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‘Blackadder’ at the center of The Great War 2.0 debate

February 17, 2014

It seems as though the British comedy Blackadder is at the center of a lingering controversy some 25 years after the last episode premiered on BBC One in 1989. The debate is heating up as the 4th August of this year will be the 100th anniversary of when Great Britain entered World War I in 1914.

The debate began earlier this year with UK Education Secretary Michael Gove claiming that The Great War has, for many, been seen through the fictional storylines of dramas such as Oh, What a Lovely War!, The Monocled Mutineer and Blackadder, which depict the War as a misbegotten shambles, a series of catastrophic mistakes perpetrated by an out-of-touch elite. Blackadder star, Sir Tony Robinson, has hit out at education secretary Michael Gove’s claim that ‘left-wing academics’ are using the program ‘to feed myths’ about the First World War. Robinson, who played Private Baldrick in Blackadder Goes Forth and current Labour Party member, said: “When imaginative teachers bring it in, it’s simply another teaching tool.”
 

 
Taking the debate to the BBC History Magazine, scholars discuss whether or not Blackadder is bad for First World War teaching.

The Blackadder Effect – Bad

Mark Connelly, a professor of modern British history at the University of Kent, agrees with Gove believing that the fourth and final series of the British sitcom, Blackadder Goes Forth, is a gross example of what can happen when trying to bring history to life for younger students. While teachers need to use every trick in the book to engage their students, they simply can’t get it though to pupils that what they are watching is an ‘interpretation of the war’, entirely written by individuals who were not there.

Connelly stated that while he loved Blackadder, “…it is a reflection of a view of the First World War from the 1960s and 70s. You are seeing how Richard Curtis and Ben Elton were taught about the war. My concern is that we are not questioning how representative these programs are of the millions of men who went through the British Expeditionary Force“.
 
Rowan Atkinson in Blackadder Goes Forth

The Blackadder Effect – Not so Bad

Annika Mombauer, senior lecturer in modern European history at The Open University, tends to disagree with Gove’s contention that Blackadder should not be used to teach children about the war because he thinks it is important not to ‘denigrate virtues such as patriotism, honor and courage’ demonstrated by British soldiers in the First World War. Mombauer writes that Blackadder does nothing of the sort, but that it engages with the experiences of war, and with its myths, in ways which move an audience.

She says that “The First World War has been controversial since the moment it began – there is no right or wrong way of thinking about it, there are just lots of different, often conflicting, interpretations. And that is what we need to teach pupils and students – that there isn’t just one version of events, or one interpretation of history that is the right one. Rather, history and how we interpret it is influenced by contemporary concerns, and history writing always has a political agenda“.
 
Blackadder Goes Forth

Finally, research conducted by Dr Catriona Pennell, senior lecturer in history at the University of Exeter, and Dr Ann-Marie Einhaus from Northumbria University, suggests that teachers use Blackadder Goes Forth in a very limited way to help catch young people’s attention, often as a comedic window into a more detailed and complex discussion.

Dr. Pennell offers these final thoughts: “Film and other multimedia is a fantastic way to get a class’s attention, and to then build on that to get a more complex interpretation of the war. If there is evidence to suggest that it is being used as historical evidence, then yes that is problematic. But I’m really not sure that it is.”

All kidding aside, those that fought in The Great War exhibited undeniable patriotism, honor and courage as the Education Secretary stated above. Whatever side of the great teaching debate you find yourself on, the ending of Blackadder Goes Forth is one of the greatest, most poignant and powerful endings to a sitcom since the end of M*A*S*H.
 

 
If you made it this far, I’d love to know your thoughts…

Wallander to return for fourth and final series

February 16, 2014

Wallander, the police procedural drama series adapted from Swedish novelist Henning Mankell’s Kurt Wallander novels and starring Sir Kenneth Branagh will return, most likely, to BBC One and PBS in 2015. That’s the brilliant news. The bad news is that the fourth series will be the last according to Branagh.
 
Wallander

The three episode fourth series will consist of an adaptation of “The White Lioness” and a two-episode adaptation of Mankell’s final Wallander novel, “The Troubled Man”. Ronan Bennett, writer of the Johnny Depp gangster film Public Enemies, is on board to write at least the final two episodes with the writer of the first episode yet to be confirmed. Interestingly, “The White Lioness”, which is set in South Africa, has not been adapted for any of the Wallander series. Filming is planned to take place in the summer of 2014.

There is a shining light at the end of the tunnel, however, as Branagh admitted back in 2012 that he is open to making a fifth series of Wallander if Swedish novelist Mankell were to write more books in the future. Hope came in the form of a quote from Branagh himself, who told Digital Spy, “Henning Mankell had said recently that he enjoyed the series so much that it made him want to write some more books. I feel our series has particularly taken its DNA from these novels. So if there are more of those, I’m sure we might think about it.

I feel a bit like rationalizing this bit of hope like Lloyd Christmas in Dumb and Dumber when talking with Mary Swanson.

Lloyd: Hit me with it! Just give it to me straight! The least you can do is level with me. What are my chances?

Mary: Not good.

Lloyd: You mean, not good like one out of a hundred?

Mary: I’d say more like one out of a million.

Lloyd: So you’re telling me there’s a chance… *YEAH!*

RIchard E. Grant to join cast of ‘Downton Abbey’ for series 5

February 15, 2014

As series 4 of Downton Abbey begins to wind down in the U.S., filming for series 5 is in full-swing in the UK. Targeted for broadcast this Autumn on ITV in the UK and, most likely, January 2015 on PBS in America, the forthcoming series will see several new faces as did series 4. For series 5, the new faces translate to some very familiar names in the book of Who’s Who in British Telly.
 
Downton Abbey adds Richard E. Grant, Anna Chancellor and Rade Sherbedgia fro series 5

Added to the cast for the next set of episodes in the world of Downton will be Richard E. Grant (Gosford Park, Withnail and I, Bram Stoker’s Dracula), Anna Chancellor (Fleming, The Hour, Spooks, Fortysomething) and Rade Sherbedgia (Snatch, Taken 2). For the 5th series, which will again be comprised of eight episodes and a Christmas 2014 special, Grant will star as Downton guest Simon Bricker, Chancellor will play Lady Anstruther and Sherbedgia will play Russian refugee Kuragin, who flees the Russian revolution after WWI. In addition, Dame Harriet Walter will return as Lady Shackleton, along with Peter Egan as Lord Flintshire (a.k.a Shrimpie).

If you enjoy the brilliance that is Richard E. Grant, check out the series, Hotel Secrets with Richard E. Grant, which will be airing on a number of public television stations this Spring. Grant gives equal time to both the incredible luxury and the scandalous history of some of the world’s best hotels including the George V in Paris, the Four Seasons in New York, the Chateau Marmont in Los Angeles, the MGM Grand in Las Vegas and the Savoy in London.

Check it out while waiting for Downton Abbey 5!

It’s MUST SEE TV tonight on PBS! ‘National Theatre: 50 Years on Stage’

February 14, 2014

What better way to spend Valentine’s Day than to celebrate the incredible talent that has graced the stage of London’s National Theatre for the last 50 years. The National Theatre opened its doors in 1963 with Laurence Olivier as its first director. Eight hundred productions later, the venerable institution celebrates its 50th anniversary with a star-studded cast of theater legends all with one goal – to celebrate the remarkable people and plays that have made the NT stage one of the most cherished and creative outlets of international theater: from premieres of plays by Tom Stoppard, Peter Shaffer, Harold Pinter, Alan Bennett and David Hare, to outstanding revivals of classic plays and musicals.
 

 
Back in November 2013, Maggie Smith, Ralph Fiennes, Judi Dench, Benedict Cumberbatch, Derek Jacobi, Helen Mirren, Michael Gambon, James Cordon, Christopher Eccleston, Andrew Scott and Penelope Wilton, just to name a few, gathered on stage to celebrate the National Theatre: 50 Years on Stage. Airing tonight at 9/8c on PBS, the two-hour retrospective features both live performance from November and rare glimpses from the archive, featuring many of the most celebrated actors who have performed on the National Theatre stages over the past five decades and directed by Nicholas Hytner.

The program was in rehearsal for over 5 weeks with over 100 actors participating in some 25 productions including Hamlet, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, The History Boys, The Mysteries, Angels in America, Guys and Dolls and London Road.
 

 
This is a not-to-be-missed broadcast. If nothing else, for the opportunity to see Benedict Cumberbatch reading from Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead and then The History Boys with Michael Gambon and Derek Jacobi.

Inspector Lewis to return with new episodes!

February 13, 2014

Normally, when someone retires, it’s time.  In the case of Lewis, there isn’t a mystery fan anywhere that thought it was time when Inspector Robert ‘Robbie’ Lewis ‘retired’ after seven series. That’s why the news out of ITV yesterday was more than welcome news.
 
Kevin Whately and Laurence Fox return in Lewis

Detective Inspector Lewis and Detective Sergeant James Hathaway are coming back. Kevin Whately and Laurence Fox are set to reprise their roles as the ‘perfect’ detective team solving murders against the backdrop of the beautiful university spires of Oxford when Lewis returns in 2014.

With Lewis’s instinct for tracking murderers and unraveling motives and with Cambridge graduate James Hathaway’s deep thinking and erudite approach which has served their partnership so well in the past, one can’t help but clear out some space on the DVR for the new episodes.
 

 
While the news out of ITV is brilliant, things have changed just a bit since we last left the duo. After an extended break from the Police, Hathaway has been promoted to Inspector. When the chemistry that was so much a part of his relationship with Lewis eludes Hathaway, a retired Lewis is drafted back to renew their partnership. It will be interesting to see how both Lewis and Hathaway will come to grips with their new found dynamic in order to achieve results.

Returning with Whately and Fox will be Clare Holman, who was introduced to viewers as forensic pathologist Laura Hobson in the 1995 Morse film, “The Way through the Woods”, and has continued to appear in Lewis. Rebecca Front will also return to the series as Chief Superintendent Jean Innocent who is frequently at odds with Lewis over his investigative style.

Chris Burt who has been at the helm for 30 episodes of Lewis since the series first screened in 2006 will produce the new series with Nick Renton (Lewis, Inspector George Gently, Silent Witness) set to direct the first two-part film, ‘Entry Wounds’ which goes into production next month.

While I don’t normally like seeing people coming out of retirement (i.e. Brett Favre), this is brilliant news.

Blandings returns to BBC One Sunday; Public television soon.

February 12, 2014

While PBS viewers in America still have two weeks left in the current series of Downton Abbey, UK viewers within the transmission signal of BBC One can look forward to the return of Blandings which is headed your way this coming Sunday, 16 February. While UK viewers will no-doubt remember, the series tells the story of the ninth earl and master of Blandings Castle, Lord Emsworth (Timothy Spall), who resides at the castle along with his imperious sister Connie (Jennifer Saunders), his empty-headed son Freddie (Jack Farthing), and any number of houseguests.
 
Blandings, starring Jennifer Saunders and Timothy Spall. Image credit -  Mammoth Screen

Lord Emsworth would rather be left in peace with his prize pig The Empress of Blandings, but his family are always at hand to complicate his life. Always there to offer a reluctant helping hand is the loyal and long-suffering butler, Beach, played by Mark Williams (Father Brown) in series 1 and by Tim Vine, who takes over the role of Beach the Butler in series 2.

Based on the writings of PG Wodehouse’s Blandings stories, the new series will see a number of guest stars including Harry Enfield (Men Behaving Badly) as The Duke of Dunstable, the most obnoxious man in England, who is committed to having Lord Emsworth committed; Celia Imrie (After You’ve Gone, Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, Bridget Jones’s Diary), Clarence and Connie’s censorious elder sister, whose job is to make everybody’s life miserable; Julian Rhind-Tutt (Green Wing, The Hour, Touch of Cloth) as Galahad ‘Gally’ Threepwood, Clarence’s incorrigible younger brother, who intends to publish a fantastically indiscreet memoir that will disgrace the family and James Fleet (Vicar of Dibley) as Colonel Fanshawe. Let’s not forget the visiting Hollywood film crew either…
 

 
Before series 1, Timothy Spall had a spot on description of Blandings when he said, “Downton Abbey is Downton Abbey. This is like Downton Abbey on some kind of early cocaine“.

Spall went on to say, “This incredibly dysfunctional aristocratic family are basically a bunch of lunatics who still behave the way they did when they were children…”. Series 2 of Blandings premieres Sunday, 16 February on BBC One. Look for the first series to premiere on public television stations in the States in the Spring of 2014.

For those just jumping on the Blandings bandwagon, I think this proves Spall’s point quite well.
 

 

Hugh Bonneville is Top Gear’s Star in a Reasonably-Priced Car

February 11, 2014

The season premiere of Top Gear has come and gone. Airing earlier this month on BBC Two and last night on BBC America, the series opened its 21st season with Lord Grantham himself, Hugh Bonneville, as the shows Star in a Reasonably-Priced Car.
 
Hugh Bonneville as Top Gear's Star in a Reasonably Priced Car

For those few that have not seen and/or heard of the series for the past twenty years, the ‘Star in a Reasonably-Priced Car’ segment of Top Gear, has presenter Jeremy Clarkson interviewing a celebrity and then showing a clip of their attempt to drive round the Top Gear track, which was filmed earlier. They are then put on the leader board either to their delight or humiliation. Over the years, there have been four ‘reasonably-priced-cars’ – a Suzuki Liana, Chevrolet Lacetti, Kia Cee’d, and the newest member of the team, the Vauxhall Astra.

Seated in his Vauxhall Astra, which was introduced as the newest reasonably priced car in 2013, Bonneville didn’t show much confidence at the possibility of besting the top time of 1:45:1 by Brian Johnson, lead singer of AC/DC”, saying: “I’m fairly cautious, I’m not very adventurous and I’m rubbish at parking. Luckily, there isn’t a parking segment to this program.

Bonneville finished with a time of 1:50:1 for his best lap time. In Lord Grantham’s defense, the track was incredibly wet and when you think about it, if you watch Downton Abbey, he has a driver so it’s pretty impossible to think he could have topped the board given his time behind the wheel is minimal. The current leader board for the Vauxhall Astra looks like this…

  1. 1:45.1 – Brian Johnson
  2. 1:45.6 – Jimmy Carr
  3. 1:46.1 – Hugh Jackman
  4. 1:46.7 – David Haye
  5. 1:46.8 – Warwick Davis
  6. 1.47.8 – Benedict Cumberbatch
  7. 1:48.5 – Rachel Riley
  8. 1:48.8 – Charles Dance
  9. 1:48.9 – Joss Stone
  10. 1:49.9 – Tom Hiddleston (very wet)
  11. 1:49.9 – Ron Howard
  12. 1:50.1 – Hugh Bonneville (wet)
  13. 1:51.0 – Steven Tyler
  14. 1:51.5 – Mike Rutherford

Liverpool, The Beatles and the Night that Changed America

February 9, 2014

Let’s just say that it took something of this magnitude to pry me away from Sunday’s installment of Downton Abbey. All I can say is, thank goodness for the DVR. Even Mrs. Patmore would approve of this new invention.

Watching The Beatles: The Night That Changed America — A GRAMMY Salute last night brought back a lot of memories from February 9, 1964. It was 50 years ago to the day, date and time that the Beatles made their first appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show. The night turned into one of the most-watched television events in history with over 74 million people tuning in to watch the Fab Four perform five songs during the variety hour.
 
The-Beatles-feb214

Besides the memories of 1964, it gave me a greater appreciation of a trip to Liverpool in 2012 for the annual BBC Showcase. First thing on the agenda before the week-long screening of BBC programming began was a mandatory Beatles tour. The Fab Four Beatles Tour lasted just shy of four hours. There is nothing better than taking a black cab tour of Liverpool getting an up close and personal look at where John, Paul, George and Ringo crossed paths, grew up and, ultimately, changed music history. To actually see the likes of Penny Lane, Strawberry Fields, Eleanor Rigby’s grave, the hall at the St. Peters Church where John and Paul met for the first time in 1957 and the boyhood homes of John, Paul, George and Ringo was nothing short of brilliant.

Penny Lane
 
Penny Lane

Strawberry Fields gate
 
Strawberry Fields gate

Eleanor Rigby’s grave site
 
Eleanor Rigby

John Lennon boyhood home
 
John Lennon boyhood home

Paul McCartney boyhood home
 
Paul McCartney home

George Harrison boyhood home
 
George Harrison house

As we prepare to head to Liverpool in a couple of weeks for the 2014 BBC Showcase, I will definitely remember 1964 and ‘the night that changed America’ and just may take that tour again.

Touring the set of ‘Mr. Selfridge’

February 9, 2014

With PBS set to re-open the doors of Mr. Selfridge in a matter of weeks (March 30 at 9pET/8pCT, to be exact), a lot was made leading up to the 2013 premiere with regards to the set that was constructed for the filming of the interior of Selfridges. For obvious reasons, the real Selfridges couldn’t be used from a production standpoint so a full replica of the Oxford Street store interior was built just north of London. One can only imagine the sheer magnitude of the replica set.

The real Selfridges opened in 1909. The steel-framed structure, designed by the architect Daniel Burnham (who also designed the Flatiron Building in New York) was five stories high with three basement levels, a roof terrace (used for everything from fashion shows to an all-girl gun club) – and over 100 departments.

Grant Bridgeman, the sound recordist for Mr. Selfridge described the massiveness of the set by saying, “…the whole of the interior of the Selfridges shop was one massive space that had chameleon-like qualities to change to different floors, or different departments – also the interior of the Selfridges House was a great multilevel build.
 

 
The set immediately caught the eye (and attention) of Jeremy Piven who plays Harry Gordon Selfridge. “The attention to detail is beautiful. And yet they also built it for a range of movement with the camera. So it’s genius the way they do it. You can stick a crane in there and get a real sense of the multiple floors. It’s just a real playground.
 
mr_selfridge_jeremy_piven

Mr. Selfridge returns to PBS’ Masterpiece line-up beginning Sunday, March 30. New to the Mr Selfridge team for the second series is production designer, Sonja Klaus. Executive Producer, Kate Lewis, said, ”Sonja was Ridley Scott’s set dresser for many years and her attention to detail and design is phenomenal. In collaboration with our lead director, Anthony Byrne, Sonja has made the store an even more lush and exciting place to be, as it would have been in 1914 because Harry Selfridge himself was developing his business.”

She added, “We also have new exterior locations and will see the back of the building for the first time, giving a broader sense of its scale. It’s as if the shop floor is the stage and then you see behind the scenes and how the show comes together.

Downton Abbey – The Board Game

February 8, 2014

Coming to the realization that, after tomorrow, there will be only 2 weeks left in the current series of Downton Abbey, one must be brave and turn their attention to just how will we cope until the, most likely, September 2014 return in the UK and January 2015 return on PBS. What may soften the blow is a new board game that transports you into the world of Downton Abbey from Destination Games.
 
Downton Abbey - The Board Game

Looking eerily like Monopoly (or Clue), you start life at Downton as maid or footman (Mr. Molesley would be so upset), with the charge of completing the tasks you are given as quickly and efficiently as possible. Starting in the Servants’ Hall, each player is dealt Destination cards which have varying values indicated by the number of bells on the card. This relates to how important or difficult the task is. The player must then navigate their way around the corridors and stairs of the Abbey, throwing the dice to determine how many moves they can make. Once they reach the destination of a task, they collect their bell tokens, and the next player throws the dice to set off for the next job.
 
Downton Abbey looking like Monopoly

Along the way, a player can land on a ‘Carson Card’ space and have to take a card, which could either help or hinder them. On other spaces, the players may have to collect a ‘Letter’ which could call them away from the Abbey, slowing them down, or costing them bells! But, which route will you take? A short easy looking one to get a job done earning only one bell, or a longer route with the possibility of collecting a higher reward? The winner is the player who has completed all their jobs and collected the most bells.
 
Toy Fair 2014, London, Britain - 21 Jan 2014

While you may encounter Thomas along the way, at least you can be assured that Colonel Mustard won’t be in the library holding a candlestick. And, before you know it, it will be time for Downton Abbey 4 and everyone will be a winner…

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