! The only contemporary film I've seen her in is One Day. Another interesting fact about Garai is that she was 27 when she played Emma Woodhouse. She was older than Kate Beckinsale and Gwyneth Paltrow were when they played the character but in fact she looks much younger than both of them! As for her acting I did find her mannerisms and exasperated facial expressions a bit too over-the-top in Episode One, but after that she tones down and ends up delivering a brilliant performance. She portrays all of Emma's qualities and characteristics extremely well, she and Jonny Lee Miller have great chemistry, and I thought she was really funny.

Jonny Lee Miller makes for a brilliant Knightley in this version as well. I know that some Austen fans were concerned that he was too young when his casting was announced which is actually quite funny. Firstly, because Miller was in fact the same age as Austen's Knightley (37) at the time Emma was filmed. Secondly, because both Mark Strong and Jeremy Northam were actually a few years younger than Miller when they both played Knightley. I myself was a bit peeved by Miller's casting simply because I'd never found him all that attractive before. But I was completely won over by Miller in this mini-series. He is attractive, he's strong, he's sensible, he's charming but still slightly distant. It was really nice to see him in a much better Austen adaptation than the Rozema Mansfield Park film too!

Jonny Lee Miller as Knightley
The supporting cast in this version is, overall, the best of these three Emma adaptations. I was really surprised at how much I liked Michael Gambon as Mr Woodhouse for example because I hated him as Professor Dumbledore in the Harry Potter films. It was just so obvious that he hadn't bothered to read the books! He did far too much shouting and gave off too much intensity. I still shudder when I remember the horrifying moment in Goblet of Fire when HE SHOVED HARRY AGAINST A WALL! It was a moment that was so out-of-character it made me want to die! Richard Harris did a much better job at playing the same character. Michael Gambon is really good in Emma though. He's funny and sympathetic and clearly understands Mr Woodhouse's character. Tamsin Greig is superb as Miss Bates. She's annoying at times but she still manages to be funny and sympathetic. She provides some really poignant moments. Louise Dylan is really well cast as Harriet Smith too. She's pretty but not prettier than Garai and her Harriet doesn't come across as stupid and annoying at all. She's sweet, ditsy, cute and adorable. I loved Blake Ritson and Christina Cole as Mr and Mrs Elton too. They were hilarious! Ritson is pompous, vain, funny and was so obviously having a lot of fun playing the character. Like Jonny Lee Miller he's better in Emma than he was at playing Edmund Bertram in his Mansfield Park adaptation. Christina Cole is great as Mrs Elton. She also played Blanche Ingram in the BBC's most recent Jane Eyre adaptation and clearly has a knack for playing Rich Bitch characters. Also, I loved Robert Bathurst and Jodhi May as the Westons and Dan Fredenburgh as John Knightley. I really liked how Knightley's brother got more screen-time in this version than Paltrow film. I think he's one of the most underrated Austen characters.

Michael Gambon as Mr Woodhouse

Tamsin Greig as Miss Bates
Louise Dylan as Harriet Smith
Blake Ritson and Christina Cole as the Eltons
Jodhi May as Mrs Weston
Robert Bathurst as Mr Weston
Really, there isn't very much that I can fault with in this version! Well, it would have been nice if they'd included the scene where Harriet bumps into Robert Martin and his sister in Hartfield like the Paltrow version does. And I do have to admit that I didn't really like the opening prologue. I think Welch was trying to do something clever and different but it just seems cheesy and weird. We hear a narration from Knightley, which explains Frank Churchill and Jane Fairfax's backstories much earlier than we get to find out about them in Austen's book. Also, Jane and Frank both leave their homes on the same day and are around the same age. If I recall correctly, Frank left his father at the age of two and Jane didn't leave the Bates's house until she was about nine. Also the age gap between Emma and her sister Isabella isn't as big in this version as it is in the book, and Emma genuinely believes that she's partly responsible for John and Isabella's characters getting together in the first place. The prologue is the only issue that I have with this version though and I think everything else is great. I know that some Austen fans have complained about the fact that Welch doesn't include all that much dialogue from Austen's book but did you know that Emma Thompson only included just six direct quotes from Austen's Sense and Sensibility in her film adaptation? And that's a brilliant and mostly faithful film that many Austen fans love. The added dialogue in this version of Emma is great in my opinion. I especially love Knightley's line about Elton: "That man is so full of himself I'm surprised he can stay on that horse!" I really love this version. 5/5

Romola Garai as Emma and Jonny Lee Miller as Knightley

So to sum up: when it comes to Emma adaptations my favourite is the Garai version because I think it's the best overall. Garai and Miller are both excellent, and because of the four hour running time the secondary characters and plot-lines are all very well fleshed out. However, I do really love the Paltrow version. Paltrow and Northam are excellent too, and considering that it's a two hour film version it still does a wonderful job in getting the tone and spirit of Austen's book across. I'd definitely recommend owning both the Gwyneth Paltrow and Romola Garai versions. They can both be enjoyed on their own merits and they act as a complement to each other. I think both are must-sees for Austen fans and for period-drama fans.

Monday, 10 September 2012

'Shirley' by Charlotte Bronte (1849)

Synopsis: the half-Belgian manufacturer Robert Moore is struggling financially and decides that marrying the beautiful, wealthy, independent and vivacious Shirley Keeldar will solve his financial problems - but he's really in love with his cousin, and Shirley's friend, Caroline Helstone. Caroline is pretty, shy, bored and lonely and is living as a ward in her uncle's home. Shirley, meanwhile, is in love with Robert's brother Louis but he's an impoverished tutor and her family would be opposed to the match. As this love square plays out, Robert also introduces labour-saving machinery at his Yorkshire mill but this stirs up anger and bad feeling amongst his workers. Several of the workers riot and try to kill Robert.

Shirley was written in between Jane Eyre and Villette. It's notable for being Charlotte Bronte's only historical novel and is set during the time of the Napoleonic Wars and Luddite Riots of 1811-12. The book really doesn't feel like a Regency novel though; and you might be interested to know that the only reason why Charlotte Bronte made Shirley a historical novel was because she didn't want to cause controversy by commenting on contemporary issues. Another thing that is particularly notable about Shirley is that the title is actually quite misleading. Shirley herself isn't the main character and the story isn't told from her point-of-view. The book is actually told in third-person and there are many characters. Shirley is probably Charlotte Bronte's least-famous novel and it's had no screen adaptations apart from an obscure silent film that was made in 1922. There are very few readers who would claim that this book is her best work either. The majority of Bronte fans would argue that Jane Eyre is her best work although I do know there's a minority of people out there who prefer Villette. Even in Charlotte Bronte's time the book wasn't that much of a hit. Charlotte Bronte lost all three of her siblings - Branwell, Emily and Anne - in the space of a year when she wrote the book. She only carried on writing because it was the only thing that was keeping her sane. She also hoped that when she eventually finished that the book would be just as wildly successful as Jane Eyre but it wasn't. I do feel really sorry for her but... I'm still not that keen on this book. Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre is a classic and it's one of my all-time favourite books; but although I've tried I just can't bring myself to like her other novels all that much. I didn't like Villette much and I wasn't overly impressed with Shirley either although I did prefer it to Villette by the end. I'll explain the reason for that later. For now I'll just point out my problems with this book.

The first half of Shirley is extremely slow-moving and all of the political and economic stuff in it really bored me. I found it hard to keep track of all the secondary characters as well. There's just so many of them! As an example: the first chapter begins with an account of the town's three curates at dinner, including their different personalities and eating habits. But these three curates are very minor characters and don't serve much of a purpose to the story at all. Charlotte Bronte just gets bogged down with introducing the characters and setting. The book is just over 600 pages long and a good third of it could have been edited out without any major effect on the story. My final problem with this book is that, just like Villette, you can tell that Charlotte Bronte had prejudices against foreigners and Catholics/Methodists. I know that these prejudices were very common in Charlotte Bronte's time and I don't judge her for it but it still made me uncomfortable while I was reading.

I'm glad that I carried on reading the book though because, at around 300 pages in, the story finally begins to pick up and we finally get some action. We get gun-fighting, a riot, a murder attempt, a love square, a long-lost mother and daughter reuniting, and even a rabies subplot! I quite liked the book's two heroines as well. I enjoyed the relationship between them and the contrast between them both. Apparently the character of Caroline is based on Anne Bronte; and Shirley is based on what Charlotte thought Emily Bronte would have been like if she'd been born into a wealthy family. Since I liked Caroline and Shirley I take that to mean that I'd have liked Emily and Anne. I like that! I found both Caroline and Shirley's characters more engaging than Lucy Snowe in Villette so that's my main reason for preferring Shirley over that book. I quite liked the character of Martin as well. Also, there isn't as much French in Shirley as there is in Villette so I didn't have to keep flicking to the footnotes all the time so I could understand what the characters were saying.

All in all, Shirley isn't a bad book. It's fairly dull to start off with yes but it does improve as it goes along and I'd say it's worth a read if you're already a die-hard Bronte fan. If you're a newcomer to the Brontes I'd suggest starting on Jane Eyre or her sister's novels Wuthering Heights or The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, all of which are better. I'd also suggest reading Elizabeth Gaskell's North and South (which is also better) first as well. Elizabeth Gaskell was a close friend of Charlotte Bronte and I noticed some very striking similarities between Shirley and North and South! I know I'm not the only one whose noticed these similarities either! Both books have romance in them (although it did take a lot longer for that to emerge in Shirley). Both books have angry workers and rioting. Both books are set up north. Both books have the name Helston(e) in them. Both books have a mill whose name ends in "-lborough". Charlotte Bronte was born in a town called Thornton and there's a character called Thornton in North and South. And here's a really spooky similarity! In the BBC adaptation of North and South the character of Thornton is played by Richard Armitage and there's a character called Armitage in Shirley! Oooooh-oooh!

Rating: 3/5

Sunday, 9 September 2012

The Aristocats (1970)

The Aristocats is set in Paris and the surrounding French countryside in the year 1910. An English butler called Edgar finds out that his wealthy employer is planning to leave her cats everything in her will. The cats consist of Duchess and her three kittens called Marie, Toulouse and Berlioz. Edgar will only get to inherit the money when the cats die. Edgar is fairly annoyed about this and feels that by the time the cats die he'll be too old to appreciate the money, so he decides to get rid of them. This leads to a chase sequence between Edgar and two crazy dogs which is quite funny. After that the film basically consists of the cats trying to get back home to their owner's house in Paris. Along the way they meet a street-smart alley cat called Thomas O'Malley who is voiced by Phil Harris (who also did the voice of Baloo in The Jungle Book). O'Malley helps the cats out and has a romance with Duchess, and along the way the cats meet a number of other characters as well.

I really enjoyed this film as a child but after re-watching it as an adult I'm sad to say that I actually found it boring and bland. The characters don't have much depth and the plot just isn't very interesting. The songs are annoying aside from Everybody Wants to Be a Cat. Also, Edgar is far too sympathetic! Edgar never actually tries to kill the cats. At first he tries to abandon them and then later on he tries to ship them off to Timbuktu. Also, he has a point! Wouldn't you be annoyed if you'd been a loyal servant for years only to find out that a bunch of cats were going to inherit money in a will before you?!

The Aristocats is beautifully-animated and has some nice moments but it's definitely not one of my favourite Disney films.

Rating: 2.5/5
Film Cerificate Rating: U