9/4/16 – 9/10/16: ITV’s Victoria, E.M. Forster’s fart jokes, and more

Trying out a weekly round-up to see if it will compel me to post more regularly; after writing this up, the verdict may be: no? Because this took a surprisingly long time, and this was a relatively media consumption light week, although perhaps it was a media feelings heavy week. And of course, we still need to get in the August round-ups at some point.



This is an eight-part miniseries about the early life of Queen Victoria; it’s currently airing on ITV and only three episodes have come out thus far, so I’ll withhold judgment (well, to some extent) until the series is complete. There’s an obvious point of comparison in the 2009 movie The Young Victoria starring Emily Blunt, especially since most of my knowledge of Queen Victoria is probably drawn from that rather than, like, actual history. They both seem to be focused on the same period of Victoria’s life, so it’s interesting to see what’s emphasized/de-emphasized between the two versions and thus what sort of overarcing message they might be getting at, even if one doesn’t know which is the more historically accurate. And, I mean, we can have only so much accuracy in portraying the behind-closed-doors feelings and personalities of historical figures, anyway.

It’s also sort of surprising that The Young Victoria was the version scripted by Julian Fellowes, since this mini-series feels much more like Downton Abbey (and, I guess, Gosford Park) with all of the cutting between the upstairs and downstairs subplots. Frankly, I’m not sure that we’re gaining anything by showing the servants’ subplots, and I feel like if you’re tuning in to a show about royalty, you just want to see the royals and connected nobility with all their luxurious costumes and posh accents. The downstairs stuff comes across as a misguided attempt to recreate ITV’s other hit period drama (Downton Abbey), although I suppose if we’re feeling charitable, we could say that, at least to some extent, the downstairs plots are showing us the impact of Victoria’s decisions on her subjects? But that doesn’t totally justify the whole thing with the dresser who may or may not have been a prostitute in her previous life and the chef who may or may not be trying to blackmail her about it or the footmen sabotaging the gas light installation in order to keep their clandestine secondhand candle business going or whatever. Maybe it will all come together nicely in the later episodes and I’ll take back all of the above? Seems unlikely.

The Young Victoria did a great job of making the Victoria/Albert romance feel epic and swoon-worthy; in Victoria, we only meet Albert in the end of the third episode, after Victoria has spent the whole episode disparaging him and dismissing any attempts to set her up with a husband. Instead, this Victoria has spent the first three episodes infatuated with Lord Melbourne and even proposes to him in episode 3. It is…very uncomfortable to watch. Melbourne is portrayed by Rufus Sewell1, who is on the verge of aging out of his hotness, probably, but is still at this point decently hot, so you know, one understands, but GOD VICTORIA YOU ARE THE QUEEN OF ENGLAND HAVE A BETTER SENSE OF PROPRIETY.

But since we are not the Queen of England and thus gave no similar need for propriety, have this weird-ass picture of (young) Rufus Sewell devoid of context.

The Victoria/Melbourne relationship here is overall just way different from how it was depicted in The Young Victoria, where Melbourne, played by slightly less hot A Knight’s Tale alum Paul Bettany, seemed more immediately sinister (or at least very obviously self-interested and manipulative). Victoria’s Melbourne seems to be genuinely concerned with the good of the country and upholding the law rather than maintaining power for his own sake, and his proximity to Victoria is deriving more from the insistent attachment/dependence on her end than any sort of scheming on his end. In fact, he seems to be trying to distance himself from her in many instances. But perhaps it’s just meant to be a subtler and more nuanced form of manipulation; again, we’ll have to wait and see how it plays out.

Jenna Coleman’s colored contacts remain super distracting after three episodes. I’m wondering if it would have been better to just risk the complaints about historical inaccuracy and let her go with her natural eye color? Our current colored contact technology seems to be way behind our current wig technology, and so unless the unnatural effect is intentional (like in Cleverman), it’s probably best to hire someone with the correct eye color for the part, if it’s that important. But if we can deal with a Harry Potter without bottle-green eyes or a Daenerys Targaryen without purple eyes, surely we can handle a Victoria without blue eyes?

(Arguably, the eye color of historical figures is less important than the eye color of fictional characters, since the former is just an accident of birth, while the latter is a conscious and specific choice on the author’s part that in some cases is probably meant to convey something about character, even if that is perhaps shitty and unrealistic writing.)

The theme song is fucking great; it’s apparently composed by the same dude who did the (also great, in a Philip Glass meets Russian hymns sort of way) music for recent BBC War and Peace and is sung by The Mediaeval Baebes.

The music and direction in general tend to make this a sort of non-standard period piece, as they lend a sort of Gothic and nightmarish vibe to it–in particular, the sequence cutting between the coronation and gynocological examination of the lady-in-waiting and the scene with Victoria being suspected of madness and receiving the ridiculously passive-aggressive gift from her mother just as a horde of rats swarm out of her birthday cake stand out in that respect.

Def looking forward to tonight’s episode and more.

Only Connect:

Holy shit, this quiz show is the nerdiest fucking quiz show and I love it. To start, the title is, of course, from the epigraph of Howards End, so automatically: YES. And I guess at some point in grad school I discovered the efficacy of British quiz shows as a form of stress relief; this meant Never Mind the Buzzcocks for a while, and then 8 Out of 10 Cats Does Countdown, both of which are much more comedy than quiz. I mean, I do also love Jeopardy!, but it’s 1) actually much harder to find episodes to watch online than it is for these British shows and 2) just not as much fun to watch alone, since one wants to play along and have some real competition.

Only Connect is much more quiz than comedy, but it’s also difficult enough that one doesn’t really feel bored by the lack of real life viewing companions to play against. Basically, there are four rounds:

  1. The contestants are given a series of (up to 4) clues and must guess what they all have in common; more points for the fewer clues they have to look at to get it.
  2. The contestants are given a sequence of (up to 3) clues in order and must guess the 4th; again, more points for the fewer clues they have to look at to get it.
  3. The contestants are given a wall of 16 clues and must group them into four groups of four connected clues. There is only one perfect solution, but a bunch of red herrings.
  4. The contestants are given phrases with the vowels removed and the spacing shifted and must guess the original phrase.

A lot of the categories end up being super specifically British, so I don’t feel too bad for missing those, but man, the level of knowledge required to compete is I think somehow both more general and specific (breadth and depth) than what is required for Jeopardy? Which is, I guess, why we have contestants competing in teams of three rather than as individuals.

(I occasionally—not often enough—did bar trivia in college. I think my two greatest moments were:

  1. There was a round with 10 questions, where the connection between the first 9 answers would give you the 10th answer. One time, the connection ended up being “Names of Mad Men characters”—so, like, “What was the name of the rat in The Muppet Show?” , “Which actor portrayed the protagonist in Brazil?”, etc. Crushed it.
  2. Another round would have successive clues describing a famous person, each one getting more specific. The fewer clues you needed to answer it, the more points you got for your answer. I got Mila Kunis after the first clue—I think it probably had her birth year and the fact that she was born in Ukraine to scientist parents. And I think Martin Scorsese after one clue as well?

God, can someone please conscript me onto their bar trivia team.)

Also, the contestants themselves represent such a glorious swathe of nerddom that I’m super tempted to document all of the contestant introductions for future use in my nerd taxonomy. Luckily or unluckily, depending on how you feel about the Jeopardy awkward contestant banter segment, the host (Victoria Coren Mitchell) reads out the contestants’ “fun facts” for them.

For example, from series 11, episode 2:

Dan Shane, a software engineer who’s making his first TV appearance since his memorable turn on Sky’s Fun Factory at the age of 11.

Lindsay Coo, a university lecturer with a PhD in classics, is the subject of a dedication in a Latin dictionary.

Vicki Sunter, an editor in academic publishing with a degree in linguistics, who enjoys niche historical travel literature.

United by a love of languages, they are the Polyglots.

Semi-normal looking young professionals, as befits their particular brands of nerddom.

The Trebekian banter in this case takes the form:

VICTORIA COREN MITCHELL: So Vicki, what languages do your team speak?
VICKI: Lindsay knows Latin and ancient Greek, I speak French and Italian and bits of a variety of other European languages, and Dan doesn’t speak but knows a variety of programming languages that I don’t understand.
VCM: Well, let’s see if you can speak the language of quizzing.

And then for the opposing team:

Jack Johannes Alexander, a maths student and Woody Allen fan who shared a sweaty handshake with Ed Milliband.

Joe Crowther, a maths and philosophy student with an interest in 1970s Italian cinema

Alasdair Middleton, also a maths student and keen rugby player—unusual combination—with an interest in online gaming.

They’re all at York University; they are the Yorkers.

Exactly what you would expect this team to look like.

VCM: So I assume you’ve got the maths covered; what’s the weak subjects for your team?
ALASDAIR: Um, well, we’re not particularly hot on ballet or post-structuralism.
VCM: Ballet and post-structuralism. Those are the main two, aren’t they, in quizzing, let’s be honest.

There was an exchange between Coren Mitchell and the Yorkers over which Bond was the best/most accurate to the books, and it was about as cringe-worthy as you would expect.

The Great British Bake-Off:

Man, after the season premiere, I was hoping GBBO would just eliminate all the olds in the very beginning, but nope, fucking Val is still here with her fucking aerobics. Also, you would think that a retired grandmother would have the time to come in much better prepared for each of the challenges than the contestants with full-time jobs, but again, nope.

Get rid of Val, Jane, and Kate and the oldest remaining contestant will be 31—Candice a.k.a. the Posh Spice-looking gym teacher, who is super likable. In fact, all of the youths are delightful so far: there’s Andrew, the aerospace engineer who “when he’s not engineering performs with the local musical theater group,” which: of course he does. There’s Selasi, the new internet thirst contestant, a banker whose main hobbies are baking, basketball, and motorbiking, because he’s just that goddamned cool. There’s Tom, who tried to ply Mary Berry with booze in the very first challenge and goes around quoting Dune and making fucking Norse mythology bread. Also, in this week’s episode, British people arguing about what babka is; essentially:

RAV: It’s going to be like a babka.
SUE: What is a babka?
RAV: It’s a twisty bread?
SUE: Is that Middle Eastern? What is it?
RAV: [oh god I actually have no idea but she probably expects me to be making something “ethnic”]
RAV: I think it’s Middle Eastern. Is it, Paul?
PAUL: It’s Polish. It’s normally a cake.
SUE: So in no way is this a babka.
RAV: [shit shit shit]

and then later

BENJAMINA: I am making a [blah blah blah fancy ingredients] babka.
BENJAMINA: [describes her baking process]
PAUL: That’s a couronne.
BENJAMINA: No, it’s a babka.
PAUL: It’s a couronne.
BENJAMINA: [no it’s a fucking babka Paul fuck off]

Also, yes, this:


Genius (2016)

I like Jude Law’s face, but this was not great. Probably one of those biopics that’s only worthwhile if you actually know anything about the people it’s depicting (I…did not), although I think it might just be kind of poorly structured anyway; the estrangement between Perkins and Wolfe in the later part of the film doesn’t really have much impact, because there wasn’t really any build-up to it—we get other characters warning Perkins that Wolfe’s going to abandon him, but we don’t really spend enough time with Wolfe to get the sense of either the general flightiness/disloyalty in his nature that Aline seems to be referring to or the growing resentment wrt the credit Perkins gets for shaping his works, so we basically just have to take them at their words—and it takes up so little of the overall runtime that it seems like it’s only included because the filmmakers wanted to start with Wolfe meeting Perkins and end with Wolfe’s death and perhaps miscalculated the amount of time to devote to the events in between. That and probably a few other aspects basically just feel like they’ve been included for historical accuracy rather than good storytelling.

I guess the actual age difference between Perkins and Wolfe was 16 years, and so Colin Firth and Jude Law aren’t super far off with 12 years, but not sure how effective it is to have the 40-something Law playing someone who’s meant to be in his early 30s for most of the movie, particularly when such a thing is made of Perkins viewing Wolfe as a surrogate son. And of course, the ~impropriety~ of Aline Bernstein (Nicole Kidman) cavorting with the much younger Wolfe is totally undercut by the fact that Kidman is only ~5 years older than Law, as opposed to the 18? 20? years between Bernstein and Wolfe. It does legit make some of the dialogue super confusing until you check Wikipedia: at some point, Perkins’s wife tells Bernstein that she should “behave in a manner appropriate to [her] years,” and it doesn’t land as much as it should, because it’s kind of just like, “huh, aren’t she and Wolfe basically the same age, though?”

Interesting to compare with Penny Dreadful given the John Logan writing credit and Caliban allusions in both, but other than the ridiculous florid language and some vaguely homoerotic subtext, there’s not much common ground, probably.

London Road (UK 2015/US 2016)

I like the concept of this—a true crime musical where are all of the lyrics to the songs are taken directly from actual interviews about the crime, including every “um,” “like,” and “yeah”—but unfortunately, the music just isn’t very good, or at least, isn’t the style of music I want from a musical. Melodically, it seems too much like acoustic versions of those Auto-tune the News segments, which is probably the type of comparison you specifically want to avoid to justify the existence of this as a movie rather than as a viral video.


Still in the process of reading both of these, but just some delightful excerpts so far:

The Way of All Flesh, Samuel Butler

From Chapter 18:

Why should the generations overlap one another at all? Why cannot we be buried as eggs in neat little cells with ten or twenty thousand pounds each wrapped around us in Bank of England notes, and wake up, as the sphex wasp does, to find that its papa and mamma have not only left ample provision at its elbow, but have been eaten by sparrows some weeks before it began to live consciously on its own account?

I was reading this in public and maybe had to stifle some sort of reaction, although I don’t know if it was laughter or just, like, “holy shit, Samuel Butler, that is savage af.” This isn’t necessarily one of those passages that I feel deeply or even really at all—except on behalf of the characters of The Way of All Flesh, because it certainly would solve most of their problems—but man, it is effective.

Letters Between Forster and Isherwood on Homosexuality and Literature

From Forster’s 1/16/35 letter to Isherwood:

And oh my god tomorrow evening we are to consider what my committee calls a “Charter,” and to specify what blessings in the way of free speech, free thought and free assemblage we propose to confer not only on Great Britain but on North Ireland, India, and West Africa. Substitute “f” for “ch” is my own thought, but even thus emended the charter will not carry far, for it has no guts behind it.



The Draco Trilogy

I am also re-reading (although at some point it will turn into just reading, because I don’t think I ever finished the first time) the Draco Trilogy, which was a Big Deal in Harry Potter fandom back in the early 2000s. Probably more on that in a separate post. In any case, I am now about 60% of the way through the third “book” of the trilogy and just realized that the third book alone is longer than Infinite Jest in terms of word count and boy, have I made some poor life choices here. I can probably defend the first two as being pretty decent (for what they are), but this one is getting too fucking dumb—polyjuice brothels and time-traveling Tom Riddle possessing Seamus Finnigan and a sexy immortal half-demon, half-Malfoy woman named fucking Rhysenn because of course she is—and yet I must finish it, because if you’re going to read more than, say, 10% of an Infinite Jest-length outdated Harry Potter fanfiction, you have to commit to completing the Infinite Jest-length outdated Harry Potter fanfiction.

This dress

This dress is magnificent and I want to remember that it exists, but unfortunately I do not wear dresses enough or, really, see myself as a person who wears dresses to justify buying it.

This hat

This is what I do with my hands while consuming media.

1. Also yessss at Rufus Sewell finally getting cast in something I actually want to see. I’ve been on the lookout for his name in casting announcements ever since my first post-hitting-puberty viewing of A Knight’s Tale in high school, at which time I suddenly noticed how hot the villain was, despite the sort of wonky eye. But it looks like apart from that, I’ve only actually watched him super briefly in Kenneth Branagh’s Hamlet and in Dark City, because this is unfortunately not the most compelling filmography. Just downloaded the 1994 Middlemarch serial, which, at least from a quick Google image search of “rufus sewell middlemarch,” looks v promising. ^


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