Wives and Daughters (based on the Elizabeth Gaskell novel of that name) was a BBC drama based on 1930s life in an English provincial town that pleasantly surprised me. If you follow this blog, you know how much I love period drama miniseries. I thought the title was dull so I imagined this story would be equally bland. How wrong I was to make such a decision!
It opens with young Molly Gibson looking for a place to rest at a garden party as her father has gone on an errand; he’s the local doctor. She is taken into the big house of Lady Cumnor and her employed governess, Miss Clare (Francesca Annis) is charged with Molly’s care. The governess makes a big fuss of how kind she is but it’s far from the truth. Molly asks her to alert her father as to her whereabouts but this slips from flighty Miss Clare’s mind and the poor child wakes alone to a house full of complete strangers. Fortunately for Molly, Lady Cumnor arranges for Dr. Gibson (Bill Paterson), a widower, to come and pick her up and she is relieved after her father’s arrival. Molly (Justine Waddell) grows up into a young beauty and her father on realising she is arousing the attention of his apprentice chemist intercepts a note for her and hastily sends her away to stay with Squire Hamley and his sick wife, landed gentry whose circumstances have dwindled. They dote on their eldest son Osbourne, a poet (yes, it’s Mr. Collins from the 2005 Pride and Prejudice), and pay little attention to second son Roger, a man of science.
Molly is impressed when she hears Cambridge student Osbourne (Tom Hollander) – more clever, more fashionable and reputedly more handsome than his brother – being lauded by his parents for his poetry so she has a minor spat with Roger (Anthony Howell) when he bears bad news regarding his brother’s lack of accomplishment. This situation amicably resolves itself later on when Roger consoles Molly after she’s upset at news about her father’s second marriage about which she received no prior warning. Meanwhile Roger does very well in his chosen field. But Molly is aware that as the daughter of a professional man, she cannot expect a union with either of the Hamleys. It turns out that Osbourne had a secret which caused the neglect of his studies – the secret is confided only to Molly and Roger. Meanwhile Mr. Gibson marries mainly to provide a mother for Molly rather than because he’s inclined to marry so in ignorance he selects the unsuitable Mrs. Kirkpatrick , the former Miss Clare, to be his wife. When he begins to live with her, his high estimation of her drops considerably due to her behaviour until he regards her as no more than an annoyance he had brought upon himself. Molly and her stepmother naturally do not get along due to their contrasting natures which are at odds but she does her best to be a dutiful daughter for her father’s sake. If there were illustrations in the dictionary, Molly would be the pictorial entry under the definition of “good”.
Funnily enough, the naive and sweet Molly gets along with her rebellious and conniving stepsister Cynthia (Keeley Hawes), who was educated in France. It becomes clear her stepmother and stepsister have some previous secret involvement with a man of ill repute, land agent Mr. Preston (Iain Glen). Meanwhile heartbroken at the failure of her beloved eldest son, Mrs. Hamley (Penelope Wilton) passes away. It came to my notice that Michael Gambon who plays the Squire is very touching in his performance of farewell scenes. Her death only widens the divide between him and his eldest son. In the middle of these happenings, Molly’s stepmother decides to play matchmaker for Cynthia with Osbourne, having no idea her manuevers and efforts are futile. This does not affect Molly since she has fallen for the charms of Roger. Unfortunately Cynthia has the upper hand in the good looks department and he falls for the wrong girl. After overhearing a confidential discussion the state of Osbourne’s wavering health, the stepmother plots a union between Cynthia and Roger before he leaves for Africa. Molly hears her stepsister who does not even love Roger has accepted his proposal, in secret, and becomes upset. Also she finally discovers the secret Mr. Preston holds over Cynthia and intervenes on her behalf which almost negatively affects her reputation while her stepsister ignores her fiance’s letters – which Molly peruses with fervour – and enjoys society company in London instead. The interference of well-meaning Lady Harriet (Rosamund Pike), who takes Molly under her wing as a protegé, makes amends to the circulating town gossip. When Cynthia returns, she breaks the engagement to Roger deciding she would like to be the wife of a professional gentleman from London, Mr. Henderson despite being rebuked for her hasty decisions.
Convinced the time to meet his maker is drawing near, Osbourne makes an additional confession to Molly. Poor girl has to keep secrets for a lot of people. When tragedy strikes, Molly tells what she knows to the Squire who sees this as a new chance to make reparation for his old mistake after some well-meaning advice from Roger. Meanwhile Roger settles into the local, scientific community and finds that he never realised that the brotherly affection he thought he felt for Molly was an entirely different emotion. This comes to the forefront when he sees Molly dancing with Lady Harriet’s cousin. Feeling unworthy of having professed his love to Cynthia before, he admits his intentions to Dr. Gibson who gives him the go ahead but he is prevented from contacting her due to a scarlet fever scare.
This is where the story deviates from the book as the original had no ending. Elizabeth Gaskell died suddenly before she completed it so the ending was written by Frederick Greenwood. It is said that she told a friend that she had intended Roger to return and present Molly with a dried flower, a gift to him before his departure, as proof of his enduring love (Sidenote: Thanks, Wikipedia) to contrast with Cynthia’s fickle love. The BBC adaptation uses an alternative ending because Molly and Roger are able to meet once more, despite being unable to touch each other, before he departs again to Africa.
While Holmes and Dr. Watson are on vacation in Cornwall , the intrusion of a local vicar, Mr. Roundhay, makes sure that their break is cut short. Mr. Mortimer Tregennis, a local gentleman estranged from the rest of his family due to a family dispute, found his brothers under a strange derangement and his sister, Brenda, dead after a friendly visit. The housekeeper had found them and on seeing their state had fainted. Tregennis says he saw his brother looking out through the window and adds he had seen “movement” outside. He then attributes the bizarre event as the work of the devil. The ghastly look of horror on Brenda’s face is a complete mystery. The summoned doctor came to the conclusion she had been dead for six hours and he too collapsed into a chair after arrival.
After attending the affected residence, Holmes kicks over a watering pot; the action is in fact a deliberate accident. The feet of all get soaked. Holmes notes the remains of a fire. Tregennis explains it was a cold, damp night. New questions arise when Dr. Leon Sterndale, a famous hunter and explorer, makes a visit after hearing of the tragedy. He is played by Denis Quilley, who has an amazing voice. The Tregennis family members are distant cousins of Dr.Sterndale.
Soon after, the vicar delivers the news of the death of Mortimer Tregennis; it was in the same manner as his siblings. Rushing to the room of the dead man, Holmes and Watson find the air smells foul and stuffy despite an open window. In addition, a lamp is burning. Holmes scrapes half of the ash from the lamp, leaving the rest for the local police. It is clear he knows how the victims met their deaths. He tests his hypothesis and is pulled into a stupor of madness. In my opinion, this was done rather cheesily. The quick thinking of Watson who resists inhaling the poison saves him from near peril. It turns out burning of the powder was the key to solve other complications.
It turns out there were two guilty parties in this tale: one was motivated by greed and the other by love. The poison is called Radix pedix diaboli – Devil’s Foot in Latin. This is how the adventure, found in the story collection His Last Bow, derives its name.
Continuing my Sherlock Holmes theme, the story I give you today is that of The Crooked Man. In this version, the role of Watson is played by David Burke. Colonel James Barclay is shot dead and it is perceived the shooter is his loving wife, Nancy. Perplexing is that Nancy was discovered in a dead faint near her dead husband while he had a look of seeing a ghost on his face. It seems like an unlikely reaction to his wife. A singular wooden club was left behind which was assumed to be the murder weapon by the police. The maid reports she had heard the name David.
After going to an errand connected with her church, Nancy returned agitated and asked her maid to prepare her tea. Learning his wife was back, he joined her. That was the last the servants saw of the couple. When the coachman discovered the body, he found that the room key was nowhere to be found and which was reported to Holmes by the housekeeper. Sherlock Holmes jumps to the conclusion that it must be in possession of an intruder, a third-party.
It turns out Colonel James Barclay was harbouring a guilty conscience. He realised that his prior secret of how he rose up the ranks could be exposed due to the return of a former lover of his wife, Henry Wood, that he had wilfully betrayed. The man had been caught by the enemy and mistreated and tortured but Nancy had recognised him despite his bent back, scarred face and shuffling gait. He had informed her of her husband’s terrible conduct in the matter. It turns out no murder was involved and it is verified by experts.
When I was a little girl of about eight, I found a set of abridged books that had once belonged to my mother when she was a child. They included Journey to the Centre of the Earth by Jules Verne, a set of three macabre tales by Edgar Allan Poe, Great Expectations by Charles Dickens and my favourite, a set of three Sherlock Holmes stories by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. This book included these following stories: The Red-Headed League, The Speckled Band and The Copper Beeches.
This post is about The Adventure of the Copper Beeches – namely the television version. It belongs to The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes story collection. We are introduced to Holmes while he is having an ardent discussion with Watson regarding the chronicling of his cases. Then afterwards he produces a letter in which a red-haired young lady, Violet Hunter, asks him advice on whether she should accept a position as a governess in the Rucastle household in the countryside. She is offered an overly generous salary, only one six-year-old male child is under her charge and the offer of pay is increased when she rejects the offer after learning that cutting her tresses is a necessary condition of her employment. After some deliberation, she thinks her rejection is hasty and accepts the position when Mr. Rucastle writes to her. But she does consult Sherlock Holmes before she leaves and he warns her to take care and to send him a telegram if she would need his assistance.
Violet finds the situation she is in very odd. The estate is very large and she is told that there is a mastiff that is only fed every two days to keep him perpetually hungry if intruders break in to the premises. Her discovery of a set of tresses similar of colour to that she cut off from her own head puzzles her. The two servants, Mr. and Mrs. Toller seem like an unsavoury pair. She is sometimes told to wear an electric blue dress (electric blue came into vogue in 1890 – two years before the publication of the story in Strand magazine) and with her back to the window, she is told a series of funny stories by Mr. Rucastle which makes her laugh. Mrs. Rucastle sits in on these sessions but does not ever laugh and when Violet sneaks a glance in a mirror hidden in her handkerchief, she notices a bearded man behind the bars of the gates. She is most frightened when she wanders into the mystery wing with the shuttered turret and then Mr. Rucastle discovers her intrusion as she wanders out. He first makes a pretense of soothing her fears but when he threatens her with the dog, she decides its high time Holmes became involved in the affair.
Holmes and Watson arrive at the Rucastle estate when the master and mistress are away. They decide to break into the tower but finds the room empty but obviously someone had been kept shut up there. Mr. Rucastle returns and with the thought the trio had helped his daughter to escape with her lover goes to release the mastiff. Unfortunately he is mauled by the dog as it turns on him because Mr. Toller had not fed the hound for two days. Watson shoots the dog with his revolver. It turns out Miss Hunter had been hired for the express purpose of impersonation due to a matter of inheritance.
Mr. Rucastle (played by Joss Ackland) comes across as a bit of a creep from the start owing to his tone of voice. I think the sinister veneer this bestowed on him made it rather obvious he was the villain of the piece but you rather expect him to be more dastardly in his actions. Violet Hunter (played by Natasha Richardson) is incredibly beautiful and was a wonderful actress until her life was tragically cut short. The fact the TV version is highly faithful to the original is a credit to its producers as you feel it would have met with distinct appreciation by its original author.
The Sherlock Holmes series in which Jeremy Brett plays Sherlock is quite addictive. It is a little more sombre in character than Poirot or Marple – the latter two have touches of modern influence in the set lighting. The story I will focus on today is called The Adventure of the Priory School. Part of this story is said to pay tribute to this Greek myth.
The ten-year-old Lord Saltire, son of the Duke of Holdernesse, is kidnapped from his preparatory school. Not only the boy missing because it seems the school’s German teacher, Master Heidigger and his bicycle have also gone. The principal, Thorneycroft Huxtable, employs the services of Sherlock Holmes. The Duke is offering a princely sum to those who can inform him about the whereabouts of his missing son and the kidnappers involved. Holmes accompanies the principal and investigates the school and the residence of the Duke. He finds out the boy used to cry at night and disappeared on a day that he received a letter. James Wilder, the personal secretary of the Duke lets slip the information that the Duke is divorced from the boy’s mother who lives in Italy. But the Duke insists that his ex-wife is not involved, no ransom note comes forward and the Duke’s letter to his son which was posted by James Wilder has been taken so nobody can find out its contents.
Holmes and Watson scour the moor for clues and stumble upon some bicycle tracks. It turns out the tyres don’t match with Heidigger’s bike. Eventually the body of the poor German master is discovered with his head smashed in. There are only cow hoofprints near the scene but it seems to Holmes that the cow had walked, cantered and galloped – highly improbable behaviour for such a placid animal. After Watson expresses a desire to dine after the walk in the desolate moors, they find an establishment with a man who has a scar imprint upon his cheek. The food is terrible . In the stable, there is a horse and Holmes examines its hooves – it has been recently adorned with new nails on its old horseshoes. Watson tells Holmes that he has an instinctive feeling the gruff man, who uses the name of Hayes, knows all about the missing boy.
When a cyclist arrives from the direction of the Duke’s residence, Holmes and Watson hide and observe it is James Wilder. After Holmes examines the bicycle tyres, he knows he has found his culprit. The episode culminates in a chase scene where James Wilder takes the boy as his hostage into an underground cavern while Holmes follows closely behind. Unfortunately, things take an unexpected turn for both the villain and the detective but the Duke is reunited with his missing son. It turns out James was jealous of the boy because he was an illegitimate son and wanted manoeuvring power to force the Duke to change his current will. This ending is not similar to that of the book although three-fourths of the storyline subscribes to the original plot.
Once upon a time there were three sisters living in Haworth called Charlotte, Emily and Anne. These sisters each wrote a masterpiece of literature. By the way, these sisters did have other siblings who made no literary contributions but played a part in inspiring their use of characterisation.
The eldest sister, Charlotte Brontë, wrote Jane Eyre; she used the pseudonym Currer Bell to get a better reception by using a male name. The story of the orphan governess who falls in love with her mysterious employer who has a dark secret with its Gothic overtones is currently hailed as a raging success. I first remember reading Jane Eyre as a nine-year-old, tears streaming from my eyes at the cruelty endured by the poor girl and being furious on learning she could have lived with an uncle who genuinely loved her. Because I still enjoy the story in its adapted forms, I will refer you to this 2006 version of Jane Eyre starring Toby Stephens as Mr Rochester. I like the television adaptations better than the motion pictures, even the one with Orson Welles and Elizabeth Taylor.
The middle sister, Emily Brontë, wrote Wuthering Heights; she used the pseudonym Ellis Bell for the same reason as her sisters. The tale of intrigue between Heathcliff and Catherine Earnshaw is now considered a classic tale of English literature but its reception was mixed as some regarded the depiction of their turbulent relationship as being over the top. This was something I borrowed from the public library and I had my ear chewed off as a ten-year-old for reading it during Sunday school. To be honest, this is my least favourite of the masterpieces by the sisters but to each their own. If you are interested in watching Wuthering Heights, I suggest the film in which Ralph Fiennes plays Heathcliff. It actually includes the second part unlike the one Laurence Olivier is in.
The youngest of the writing sisters, Anne Brontë, wrote The Tenant of Wildfell Hall; she used the pseudonym Acton Bell. The sad and controversy arousing tale of the alcoholic Arthur Huntingdon, his son Arthur and pious Helen Graham/Helen Huntingdon was a phenomenal success and even outsold Wuthering Heights. It’s kind of odd it has seemed to fall into neglect now. But then in the Victorian ages, the attitude of Helen was a victory for women because she overturned some rules concerning sexist gender politics by slamming her bedroom door after being abused. This is my second favourite of the sisters’ novels and the one that moved me most emotionally. To see it play out before your eyes, I suggest you watch the recent BBC mini-series starring Rupert Graves as Huntingdon.
Sadly all the sisters died very young. Charlotte was 38, Emily was 30 and Anne was 29. But it cannot be denied each of them has made a significant contribution to literature and has enriched it before passing on.
Poirot visits a Cornish seaside resort and meets Nick, a young girl attached to a crumbling and dilapidated house by the seaside with a mortgage. So when she informs Poirot that she had several near escapes, his detective streak comes into play. There are a few potential suspects but it seems unlikely any of them would profit from the paltry inheritance Nick would leave in her will after her death. The suspects are Freddie Rice, a habitual cocaine user; Commander Challenger, who seems to be in love with Nick; Jim Lazarus, an art dealer in love with Freddie and also Freddie’s husband who refuses to grant her a divorce. Then there is also Charles Wyse, Nick’s appointed solicitor. In addition, there are two lodgers using the garden cottage at End House, Mr. and Mrs. Croft, who say they are Australians.
So Poirot suggests Nick call her cousin, Maggie Buckley, for protection. But an unfortunate incident involving the exchanging of coats leads to Maggie’s death because she was wearing a black dress. This baffles Poirot until he assumes the murder was due to the coat exchange. When he goes to interview Nick – whose true name is Magdala – she says to his puzzlement after a telephone call, that she has nothing to live for left. He then puts two and two together to figure out she had been secretly engaged to Arthur Streeton, a pilot who has been missing for some time and she had received news of his death. He sends her to a nursing home for protection while he investigates End House.
The Crofts arouse his suspicion and so does the love letters written to Magdala. But he is then informed that Nick has almost died of poisoning by chocolates, purported to have been sent by him. He calls in Miss Lemon for assistance. Using the help of Nick to stage a séance to talk with the dead through a medium during an arranged early reading of the will, something very odd comes to light. Her will leaves her inheritance to an unexpected party. But the fun doesn’t end there. Hercule Poirot reveals a charade has been going on under his nose the whole time and points out the true murderer of the Magdala Buckley that was engaged to Arthur Streeton who had a considerable fortune left to him by his uncle. He says he was inspired by the conversation on nicknames between Miss Lemon and Captain Hastings to reverse his original thought process.
The TV episode of Poirot doesn’t change the plot much because there was only one major change: the attempted assassination in front of Poirot did not happen in a lonely garden in the back of the hotel but a crowded spot near the swimming pool.
Colin Lamb, who walks around in the guise of a marine biologist, is paying a visit to Wilbraham Crescent when Miss Sheila Webb runs screaming out of a house straight into his arms. She tells him there is a corpse inside the house. When he goes in to check, her hysteric tale is confirmed. There is a dead body in the house and what is more mysterious is that four clocks in the room are frozen at 4:13 even though the actual time is 3:13. The house turns out be the residence of an elderly blind lady, Mrs. Pebmarsh. To the astonishment and consternation of everyone involved, she states she did not call the Cavendish Secretarial Bureau to specifically inquire for the typing services of Sheila Webb. Is Miss Webb the target of a conspiracy or is she actually hiding something?
When Colin Lamb gets Hercule Poirot, the famous Belgian detective concocted by the queen of crime writing, involved in the case from his armchair no less, he enquires as to why Colin was found at Wilberham Crescent. Apparently he was investigating another case that pointed him towards this address. Unfortunately here the main role doesn’t fall to the detective but when murder rate spikes higher, Poirot uses his grey cells to figure out this case doesn’t follow the one plot but two which intertwine with each other.
As the mystery unravels, you finally figure out the motive for the murder of that unidentified man, why the girl with broken high heel was prevented from giving evidence, the significance of 4:13 and who is committing treason by passing information to the enemy. This one is littered with red herrings so it is almost impossible to figure the case out by reasoning.
Below is the television adaptation based on the novel. Please note the story is mostly true to type but there are some modifications made such as the time in which it was set.
In the book, the tale goes as follows. Luke Fitzwilliam shares a carriage with Mrs. Pinkerton, a sweet but absent-minded old lady. They get into conversation and she tells him murders disguised as accidents are happening in her town. She informs him she is on her way to Scotland Yard because the local police are not up to it but she has identified the murderer.
Luke later finds out Mrs Pinkerton was prevented from reaching the police due to an accident. So he goes to the town where she resided posing as a researcher to investigate who is responsible for the murders. Several suspects emerge:
- An antiques dealer
- A solicitor
- A doctor
- A self-made businessman engaged to a pretty young woman
Yet Luke feels disturbed by dark forces at work as he pursues the line of detective work out of curiosity. Could it even be none of the above?
You will have to read the novel for the true story because the Miss Marple television adaptation drastically changes the plot by removing and adding new characters, altering their ages and afflictions, including new subplots and changing the type of accident Miss Pinkerton had. The original plot involved Miss Marple’s nephew but not his aunt.
In the Marple episode of Murder is Easy, it is Miss Marple herself who meets Mrs Pinkerton. Upon hearing of her accident, she decides to investigate by going to the funeral of her newly found acquaintance. By observing the goings on in the village, she comes to the conclusion that someone is doing everything possible to keep buried secrets from being out. After Miss Marple discovers a valuable clue for a motive that had its origins in the past, she neatly solves the puzzle.
The best bits about the TV series are the drama stars you can identify : E.g. Benedict Cumberbatch from the BBC series Sherlock, Moaning Myrtle from Harry Potter and Miss Bingley from Pride and Prejudice ’95.
Are you familiar with Can We Help, the TV show on ABC, partly hosted during the Wise Words segment by Kate Burridge? The show explored in detail where certain words and expressions that are cause for argument originally derived from and how they have progressed. Her vast and in-depth knowledge regarding the intricacies of the English language and its use has her often explaining about new expressions, shifts in meanings and emerging grammatical constructs because of her linguistic expertise.
To watch videos of the ABC episodes of Can We Help, go here.
Her book titled ‘Gift of the Gob: Morsels of English Language History’ explains to us:
Q: Why can we fall in love but not in hate
Q: What do codswallop and poppycock share?
Q: Why not one house and two hice?
Within this book based on segments from the aforementioned television program and Soundbank from ABC Radio , Professor Kate Burridge investigates our language, untangles words and their meanings and uncovers how differences in interpretation and enunciation has transformed the evolution of English.
It demonstrates the inventiveness of the tongue in how it exists as a ‘proper’ dialect along with its offending but amusing cousin, slang. Her informative discussion of the origins of linguistic appellations in English answers how frequently used terms that are erroneous in their usage become an everyday staple. Her interview on why she decided to write the book after being inspired by the general public is accessible here.
She describes her favourite word which has since expired in use as velleity: it means “a mere wish, unaccompanied by an effort to obtain it.” I think my favourite words belonging to the English lexicon are foreign words that become part and parcel of permanent use. What sort of uncommon expressions do you favour?