Sunday, 29 December 2013

Reflections on 2013

With a new year approaching I'm reflecting on the old one...

What was your birthday like?
My birthday was on a Sunday this year and I remember it being a really quiet day. I don't think I did very much apart from eating lots of cake! But on the Friday before my birthday I had dinner with friends and then we saw the Les Miserables film :)

Did you go on holiday this year?
I went on a mini-break to Jersey in May. I went with my mother and we both had a lovely time. The weather was perfect and the hotel was great. It had a heated indoor swimming pool and a cocktail bar! :D We stayed in the capital St Helier and had a look around the town. We also visited the Zoo and the Jersey War Tunnels. We both wished that we could have stayed an extra day though because we'd have both liked to have gone on a daytrip to St Malo in France. Here are some photos that I took of the trip:

I also went to France in July with some people from my church. Our church sponsors two missionary families that live in France and a group of us went out to visit them. The purpose of the trip was to get a feel for what they do out there so the church knows how best to pray for them. We had fun though and God really spoke to me on the trip (I don't mean that literally because I didn't hear an audible voice). Mainly I learnt that I need to relax more and stop worrying about things! This might sound like an obvious thing but it's extremely hard to do in practise! I've felt more at peace since I got back which has been great, especially because some things that have happened to me this year have been very difficult. But I don't want to go into that.

What were the best books that you read in 2013?

My absolute favourite book this year was Leo Tolstoy's Anna Karenina. Other brilliant books that I read this year were Neil Gaiman's NeverwhereRobin McKinley's Beauty and Georgette Heyer's Cotillion and Arabella. I also re-read Anne Bronte's The Tenant of Wildfell Hall and Elizabeth Gaskell's North and South this year which are old favourites of mine.

What were the best films that you saw in 2013?

Les Miserables was my absolute favourite! Technically it belongs to 2012 but I didn't get to see it until January 2013 because that's when it came out in the UK. Other films that I saw at the cinema and loved were The Great GatsbyStar Trek into Darkness, Catching FireFrozen and The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug. A film that I saw on DVD and loved was Mirror Mirror. Such an underrated film!

What were your favourite new TV shows of 2013?

I spent a lot of time rewatching old boxsets this year (Doctor Who, etc) but I made new discoveries. When it comes to new shows I discovered Once Upon a TimeSleepy HollowGame of Thrones and Hannibal 
this year and loved them all. It's hard to pick a favourite out of those at the moment but if I had to, and if season one carries on being as brilliant as it is, then I think it would have to be Sleepy Hollow. It's hilarious, suspenseful, massive fun, Tom Mison and Nicole Beharie have an amazing chemistry, and it has a veeery Buffy-esque tone to it. I've also been watching the BBC's Atlantis this year. Its critical reviews haven't been great and - unlike the others that I've mentioned - I wouldn't call it brilliant. It's still perfectly watchable though and hopefully the second series will be a lot better once the writers have found their feet because the show has a lot of potential.

The best miniseries that I watched this year was Sense and Sensibility (2008). Although I still prefer the 1995 adaptation this miniseries was so much better than I thought it was going to be and I loved Dan Stevens as Edward Ferrars :D

What were the best plays/musicals that you saw?
This year I saw Wicked (for the second time) in London. I also saw a production of The Tempest (which starred Roger Allam and Colin Morgan), a play called Mojo (which starred Ben Whishaw, Colin Morgan and Rupert Grint) and a production of Richard II (which starred David Tennant) in London. I got to see the 50th anniversary production of Agatha Christie's The Mousetrap, the 25th anniversary tour of Phantom of the Operaand War Horse when they came to my home town. I also saw the National Theatre's production of Frankenstein when it was screened into cinemas (I saw both of its versions). I saw more plays this year than I've ever seen before which was great. I can honestly that I loved every single production that I saw this year but if I had to pick out a top three then I'd go for Frankenstein as my favourite play (which I thought was absolutely magnificent). Wicked and Phantom are the only musicals that I saw this year but I would also include them as being amongst my favourite theatrical experiences this year. I love those musicals so much!

Is there anything else that you saw or heard this year that you loved?

Yes! I started listening to radio shows this year and I fell in love with BBC Radio 4's Cabin Pressure and Neverwhere. They're both completely different to each other. All that they have in common is that they both star Benedict Cumberbatch and are fabulous! I watched a few web series this year too. I started with The Lizzie Bennet Diaries. I adored that show and it's now my favourite Pride and Prejudice adaptation! Call it heresy if you want but I don't care! :D Now I'm currently watching Emma Approved and The Autobiography of Jane Eyre. I'm really enjoying both of those shows as well although I feel EA had a rocky start. When it comes to music discoveries I've also become a big fan of Ellie Goulding and Imagine Dragons.

Ellie Goulding - Burn
This song was number one for weeks in the UK! But I haven't even got tired of it!

Imagine Dragons - Radioactive (live from the Reading Festival)

You started learning French last year. How's that going?
Fairly well and I actually got to practise some French when I went over to France. I have to admit that I'm not as motivated to learn it as much as I was last year though. I've become a bit lazy. I need to do something about that. I'd like to take a Latin class next year too. I've heard it's extremely useful for studying Latin-based languages which makes sense.

Apart from blogger can you be found anywhere else on the internet?
Yes. Back in June or July I got a Tumblr account which turned out to be the best and worst decision of the year! It's been the best because I've had so much fun on that website and I've talked to some really cool people on it. It's awesome to have so many of your fandoms come up on your dashboard and I've laughed myself silly at some of the memes and gifs I've found on it. But it's been the worst because I spend a ridiculous amount of time on it! I've also very recently started a Pinterest account. I haven't been on it that long to have much of an opinion on it but it seems pretty cool.

Any new years' resolutions for 2014?
Oh, the usual ones really. Go to bed earlier, do some kind of exercise, read more and spend less time on the internet, remember to moisturise every day, etc. Hopefully I can keep at least one of them!

Monday, 23 December 2013

'Arabella' by Georgette Heyer (1949)

Synopsis: Arabella Tallant is the oldest daughter of a poor Yorkshire clergyman. She is then invited to spend a season in London with her wealthy and socially significant godmother Lady Bridlington. Her godmother has no daughters of her own to fuss over and is eager to present Arabella into society. Arabella couldn't be more thrilled. She'll get to live in a glamorous city for a few months and hopefully she'll even find a husband there. However, on the way to London, the carriage that Arabella is travelling on breaks down outside a grand country estate. She and her companion then find themselves being obliged to ask the owner of the estate if they can seek shelter there for a few hours. The owner of the estate turns out to be Mr Robert Beaumaris. As Beaumaris is one of the most eligible bachelors in the country he's used to women making all kinds of crazy and outlandish excuses to be in his presence and is therefore not inclined to think favourably of Arabella. He assumes that Arabella has completely made up the carriage accident and is yet another silly and petty female who's only after his fortune. When Arabella accidentally overhears Beaumaris saying this to his friend Lord Fleetwood she's furious and acts on impulse. She decides to pay Beaumaris back by "letting it slip" that she's the heiress of an enormous fortune. Beaumaris doesn't believe this for a second but is greatly amused by Arabella's story and decides to go along with it. His opinion of Arabella also improves. However, Lord Fleetwood is completely taken in by Arabella's story and he spreads it like wildfire. Soon all of London believes her to be a fabulously wealthy heiress. Arabella then finds herself being pursued by every fortune-hunter in the city and is horrified. She doesn't know what to do and dreads the thought of Mr Beaumaris finding out about her deception.

This will be my last book review of 2013. Arabella is the third Georgette Heyer novel that I've read this year and I really liked it. I didn't enjoy it as much as Cotillion but I found it far more enjoyable than The Grand Sophy. The story of Arabella is quite reminiscent of both Jane Austen's Northanger Abbey and Pride and Prejudice but it manages not to be a rip-off of either of those books. Arabella is also charming, fun and funny. The only thing that really let the book down for me were the chapters that involved Arabella's brother Bertram. He goes to London, gambles, and loses almost all of his money. I wasn't a fan of this subplot. Bertram seemed like a total prat and I got tired of reading about his misadventures. The Bertram subplot is necessary to the story but I do wish Heyer had spent less time on it.

I really liked the heroine and the hero of this book. Arabella herself is my favourite Heyer heroine so far. She's not perfect. She's naive, she has a bit of a temper, and she makes mistakes. But her faults make her believable and she's very kind, moral and compassionate. How can you not love a girl who takes care of a sick maid, shouts at a man for whipping his horse, rescues a chimney sweep that falls into her room, and then gets Mr Beaumaris to beat up some louts that are attacking a dog?! Then there's Beaumaris. Apparently a lot of Heyer's heroines are rakes but I haven't managed to come across any of those books that feature rakish heroes just yet. Mr Beaumaris isn't an out-and-out rake. At the start of the book he's just very cynical, world-weary and jaded. As he starts to fall in love with Arabella he becomes more charming and cheerful. His conversations with Arabella are very amusing but the thing that really endeared me to his character were his conversations with his dog Ulysses. They really show off his sense of humour. I enjoyed the various ways that Beaumaris dealt with all the charity cases that Arabella kept foisting on him as well. I was a bit disappointed that Arabella didn't manage to convince him to hire the prostitute Leaky Peg as a maid in the final chapter but not disheartened. I know that Arabella will nag him about it in the future. The secondary characters in Arabella are a bit flat but the hero and the heroine more than make up for it - and I did enjoy reading about Beaumaris's very camp valet Mr Painswick. If Arabella ever gets an adaptation they should get David Walliams to play him.

Arabella is a thoroughly engaging and fun book and if you're looking for a light read then I would definitely recommend it. Georgette Heyer is no Jane Austen but I'm really enjoying her books and I look forward to reading even more of them.

Rating: 4/5

Fun Hobbit Themed Videos

The cast for The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug have been doing a lot of interviews as you'd naturally expect. They have to promote their film. I watched a whole bunch of cast interviews on Youtube the other day. There are some great interviews on there but this is my favourite. I love that Benedict Cumberbatch instantly recognises Martin Freeman's feet - and the guilty embarrassment from everyone at mistaking Evangeline Lilly's feet for a man's is priceless!

And then there's THIS! This isn't an interview at all but I LOVE this! To whoever got Orlando Bloom to do this, I salute you!

Saturday, 21 December 2013

An Important Article

One of my Facebook friends shared this. It's important and it should be read.

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (2013)

I've now seen The Desolation of Smaug twice. Before I really start to review this film though I feel I should say that I absolutely love J.R.R. Tolkien's The Hobbit. It's one of my all-time favourite books. I'm also a massive fan of Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings film trilogy and I really loved the first instalment of his Hobbit trilogy - An Unexpected Journey. A lot of film critics felt that An Unexpected Journey was much too slow-paced at the beginning (but if you check out my review for that film then you'll see that I very much disagreed with that assessment). The Desolation of Smaug has picked up more positive reviews than its predecessor though and I can kind of understand why. Whereas An Unexpected Journey had to get the backstory and the setting-up-the-quest out of the way The Desolation of Smaug pretty much jumps straight into the action. After a brief prologue with Gandalf and Thorin at The Prancing Pony - and a nice cameo from Peter Jackson - it then cuts to Bilbo, Gandalf and the Dwarfs being chased by the Orcs from the previous film and then running into Beorn. Although I completely disagree with the view that AUJ was too slow at the beginning people who did find that film too slow will prefer the faster pace of this film. Critics have also praised the 48 frames rate of this film. The 48 frames rate of an AUJ picked up complaints because many felt that it gave the film a cheap, low-budget look. However, the 48 frame rate has apparently been greatly improved for The Desolation of Smaug. I can't really comment though. I saw the film in the standard 2D, 24 frames rate. I can't stand seeing films in 3D.

I've read very mixed reviews for The Desolation of Smaug from actual Tolkien fans. Some fans passionately love it, some fans are very disappointed with it. But what did I think? Well, I loved this film just like I loved the one! In fact I think I even love it more! I can understand why some fans would have issues with these Hobbit films though. If you're a fan who only wants Tolkien's The Hobbit to be filmed exactly like it is in the book, and nothing more, then you're probably not going to appreciate AUJ or The Desolation of Smaug, especially the latter. The Desolation of Smaug veers away from its source material more than any of the Middle-earth films that have been released so far. I wouldn't say that the film is perfect and there are certain things in it that I don't like at all. And yet I still loved The Desolation of Smaug overall. It still captures the world I love, the acting is still fantastic, and it's still a fun and immensely entertaining adventure story. The positives in it far outweigh the negatives! Now I'm going to pick out the things that I especially loved about the film. I have a feeling that this post might get be a bit rambly from the point so if it does, sorry!

The scene where Bilbo climbs out of the forest is beautiful. It's then followed up by the vicious attack from the giant spiders. I loved the fact that Bilbo could actually hear the spiders speak when he put on the ring! It was really cool and really creepy at the same time!

It was extreeemely interesting to see the Mirkwood Elves in this film. They aren't as ethereal and wise as the Rivendell and Lothlorien Elves; they're more aggressive and "wild" which is actually very true to how Tolkien depicts them in the book. This depiction also applies to the Elf King Thranduil. He's a much more dangerous and ruthless leader than Elrond and Galadriel!

This film takes what we know of Thranduil from Tolkien's book and embellishes him. For the first time in these Middle-earth films we get to see an Elf that is obviously flawed. Thranduil might look the part but he's very, very different to any Elf that we've seen before! He's disdainful, cold, cunning, suave, slightly menacing, and a badass swordsman. He's not really likeable but... I loved him! I really hope that we'll get to see a lot more of him in There and Back Again now. Although Thranduil doesn't get a huge amount of screentime in this film he's still an incredibly intriguing and fascinating character! He's also kind of sexy in my opinion :D He was one of my favourite things about the film and one of my favourite moments in the film was the scene between Thranduil and Thorin. I'd been really looking forward to this scene anyway and it didn't disappoint. There's a huge amount of tension between them. And interestingly enough, Thranduil, for all his arrogance, makes a perfectly reasonable demand to Thorin (just one chest of jewels out of a massive hoard of treasure). Lee Pace does a terrific job playing Thranduil and I loved his speech and mannerisms in the role. I couldn't quite believe that I was watching the same actor who played Ned the Piemaker from Pushing Daisies! Lee Pace is clearly very versatile!

And then of course there's the controversial character of Tauriel. Whereas the LOTR and The Silmarillion both have their strong female characters, The Hobbit doesn't have any female characters at all.
Tolkien wrote the book in the 1930s and times were different back then. However in this film there's a character called Tauriel who's a female Elf and the Captain of the Guards. As soon it was announced that an original character called Tauriel was going to be in the Hobbit films it rubbed a lot of Tolkien fans up the wrong way and many hate her purely because Tolkien didn't create her. Usually I'm not a fan of characters being shoehorned into works just so the writers don't accused of being sexist or racist but I've been very open-minded about Tauriel. I had faith in the writers and I very quickly decided that just as long as Tauriel was a well-written and well-acted character that I would be perfectly happy with her inclusion. And I was! Tauriel is an extremely likeable character and I loved her! She was actually one of my favourite things about the film! Tauriel kicks ass and is an awesome fighter but she's also very feminine, compassionate and open-minded. She's the only Mirkwood Elf who actually seems to know and care about what's going on in the wider world. Tauriel is a bit closer to the Elves that we know from the other Middle-earth films, she's just got better fighting skills and has a bit more of a temper. Evangeline Lilly's acting is terrific as well. I've been a big fan of hers ever since she was in Lost and I'm really happy that she's got a career boost. I even quite liked the potential love story going on between Tauriel and Aidan Turner's Kili (a Dwarf so attractive that he might as well be an Elf!) This just shouldn't work at all on paper but it's actually quite cute and is executed really well thanks to Evangeline Lilly and Aidan Turner's acting. Also, I loved the scene where their characters talk about starlight. Their dialogue is very sweet and even very Tolkien-ish! I could actually imagine Tolkien writing their lines! I don't think this potential romance is going to go anywhere in the next film though. The fans will know what happens to Kili in the book and I have a very strong feeling that Tauriel is going to die in the next film. It will explain why she's not in the LOTR films and why Legolas never mentions her. I just hope that she gets a great heroic death scene!

The barrel escape scene - with Bilbo and the Dwarves being pursued by both Elves and Orcs - is zany, crazy and tremendous fun! In the book Bilbo and the Dwarves just calmly and gently float down the river and that's fine - but it would have probably been pretty boring to watch on screen. And who wasn't laughing when Bombur took out all of those Orcs in his barrel?!

Laketown (or Esgaroth) looked absolutely stunning in this film! It's a complete triumph of design! It's a dilapidated medieval-looking town with rickety streets but it still looks really beautiful and you can get a sense of what the town looked like when it used to be prosperous. Esgaroth is quite possibly my favourite location from these Middle-earth films!

The Master of the Town is corrupt, cowardly and lazy. Stephen Fry is great in the role and I hope that they'll be a lot more of him in There and Back Again. The Master also gets a sidekick called Alfrid in this film (who's a completely original character). Alfrid is very slimy and unlikeable and is a little bit like Grima Wormtongue. Then there's the Bard. We don't actually get very much information about the Bard in Tolkien's book but his character is expanded upon in this film. In the DoS the Bard is a struggling single father. He's very unhappy with how the town is being run and is quite suspicious of the Dwarves. His grandfather Girion also made a failed attempt to kill Smaug on the day of the Dale attack. The Bard is very well-acted by Luke Evans and I really liked that the actors who played his children all had Welsh accents (to match up with Luke Evans' Welsh accent). Also we've had English, Scottish and Irish accents in these Middle-earth films so it's about time that Welsh showed up! Some readers might also be interested to know that the actresses who play the Bard's daughters are the real-life daughters of James Nesbitt (who plays Bofur in these films).

In Tolkien's book Gandalf is off-page for very long periods of time and it isn't until the LOTR that we really learn everything that Gandalf was actually up to. In this film Gandalf is in the story much more. I didn't find Gandalf's scenes as interesting as everything else in the film but it was great to see Radagast again - who I really like - and his battle with Sauron is really cool. I'm really looking forward to seeing Gandalf, Radagast, Elrond, Galadriel and Saruman battle against Sauron at Dol Guldur!

Smaug is amazing and without question the Best Dragon Ever! He's the best dragon that I've ever seen. He's absolutely massive and the CGI for him is truly spectacular and mind-blowing! I also loved that his neck glows whenever he's about to start breathing fire. It's a great little touch. But Smaug doesn't just look amazing, he sounds amazing as well. After hearing Benedict Cumberbatch's stellar voice acting in Cabin Pressure and Neverwhere I knew he'd make a wonderful Smaug - and he really is nothing less than superb in the role. Benedict Cumberbatch's Smaug is psychotic, articulate, evil, intelligent, and truly menacing and believable. My favourite Smaug moment was his line to Bilbo: "You have nice manners for a thief and a LIAR!" I think all Sherlock fans were dying to see their John Watson and Sherlock Holmes on screen together and these scenes didn't disappoint at all. It's great that Martin Freeman and Benedict Cumberbatch still have chemistry together even when one of them is a massive dragon! I really, really hope that Sherlock makes some kind of Hobbit reference at some point. I didn't mind at all that they included action scenes of Smaug pursuing the Dwarves either because we got to see more of him and what he was actually capable of. Smaug is a fantastic villain, even better than Sauron!

I love the acting in these films so much but I have to give special praise to actors that I haven't mentioned already. Martin Freeman is fantastic in these Hobbit films. His comic timing is brilliant, his Bilbo is extremely likeable, and he's just nailing the character. He is Bilbo! Freeman has clearly taken some of Ian Holm's mannerisms from the LOTR films but he's still making the character his own. I especially loved his acting when Bilbo climbs out of the forest, and then then the scene just after Bilbo kills the baby giant spider. The way he says "Mine!" and the "What did I just say?!" look on his face is exactly the way Ian Holm would have played that scene! I reckon Freeman and Richard Armitage have got great chemistry as well. I loved Bilbo and Thorin's scenes together. And Richard Armitage is even better in this film than he was in the last one. Thorin is probably the most complex character in these films and Armitage is doing brilliant work in the role. His character is clearly starting to lose the plot now and is becoming increasingly moody, grim and unpredictable - but Armitage still keeps Thorin just on the right side of sympathetic. I also loved Ken Stott as Balin in this film. His teary-eyed reaction to the secret door opening is beautiful and he's clearly Thorin's moral compass now.

As always I loved Howard Shore's music in this film. I really need to buy Howard Shore's Middle-earth soundtracks at some point. I even really like Ed Sheeran's "I See Fire" which is played over the final credits. I'm not sure if the song works as well in context though. I first heard the song before I saw the film and I thought it was lovely - but this gentle acoustic song seems like an odd choice to put in after a cliffhanger. As much as I like the song I think something more dramatic would have worked better.

So since there's so much about this film that I loved what didn't I love then? Well, whilst I've never found Beorn's character that interesting in the book his scenes in this film were much too short. I really enjoyed seeing his house and the introduction of his character in this film and it's a real shame that he didn't get more development. I really loved his look as well, both as a human and as a giant bear. Hopefully there'll be more of Beorn in the Extended Edition. I still dislike the CGI Orcs in these Hobbit films as well. I don't like how they're animated; the standard of animation just isn't up to par with the animation for Gollum and Smaug. I'm starting to get tired of Azog's character as well now. Admittedly his character isn't in this film as much as AUJ but he's a cardboard cutout character and not remotely interesting. There's also Legolas. Whilst I can understand why his character has been brought back for these Hobbit films I'm just not a fan of Movie Legolas. This is down to Orlando Bloom's acting. I feel like a horrible person for saying this because Orlando Bloom seems like a really nice and sweet guy in real life - but he just can't act! In this film he keeps narrowing his eyes and tilting his face to show emotion and that had both me and my friend giggling away. Lee Pace and Evangeline Lilly both completely outact Orlando Bloom in their scenes with him. And then there's the big climax of the film where the Dwarves try to kill Smaug with molten gold. Er, what?! Maybe it's because I've seen Game of Thrones but the idea that the Dwarves thought hot liquid gold could actually harm Smaug seems completely ridiculous and stupid to me! But I still thought DoS was fantastic overall. I'm not loving these Hobbit films as much as the book or the LOTR films but nevertheless I'm still loving them. The wait for There and Back Again is going to seem like a very long one!

Saturday, 14 December 2013


Sherlock Holmes meets the Doctor in an amazing and almost completely believable fan-made crossover video :D I love this!

Monday, 9 December 2013

My To-Read List for 2013-14

Since I'm one of those types that just loves planning things in advance and making lists here's my "To-Read List". If I've placed an R symbol next to a book that means it's a re-read. This list is intended to keep me occupied for the end of this year and the whole of the next - but in all probability I've been muuuch too ambitious and it might take up a good chunk of 2015 as well! Anyway, if you're interested in knowing what I'll be reading over the next year it's probably going to be one of those titles...

  1. Watership Down by Richard Adams R
  2. Longbourn by Jo Baker (FINISHED)
  3. Evelina by Frances Burney (FINISHED)
  4. Matched by Allie Condie
  5. Bleak House and Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens (FINISHED)
  6. The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde
  7. Anansi Boys (R) and The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman
  8. Mary Barton by Elizabeth Gaskell (FINISHED)
  9. The Princess Bride by William Goldman R
  10. The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame R
  11. The Fault in Our Stars by John Green (FINISHED)
  12. Tess of the D'Ubervilles by Thomas Hardy R (FINISHED)
  13. Arabella (FINISHED), Venetia (FINISHED), Frederica (FINISHED), A Lady of Quality, Why Shoot a Butler?, These Old Shades (FINISHED) and Devil's Cub (FINISHED) by Georgette Heyer
  14. The Iliad (READ BUT DIDN'T FINISH) and The Odyssey by Homer
  15. The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving (FINISHED)
  16. Death Cloud by Andrew Lane (FINISHED)
  17. A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle (FINISHED)
  18. A Song of Ice and Fire by George R.R. Martin
  19. Rose Daughter by Robin McKinley (FINISHED)
  20. War Horse by Michael Morpurgo (FINISHED)
  21. Eragon by Christoper Paolini
  22. The Complete Stories of Edgar Allan Poe
  23. Mort by Terry Pratchett
  24. Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys (FINISHED)
  25. Allegiant by Veronica Roth (FINISHED)
  26. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel-Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows R
  27. Coriolanus (FINISHED) and Hamlet (R) by William Shakespeare
  28. Pygmalion by George Bernard Shaw (FINISHED)
  29. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley R
  30. War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy
  31. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak R (FINISHED)

Sunday, 8 December 2013

'Far from the Madding Crowd' by Thomas Hardy (1874)

Synopsis: Bathsheba Everdene is a beautiful, self-confident, and independent young woman. She moves to a quiet, rural area in the West Country so she can run her own farm. Bathsheba creates quite a stir amongst the locals and soon three very different men find themselves competing for her affections. The three suitors are a kind-hearted and humble shepherd called Gabriel Oak, a handsome and dashing soldier called Sergeant Troy, and a wealthy and respectable farmer called Mr Boldwood. Each of these men, in their own different ways, unsettles Bathsheba and complicates her life. Dangerous passions and jealousies are then unleashed and tragedy threatens.

Thomas Hardy's Tess of the D'Ubervilles is one of my favourite books but this particular book was a huge disappointment for two reasons. Firstly, it's just so mind-numbingly slow-paced and boring! Barely anything happens apart from a bizarre sheep accident and the consequences of some of Bathsheba's decisions!

Secondly, the book's title is completely misleading. It's called Far from the Madding Crowd and yet almost all of its characters are actually veeery maddening! Sergeant Troy is an arrogant, emotionally abusive, womanising asshole. Mr Boldwood is creepy and weird: he becomes completely obsessed with Bathsheba all because of her sending him a silly Valentine's Card. Bathsheba is vain, conceited, self-obsessed, clueless, stupid and annoying. She's constantly making stupid decisions and didn't even seem very independent to me. She just came across as a silly little girl. I could find absolutely nothing to like about her. It wasn't until the very end of the book that Bathsheba finally saw sense and married the man that she should have obviously chosen from the very beginning, but by then I despised her so much that I was actually quite disappointed that she got a happy ending. I was hoping that Gabriel Oak would develop enough pride and self-respect to realise that he could do so much better. In fact even the book's characters that weren't involved in the boring love square were unlikeable and uninteresting. The side-characters were all farm workers that did nothing apart from moaning about the toils and banalities of country life.

It's really not very often that I'll come across a classic novel and not like it but I disliked Far from the Madding Crowd. If this book is your first Thomas Hardy novel and you disliked it then I would beg you not to dismiss all of his works because Tess of the D'Ubervilles is vastly superior. It's a far more gripping and emotional read. However, I didn't hate Far from the Madding Crowd. The descriptions partly redeemed the book for me. Although I wouldn't say that Far from the Madding Crowd is as well-written as Tess of the D'Ubervilles it still features some beautifully-written descriptions in places. I might give the upcoming film adaptation a watch as well but only because it's starring Carey Mulligan and Michael Sheen.

Rating: 2/5

P.S. If you're a fan of The Hunger Games then you might be interested to know that Katniss Everdeen was partly named after Bathsheba.

Thursday, 5 December 2013

Tuesday, 3 December 2013

Frankenstein (2011 National Theatre)

The 2011 National Theatre production of Frankenstein was written by Nick Dear and directed by the Oscar-winning director Danny Boyle. The play starred Benedict Cumberbatch and Jonny Lee Miller who would alternate the roles of Victor Frankenstein and the Creature on consecutive nights. According to everyone involved this was intended to highlight the connection between the creator and his creation. Cumberbatch and Miller both won a joint Olivier Award in 2012 for their efforts. Now of course they're both playing Sherlock Holmes! Benedict Cumberbatch plays the character in the BBC's Sherlock and Jonny Lee Miller plays the character in CBS's Elementary.

Frankenstein picked up almost universally glowing reviews and was completely sold out during its run. Tickets for the play were the hottest in town. In 2011 the National Theatre made the decision to film the play twice and screen it into cinemas, and as these screenings were so popular they replayed them again in 2012 and 2013. Thousands of people from all over the world who would never have gotten the chance to see the stage production have now been able to enjoy it, including myself for which I'm extremely grateful! I've now seen Frankenstein twice. I saw Frankenstein for the first time on this past Halloween. The audience was packed and there was an electric atmosphere! Everyone in the audience seemed to love it and there was such a buzz at the end. You know when you've just seen a really great movie and you can hear everyone talking about how great it was as you walk out? It was like that. I always love it when that happens. The first screening I saw had Jonny Lee Miller as Victor Frankenstein and Benedict Cumberbatch as the Creature. I saw Frankenstein for the second time on the 21st of November. The roles were reversed so I then got to see Cumberbatch as Frankenstein and Miller as the Creature. The audience wasn't as packed for this second viewing but there were still quite a few people there. I didn't sense as much of a buzz from the audience this time around but people still seemed to really enjoy it.

Because the story of Frankenstein is so universally well-known I don't really feel that I need to cover its plot in very much depth. There will be spoilers in this review but I'm just going to cut straight into my opinion of the play. Well, I was completely blown away by Frankenstein! It's been over seven years since I last read the Mary Shelley novel and I didn't really like the book all that much anyway. For a classic novel I don't consider Shelley's novel to be especially well-written. But this play... oh my word! I was completely mesmerised by this production and the 2 hours and 15 minutes of it just flew by. It's dramatic and thrilling and a wonderful production! There's a surprising amount of comic relief in the play as well. Although Frankenstein is very dark in many respects it's also extremely funny in places. On both of the occasions that I saw it it got so many laughs from the audience! The play is incredibly beautiful to look at too. It's a visually stunning production. The lighting, staging and make-up in this play is simply fantastic. There's some very haunting music as well. Frankenstein was Danny Boyle's last directing job before he earned his national treasure status for directing the amazing 2012 Olympics opening ceremony, and many consider Boyle's Frankenstein to be a precursor to his Olympics opening ceremony.

The National Theatre has no current plans to release Frankenstein onto DVD and I think that's a shame. Although seeing this play at the cinema was an amazing experience releasing it on DVD would make it more accessible. I'm sure it would be a huge hit. It seems pretty likely that the National Theatre intends to keep doing annual cinema screenings for the foreseeable future though. If the play gets shown again in 2014 then I would strongly urge anybody reading this to go and see both of the Frankenstein screenings if possible. If you can only see one version though - and you'd better have a good excuse! - then the version that I'd personally recommend is the one that has Benedict Cumberbatch as the Creature. I mean this with no disrespect towards Jonny Lee Miller because I think he's an excellent actor. He made for such a wonderful Mr Knightley in Emma and he's now my favourite actor to have played that particular role. However I thought Benedict Cumberbatch was better in both of the two Frankenstein roles. Admittedly I am a huge Benedict Cumberbatch fan but I've tried to be objective in this review and I do honestly believe that he was better than Miller. I'll start with his portrayal of the Creature because I was astonished by his performance! Cumberbatch brings a huge amount of emotion to the Creature but is also much more agile and powerful in the role than Jonny Lee Miller. He brings an incredible amount of energy to the role. His Creature's movements are very slow and awkward when we first see him but as the play continues his Creature gains far better control over his limbs. He climbs, runs and jumps around the stage with extraordinary ease. This makes his Creature far more otherworldly. The sheer physicality that Cumberbatch brings to the role is amazing. I wasn't surprised to find out that he does yoga in real life! Cumberbatch gets to use his very impressive vocal talents in the role as well - those bird noises!

Jonny Lee Miller's performance as the Creature is a huge contrast to Benedict Cumberbatch's portrayal. Benedict Cumberbatch watched videos of stroke and accident victims recovering the use of their limbs in preparation for the Creature; Miller based many of his Creature's mannerisms from his then two year old son. It's not really surprising then that Miller's Creature is much more childlike and vulnerable than Cumberbatch's. His Creature is very much a child or an underdeveloped adult inside. After the birthing scene Miller's Creature even picks up his foot, puts into his mouth, and chews on it like a baby. Jonny Lee Miller's interpretation of the Creature is an interesting alternative to Benedict Cumberbatch's and is a completely valid portrayal. Miller had some great moments in the role - like his Creature's reaction to snow and the scene where the Creature meets his "bride". I liked Miller's Creature more than his Victor but ultimately I still prefer Benedict Cumberbatch's Creature over Miller's. With Miller's Creature I felt like I was watching a person that just so happens to be ugly whereas Cumberbatch's Creature was definitely not human. I found Cumberbatch's interpretation of the Creature much more interesting. I have another reason for preferring Cumberbatch's Creature over Miller's as well: I found him more sympathetic. This is mainly because of how Cumberbatch plays the scene where the Creature rapes Victor's wife Elizabeth. When Cumberbatch's Creature apologises to Elizabeth for what he's about to do he seems genuinely remorseful. His voice trembles and there are tears in his eyes. He still goes through with the rape as an act of revenge upon Victor but it's clear that this act pains him. It's different with Miller's Creature. His Creature still apologises to Elizabeth beforehand but there aren't any tears in his eyes and his delivery is more matter-of-fact. He only seems to be saying it because he feels like it's something that he should be saying. Miller's Creature seems to be taking pleasure from the rape as well. Having said though the rape scene is still tastefully handled in both of the filmed versions. It's still a disturbing and uncomfortable scene to watch in the filmed versions - as it should be - but it isn't at all graphic and is very brief. It only lasts for about 10 seconds. Miller's Creature doesn't show any genuine remorse for his actions until the final scene.

Since I've covered how Cumberbatch and Miller choose to interpret the Creature I guess it's time for me to cover how they play Victor Frankenstein. Well, once again Miller is very good but I preferred Benedict Cumberbatch's portrayal of the character. I see Victor as being the true villain of the story and I can't say that I actually like his character but Cumberbatch was able to make me feel more sympathy for Victor than Miller did. Cumberbatch's Victor is more affectionate towards his younger brother William and - unlike Miller's Victor - I actually got the sense that he did care for his fiancée. Cumberbatch still plays Victor's arrogance extremely well though! I loved it when his Victor talks about the people of Geneva being little people with little lives. I can't even remember Miller's Victor saying this line but Cumberbatch's Victor spits it out with real venom! Also the scene where Cumberbatch's Victor screams "My mind is superb!" to his father is a really powerful moment.

If Frankenstein has a fault it's that the play is just so focused on Victor Frankenstein and the Creature that none of the other supporting characters are terribly well-developed or get very much stage time. Victor and the Creature dominate the whole play, although their scenes are so electrifying to watch I didn't really mind this to be honest! I especially loved their final scene together. Most of the supporting actors are really very good despite their limited stage time as well. Karl Johnson gives an absolutely lovely performance as a blind old man called De Lacey, Naomie Harris and Ella Smith are both very good, and two Scottish fisherman called Ewan and Rabb (John Stahl and Mark Armstrong) got lots of laughs from the audience."Oh, I don't loike the souuuuund o'that!" In fact the only actor I didn't like so much in Frankenstein was George Harris as Victor's father. His Caribbean accent was quite jarring and he didn't have any chemistry with either Jonny Lee Miller or Benedict Cumberbatch.

Because I enjoyed this adaptation of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein so much I've actually taken my review of the book down. I plan on re-reading it next year and I'm hoping that I'll get more out of it. Anyway, as far as I'm concerned this play is magnificent and I loved it. You can get a good idea of what this play is like from the trailer I've embedded below. Hopefully I'll be seeing it again next year and I'll be sure to keep an eye on the National Theatre website, which I already do anyway. I've already booked to see their Coriolanus for the 30th of January and I'm really hoping that they'll screen their version of Macbeth again - which starred Kenneth Branagh, Alex Kingston and Alexander Vlahos. They screened it earlier this year but I missed it :(

Rating: 5/5
Film Certificate Rating: 15