Tag Archives: Penelope Wilton

Downton Abbey

Downton Abbey told the story of the Crawley family – Lord and Lady Grantham, their daughters, and the enormous estate on which they live. When we first met them, in our 2010 and their 1912, the Crawley family is despairing. The Crawley fortune has been diminishing for years; the Earl of Grantham has just barely held on by marrying a wealthy American, but the two have had only daughters, so there is no male heir to inherit his title or their home. Of course, that’s not their only obstacle, and they aren’t the show’s only characters. An enormous staff is necessary to keep the house running. And while the British aristocracy is declining, the lower classes are rising up, and the two are at an interesting and eventful crossroads. There is an important division between the upstairs and downstairs, one that made for an interesting watch throughout the show’s 6 seasons.

Cut to the movie, circa 1927. The estate is still limping along, although it has lost many of its original (and necessary) domestic servants (don’t worry: the ones you know and love from the show are all present and accounted for). The family are trying their best to economize where they can, but have just received news that’s sure to cost them a pretty penny: the estate is being honoured with a visit from the King and Queen. The enormous burden this presents for the staff is offset by the privilege of serving the royal family – but then the royal family sends ahead their own staff – cooks, butlers, footmen, maids, the whole kit and caboodle, and instead of being happy for some time off, Mr. Carson, Mrs. Hughes and the whole beloved staff interpret it as the a slap in the face. Will they take it sitting down? Hardly. They’re polishing the silver with mutiny in their hearts. Meanwhile, upstairs, the Dowager (Maggie Smith) is still plotting to save the estate and her son’s hereditary title. And the family’s black sheep, Tom Branson (Allen Leech) is being surveilled because the monarchy takes no chances with Irish republicans, even if they’ve married into the British aristocracy.

The show’s creator, Julian Fellowes, is on hand to write the perfect screenplay to throw all of the characters back into their country home. It’s everything a fan of the show could want: the stunning, sun-drenched rooms are made spic-and-span, the servants are scheming, the ladies are asserting themselves, the lower classes are rebelling, times are a-changing, and there are plenty of reasons to motivate several costume changes.

And just for a moment, can we talk about those costumes? Costume designer Anna Mary Scott Robbins worked with John Bright of the costume company COSPROP, which has some of Queen Mary’s actual gowns that could be studied for authenticity. The dress made for the movie was made using actual material from one of the Queen’s original dresses. For the ball scene both Lady Mary (Michelle Dockery) and Lady Grantham (Elizabeth McGovern) wear vintage dresses embellished by the film’s costumers. Dame Maggie Smith’s character, also in vintage, sports a real 19th century platinum tiara with 16.5 carats worth of actual diamonds on loan from Bentley & Skinner of Piccadilly, jewelers by Royal appointments. La-di-dah.

While the film pays respect to the past, it also has an eye to the future, with the Countess Dowager passing the baton, as it were. There’s a certain resolve within the family to keep the estate going for as long as possible, but you and I know the writing’s on the wall, so while the fixtures gleam under the staff’s careful attention, there’s a slight tarnish to it too.

Literally everyone is back, an ensemble impressive in both quantity and quality. And though I wouldn’t have had it any other way, their sheer number means we don’t get a whole lot of time with any one of them. It’s just a taste, really, an amuse-bouche, enough to leave your mouth watering for the main course, but alas, we skip straight to dessert. Still, it’s so nice to catch up with our old pals and considering the film’s success, it needn’t be for the last time either.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

Guernsey is a tiny island in the English Channel. It was occupied by Germans during WW2, and the people of Guernsey suffered deprivations of course. So it was the Nazis’ fault they had to form a Literary AND Potato Peel Pie Society one night, spur of the moment. For the rest of the war, five friends read books and then met to discuss them, whilst eating awful potato peel pie. With only a limited amount of books, Dawsey (Michiel Huisman) writes to a stranger in London, a name he finds randomly in one of the second-hand books he reads, to ask for the name of a bookstore from which he may order more. Juliet (Lily James), a writer and book lover herself, is quite taken by the request, and she writes back, including several titles for he and the society to enjoy. They MV5BNDE5MjM3MTg4OF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMjQ5MzE5NDM@._V1_SX1500_CR0,0,1500,999_AL_keep up a correspondence for quite some time, and when the war ends, she heads to Guernsey to meet the characters from the letters in the hopes that she may write to them.

Juliet is welcomed warmly but meets with resistance when she broaches the topic of writing. The society wish to remain anonymous. They’ve suffered more than just deprivation during the war. One of the society is missing, and the rest are secretive, protective.

I loved this book. The movie feels a little less special, not even living up to its quirky title. It’s predictable and conventionally told, but gosh darn is it pretty to look at. It’s a satisfying period romance with a great ensemble cast. It’s too bad the script plays it safe, but it’s still a sweet little movie. It’s not breaking any new ground, and you’ll have to make due with London standing in for Guernsey. But Lily James is her sparkling, charming self, so if the movie is hard to love, it’s easy to like.



I liked but didn’t love The BFG. There’s lots to like: Mark Rylance’s tongue trips over Roald Dahl’s language just so; the animation manages to be both technically and precisely perfect while also being quite fanciful; the BFG’s universe is literally the stuff of dreams.

But I didn’t really connect with it. And like most things in life, I blame my mother. I grew up without Roald Dahl. Tiny little Jay was a voracious bfg-movie-2016-mark-rylancereader. I spent my nights under my unicorn comforter with a flashlight and a stack of books. As a kid I devoured Robert Munsch, Judy Blume, and E.B. White. Roald Dahl? Never heard of him.

Sean had, of course. His childhood was idyllic. I’m sure his mother never missed an opportunity to give him chocolate chip cookies warm out of the oven, or to blow gently on his skinned knee before applying the Band-Aid, or to predict what children’s book would be turned into a movie 35 years hence when he was an Asshole despite her best efforts.

But I don’t think Sean liked it any better than I did. Which, again, is not to say we didn’t like it. Just that…well, it failed to really engage. Director Steven Spielberg is paying so much attention to getting every little detail right, to fleshing out every nook and cranny of this ethereal place, to bfg-movie-2016-mark-rylance-ruby-barnhilldusting out the cobwebby corners of our imaginations, that he forgets to pick up the pace. We’re not all lumbering giants. Some of us have the attention spans of fleas. Not me, mind you. But certainly my nephew, who at 2 and a half with his angelic ringlets and heart-melting smile, needs a lot of action to keep him sitting still. And The BFG has very little. In fact, the movie’s greatest adventure culminates in a pot of tea with the Queen of England (a very amusing Penelope Wilton). Even I thought it a little absurd that in the face of child-eating giants, tea-time was still observed, but a kid will be downright baffled. My nephew’s only knowledge of the Queen is probably from that Minion movie wherein they endeavour to steal her crown. He doesn’t give two farts about British humour. And wasn’t this supposed to be a kids’ movie, after all?

To complain about Spielberg feels a little cheap, even to me. I do hope older children will give this one a chance despite its leisurely unfolding because it really is a darling world with a great heart-felt story. And because I’m usually the first to complain when a kids’ movie is all primary colours and non-stop flatulence (It’s worth noting, however, that this movie does contain a fart joke so big and bad you might even call it treasonous). But let’s face it: I was a smidge bored. Sean should have brought a colouring book and a baggie of Cheerios to keep me entertained. I was enchanted by the intricate animation, by the sight of the Big Friendly Giant’s downy neck hairs swaying in the breeze from a young girl’s breath while perched on his big friendly shoulder. But it wasn’t enough. I needed more. And if that’s what you’re hearing for an impatient little Asshole, what chance does a 7 year old really have?



Let us know what you thought of the movie. What age range would you suggest? Did you read the book as a child, or read it your own?