This is the most extensive article on the upcoming tv adaption of Hilary Mantel's Cromwell novels I've read, and the first one which mentions a significant change between source material and tv version. To wit: Straughan the scriptwriter and Kominsky the director ship Thomas Cromwell/Anne Boleyn, which Hilary Mantel did not. To quote from the article:

Nevertheless, in condensing a thousand pages into a six-part drama, Straughan had to give weight to certain strands over others. He chose a revenge plot as the spine of it – Cromwell avenging the death of Wolsey – and complicated that by making the relationship between Cromwell and Anne central. Where the books – which will become a trilogy with the eventual publication of Mantel’s third volume, The Mirror and the Light – trace the relationship between Cromwell and Henry, Straughan’s adaptation has a slant of suppressed sex and power.

This shift is so marked that when I ask Kosminsky if he wishes he had waited until all three books had been written, he barely hesitates before saying no. By way of illustration, he shows me an early cut of a pivotal scene in episode three (the episode that ends with Anne’s coronation). Anne and Cromwell observe Henry from a window in Whitehall as Thomas More hands over the chain of office. Cromwell is watching her. He looks at her chest rise and fall as she breathes. He imagines kissing her neck. The moment is brief but the electricity and complicity in it are extraordinary. ‘Although Henry hangs over the whole thing as the superpower,’ Kosminsky explains, ‘for me, the drama is about the evolution of the relationship between Cromwell and Anne Boleyn, which ends with her death.’

You know, reading this, I'm on board with the change. (Though it cracks me up when everyone in this article mentions The Tudors as an example of a "bad" historical tv series - not that I disagree, but The Tudors may be the first version to introduce some UST between Anne and Cromwell as they go from allies to enemies, and guys, give inspirational credit where due. You didn't get this idea from Hilary.) Anyway, the reason why I'm on board with it is that it makes Cromwell a bit more fallible and less chess master supreme if he has an unspoken attraction to Anne even while condemming her. (And I certainly prefer it to getting constant snide asides about how Anne is losing her looks in the second novel.) The actress playing Anne Boleyn also in the article is quoted with a spirited defense of her:

When Claire Foy read Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies, she loved the books. Yet she soon found that her position as a reader was no use to her as an actress. ‘I understood it from Thomas Cromwell’s point of view,’ she explains. ‘So if they’d asked me to play Thomas Cromwell I’d have said, “Yes!” But because you only ever see Anne observed by him, you only have his impressions of her – that she was pinched and mean, gnarled and nasty. But she’s not like that, it’s just how she seems to him. So I had to do the research for myself.’

Eventually, Foy says, she felt angry on Anne’s behalf. ‘She could have been remembered as one of the greatest women in history. Where she came from to become Queen of England was extraordinary. She was clever, she was bright, she was vivacious, she was witty, she was political. But she was also slightly manic, irrational, emotional. And those characteristics were perfect for a political figure at the time. As a woman I felt she was blighted by her reproductive system.
selenak: (Breaking Bad by Wicked Signs)
( Dec. 26th, 2014 10:40 am)
Just a first bunch, I still have so much more to read.

Breaking Bad:

These lifeless things: Skyler post show, looking back, trying to find a forward, with an emphasis on the Skyler and Marie relationship: as devastatingly intense as the show itself.

Dune: (Or rather, the tv version)

In the first days: Irulan and the twins. I've always had a soft spot for Irulan, one character I thought the tv version did do better by than the books, and here we see how the twins, and what happens with Leto in God Emperor of Dune, affect her.

Galaxy Quest:

Galaxy Gals : in which Gwen and Leilari give an interview, and it's not about their uniforms. As with all the Gwen centric GQ fanfiction posted in Yuletides past and present, this is great, and I love the look we get at how Leilari adapts to Earth. (And the art of lying acting.)

Historical Fiction:

Come the good peasant to cheer: AU. Edward the Black Prince--now Edward IV of England--has been king for four years. Now the peasants have rebelled, the Black Prince wants to declare war on them all, and his stubborn, determined queen, Joan of Kent, is desperately trying to prevent utter disaster. Great AU, and extremely entertaining historical fiction.

Hallowmas, or Shortest of Days: Richard II.'s second queen, Isabelle, was a child (something Shakespeare's play ignores); here she meets the ghost of her predecessor, Anne of Bohemia, and the result is amazingly endearing.

Penny Dreadful:

Aside from the stories I received, which I already recced:

Teranga: Sembene! This is the backstory of Sembene which the show hasn't given us (yet). Fantastic world building, and it's awe-inspiringly good.

A breath to notice: the unfolding Ethan and Vanessa friendship. Which I guess will become a romance in season 2, because I recognize set up when I see it, but in the meantime, I can enjoy them as platonic friends as in this story.

Twin Peaks:

Through the woods and far away: in which Audrey Horne rescues Agent Cooper from the Black Lodge. This is so my headcanon now.

West Side Story:

If it's sewing, she sews: Maria puts her life together, stitch by stitch. I love stories about grief and yet moving on, I tell you, and this is a fine one, taking full advantage of the fact that Maria, unlike her predecessor Juliet, doesn't die.
selenak: (Sternennacht - Lefaym)
( Nov. 30th, 2014 07:33 pm)
...related to the nuclear bomb project, that is, not the part of New York City. [profile] merry_maia, you're going to love this. Via [personal profile] nwhyte, I just discovered a blog by a historian about the Manhattan Project. After some cursory browsing, here are some of the intriguing entries:

Tokyo versus Hiroshima: But I depart from the standard comparison in two places. The first is the idea that since the atomic bombings were not original in targeting civilians, then they do not present a moral or ethical question. As I’ve written about before, I think the question of morality gets more problematic. If the atomic bombings were one-off events, rare interventions to end the war, then it might (for some) be compelling to say that they were worth the price of crossing over some kind of line regarding the deliberate burning of civilians to death en masse. But if they were instead the continuation of a well-established policy of burning civilians to death en masse, then the moral question gets much broader. The question changes from, Was it morally justified to commit a civilian massacre two times?, to Was it morally justified to make civilian massacre a standard means of fighting the war? I want to state explicitly that I don’t think, and I don’t want my phrasing to imply, that the answer to the above is necessarily an unequivocal “no.” There are certainly many moral frameworks that can allow for massacres (e.g. ends-justify-the-means). But I prefer to not dress this sort of thing up in euphemisms, whether we think it justified or not. Massacre means to deliberately and indiscriminately kill people. That is what you get when you bomb densely-populated cities with weapons that cannot distinguish between civilians and members of the military.

Oppenheimer and the Gita: analyses the context of the famous quote, and comes complete with a Youtube link to Oppenheimer discussing it in the 1960s, shortly before his death.

The worst Manhattan Project leaks: no, not Klaus Fuchs, but the press which published an article naming Los Alamos (complete with geographical description), Oppenheimer and Groves in 1944. Their guess as to what was actually being made there was wrong (though I like the death ray taking out German air planes idea, it's very comics-like), but given the correctness of much other info, I'm just saying this is why any dangerous German WWII spy is clearly fictional. Apparantly German intelligence couldn't even read American newspapers. Though Russian intelligence could. Which brings me to:

Photos and stories from the Soviet bomb project. Complete with thank you letter the scientists had to write Stalin and Stalin complaining the German scientist among them hadn't signed it.
While preparing another book review, I got sidetracked by musings which have nothing whatsoever to do with the novel in question or its plot, so they get their own entries. To wit: the differences in pop cuture memory/reputation/novelistic and tv use of two guys who were, at different times, Henry VIII.s brothers-in-law. In one corner we have Charles Brandon, later first Duke of Suffolk. Best remembered for marrying Henry's sister Mary (and getting away with it) after her brief stint as Queen of France, and for being the closest thing Henry had to a life long best buddy. Charles as far as I could see usually ends up as a romantic hero in Tudor era fiction.

In the other corner we have Thomas Seymour, brother of Jane (aka wife No.3 to Henry), married to Catherine Parr (Henry's widow, wife No.6 ), and probably best remembered for how he ended (messing with teenage Elizabeth, losing his head). While there have been attempts to turn Thomas Seymour into a romantic hero as well (Young Bess comes to mind, the film version of which starred Jean Simmons as Elizabeth, Deborah Kerr as Katherine Parr and Stewart Granger as Tom Seymour) by interpreting him as a man who can't help loving two women,these are rare, especially in recent years. His image both in biographies and pop culture these days is rather dark. At best, he's a a none too bright playboy who's just too sexy for his and everyone else's good (Susannah Dunn in both The Sixth Wife and The May Bride); at worst, he's an ambitious ruthless sexual abuser (with Elizabeth) and faithfless ambitious cad (with Katherine) who ruined Katherine Parr's well deserved happy ending against the odds, broke her heart and sent her to an early grave (Patricia Finney comes to mind).

Now here's what interests me: if you look at Charles Brandon's marital history, he comes across as easily one of the most ruthless go getters at Henry's court. There was:

1.) Anne Browne; Charles was engaged to her, which was binding, and it wasn't a platonic engagement, either, as it produced a daughter. However, she also had a very rich aunt. So.

2.) Margaret Neville. The aunt. Yes, one of those Nevilles, niece to the Kingmaker. Charles temporarily ditched Anne and married her. This did not make the Browne family happy, who went to court. Ultimately they won, the Neville marriage was dissolved, and Charles married Anne officially. They had another daughter, and then Anne died. Then there almost was:

3.) Elizabeth Grey, eight years old orphan and heiress of Lord Lisle. Also Charles' ward. (Buying wardships was immensely profitable in Tudor times and beyond.) (Keep the ward thing in mind, this isn't the last time this will happen.) Charles became engaged to her, at which point his good friend Henry VIII. transferred the title of Viscount Lisle to him. However, Elizabeth upon reaching the age where she could become legally married (which if I recall correctly in this era was 13) refused to marry Charles (good for her). (She later married Henry Courtenay.) Charles kept the title, though.

4.) And then there was Mary Tudor. Who got married by her brother to old Louis XII of France which she agreed to under the condition that she could pick her next husband by herself. At this point, she was already in love with Charles, who duly showed up as soon as Louis bit the dust. They had to pay fines to Henry (and Mary's entire dowery that she'd been given when marrying Louis), but otherwise, as mentioned, they got away with it. There were four children, two sons - who died young, more about one in a moment - and two daughters. Then Mary died. Which brings us to:

5.) Catherine Willoughby. This young girl would turn out to be one of the most colourful women of the Tudor era. Her mother had been Spanish, Maria de Salinas, Katherine of Aragon's best friend, but Catherine her daughter would turn into a fierce reformer who'd even go into exile when "Bloody" Mary Tudor came on the throne. But back to her youth. Catherine, a very rich heiress, was Charles' ward, grew up in his household with him and Mary as parent figures, and it was planned that she should marry his son Henry. Then, as soon as Charles was a widower again, either because young Henry was already sickly or simply because he wanted more direct access to the cash, Charles married Catherine himself. She was 13 or 14 (I've found both ages given), he was 49. The marriage seems to have been harmonious; at least, no scandal is known, and it resulted in two sons. (Catherine's previous intended having died in the first year of her marriage to his father, her oldest son was also called Henry.) Catherine survived Charles and would go on as the formidable Duchess of Suffolk.

Meanwhile, Thomas Seymour, despite his image as Tudor playboy extraordinaire (he's usually written as the Don Juan in contrast to his brother Edward who gets written as a prig), actually seems to have had no scandals with women attached to his name until he hit the big time. He wasn't married until then, either, which is interesting, because as the late Queen Jane's brother, he certainly should have had plenty of opportunities for profitable matches. Mind you, not that he wasn't also a go getter. No matter how much or little in love with Katherine Parr he was, when Henry showed interest he was prudent (and survival-oriented) enough to step back. And when Henry died, he first tried to marry either of Henry's daughters, Mary or Elizabeth, before proposing to Katherine. (This princess marrying idea was immediately rejected by his brother Edward the Lord Protector, not surprisingly.) He even indulged in the lucrative ward trade, getting young Lady Jane Grey (Charles Brandon's granddaughter, btw) as his ward, with an eye of arranging a marriage to her cousin, his nephw Edward the boy king later on. And whatever went down between him and Elizabeth, he certainly, at the very least, risked her reputation by overly familiar horseplay (waking her up in bed by tickling her, cutting her dress to bits while his wife the queen was holding her) before his wife died when as her stepfather he should have guarded it, and his scheme to marry her when he was a widower behind the council's back could have easily resulted into her dying with him if Elizabeth hadn't shown her survival skills for the first time.

But my point is: anything Thomas Seymour did, Charles Brandon did as well. Charles simply did it more efficiently, and hence died in bed in full possession of all he gained, in an age where most people close to Henry VIII didn't, with Henry even insisting Charles should be buried at Windsor in St. George's chapel (so they'd be together after death). Meanwhile, the nicest thing anything could find to say about Thomas Seymour was Sir Nicholas Throckmorton who described him as "hardy, wise and liberal, fierce in courage, courtly in fashion, in personage stately, in voice magnificent, but somewhat empty of matter", though young Elizabeth's "today died a man of much wit and very little judgment" comment is better remembered. In other words, the guy lacked smarts, which certainly could be lethal in the Tudor age. But as to morals, I see no difference.
selenak: (Undercover (Natasha and Steve) by Famira)
( Sep. 3rd, 2014 12:26 pm)
I reread Sansom's Shardlake series - there will be a new novel this autumn - and concluded again that this might be my favourite current series of mysteries set in a historical era. (Here is an earlier detailed review.) The novels definitely are my favourites set during the reign of Henry VIII. Yes, even above Hilary Mantel's Cromwell novels, possibly because the later give me the sense of Mantel being just a bit too much in love with Cromwell (who shows up in the early Shardlake novels, too, since our hero starts out as a lawyer working for him, and is much thought about in the later novels after his death), or it might be the freedom of not knowing how the main regular characters (Matthew Shardlake, Jack Barak, Tamasin) are going to end up since they're all fictional. Also, Sansom knows his Tudor lawcourts like no novelist I've ever seen and makes being a Tudor lawyer as fascinating to layperson me as The Good Wife does it currently for Chicago lawyering. Speaking of Hilary Mantel's Cromwell novels, though, or rather, the movie versions currently being shot, here's a hilarious picture of Henry VIII, as played by Damian Lewis, taking a selfie. Okay, I should have phrased this "Damian Lewis taking a selfie while in costume as Henry on the set", but who doubts Henry would have LOVED taking selfies?

(Also: is Damian Lewis the first genuine redhead to play Henry VIII?)

From Tudors to Avengers:

The planned (and unused) Hawkeye scene in Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Would have been a cool scene, but I can see why they cut it, if that was supposed to be Clint's only appearance in the film. It depends on the audience knowing him for the emotional impact, and strange as it may seem, not everyone watching one or two of the Marvel films has watched all of them.

Incidentally, while pondering why, when I loved Captain America: The Winter Soldier as a movie, Bucky and Steve/Bucky aren't relevant to my interests, so to speak, at one point I thought it was because we don't see much of non-brainwashed Bucky in the movie and what we saw of him in the previous CA film just felt like standard best pal stuff, so there wasn't much for me to get attached to beyond an abstract "poor guy, what a life" level. But then I realised that in terms of screentime, there is even less of Clint Barton, who also walks around brainwashed through most of the only film where he's in so far with any sizable amount of screentime (that one minute in Thor really doesn't count), and yet The Avengers immediately managed to make me emotionally invested in the Natasha and Clint relationship, and in Clint, with all the attachment I can't muster for Bucky and Steve/Bucky. I would say it's because I care about Natasha and that her concern for her brainwashed partner and determination to rescue him moves me on her account, but I care about Steve, too. And yet. *ponders*

Meanwhile, a missing scene set during the first Iron Man movie which celebrates the Rhodey and Tony friendship, lovely to read:

They Don't Know Where We Come From (4699 words) by ladyflowdi
Chapters: 1/1
Fandom: The Avengers (2012), Marvel Cinematic Universe, Iron Man (Movies)
Rating: Mature
Warnings: No Archive Warnings Apply
Characters: Tony Stark, James "Rhodey" Rhodes
Additional Tags: Hurt/Comfort, Emotions, Arc Reactor, Missing Scene, Medical Procedures, Medicine, Psychological Trauma, Trauma, Recovery, PTSD

“Shrapnel,” Tony says, and alarms go off around his ears and he can’t breathe and the pain is going to eat him up from the head down. “In my heart. I made it. Not the shrapnel. ...Well. The shrapnel too.”

I hiked these last few days, which inevitably means a lot of postings and mail to catch up with. However, I also watched a few things. The audio commentary of Thor: The Dark World told me that while I can hold out against Tom Hiddleston's characters no matter how popular - with my urgent need to see them slapped thankfully fulfilled in canon -, holding out against Tom Hiddleston himself is somewhat more difficult because he's just that charming. On the audio commentary, anyway. Completely into the MCU without any embarassment or need to emphasize he's a serious actor, etc. Full of praise for his fellow actors, not just the famous ones like Anthony Hopkins but also for the guy who plays a guard (whom he knows by name), and this fellow actor complimenting was how I found out that Josh Dallas, currently David/Prince Charming in Once Upon A Time, played Fandal in Thor (but not in The Dark World where his OuaT commitment meant he was replaced by Zach Levy). And he - Hiddleston, not Dallas - sounds distinctly smitten with Chris Hemsworth, so the internet did not lie about that one.

I also finished a miniseries from 1981 which the BBCiplayer is currently showing because of the WWI anniversary, The Life and Times of David Lloyd George, starring Philip Madoc, whom I had previously mainly associated with villainous Time Lords (I first saw him as the War Lord in the Second Doctor adventure The War Games) and Brother Cadfael (he played him in the radio dramatisations), in the title role. The series was written by Elaine Morgan, whom I must check out as a scriptwriter.

Now, here's what I knew about David Llyod George before watching: he was the British Prime Minister in the later part of WWI and thus also one of the Big Three at Versailles, and he was the most famous Welshman not an actor or writer since Wales got conquered. (I have since found out Winston Churchill put it a bit differently in his valediction after Lloyd George's death: "The greatest Welshman which that unconquerable race has produced since the age of the Tudors". This makes me wonder whether or not I count old Henry VII as a great Welshman. He certainly was a very successful one!) I didn't know anything else, which turns out to have been a big hole in my knowledge of British history. Most importantly, I did not know just how many key reforms Lloyd George was responsible for pre WWI, mostly as Chancellor of the Exchequer, laying the foundations of the British welfare system.

Some facts in case you are like me and lack D Ll G knowledge )

I also hadn't known he was both the last Liberal PM and regarded as one of the reasons for the party's decline into insignificance for many decades to come, and nothing whatsoever about his private life.

The Life and Times of David Lloyd George for the most part manages a good mixture of politics and personal life, perhaps only cheating in favour of the later in the last episode, covering the years in decline until death, where the biggest gaffe/embarrassment/sin/however you want to call it which a 20th century politician could make, old Lloyd George visiting Hitler in 1936 and concluding this was the German Washington, is covered (or rather, only alluded to) briefly in dialogue while the big relationship crisis with one of the two women in his life and the death of the other gets main emphasis and key scenes. In earlier episodes, however, many of the previous dramatic events which made me wonder re: their reality did turn out, as some research has shown me, to have been real, for example David Lloyd George resolutely protesting the Boer War in 1901, holding speeches against it everywhere in the country and getting almost lynched by a patriotic mob (32 people in the crowd did die that day) in Birmingham, only surviving because the politice smuggled him out in disguise as another policeman.

Crucially, the (obscured) Hitler interlude aside, I didn't have the impression the series was trying to sell me its main character as prettified. (Mind you, it is careful in the first episode not to mention that David Lloyd George is supposed to be in his early twenties when first making a splash as a young Welsh lawyer taking on the Anglican Church, because Philip Madoc, while made up to look younger, must have been in his 50s at best. But he's so good in the part I don't wish the show had picked a younger actor for the younger Lloyd George of the first two or three episodes.) It shows the two sides of his character traits - that drive and ability to talk most people into anything is great when employed to champion the poor, but he's also shown as a terrible, terrible husband when using them. By which I mean: not only did he apparantly believe fidelity was for other people while jealous himself, but he was great at pulling just about every "you know, this is really your fault" excuse of cheating husbands ever, and it takes his wife Maggie a while to become immune to this type of mindmessing.

Most importantly, the series narrative doesn't play Maggie and the other key woman in Lloyd George's life, Frances Stevenson, against each other. As so many biopics do, going for the "she just was too narrow minded/couldn't understand his genius whereas X was his soulmate" route (Walk the Line, much as I liked the film, did this, and so did the two John Lennon biopics focusing on his relationship with Yoko re: his first wife Cynthia.) Instead, the series presents both Maggie and Frances - who started out as the governess of the youngest Lloyd George daughter in 1911, then became his secretary and his lover in 1913 and remained with him for thirty years while he remained married to Maggie until Maggie's death, basically living in two households until then, whereupon after two years of fierce arguments with his children he married Frances - as sympathetic and three dimensional, and gives narrative weight to both relationships, instead of declaring one as True Love and the other as Lesser. Frances - who was one of the first female secretaries (or as we'd describe her job today, P.A. to a key cabinet member and then the first female secretary to a British Prime Minister - tends to talk more politics with him, but that doesn't mean Maggie is presented as apolitical (we see her succesfully campaign in Wales for Lloyd George when he's busy campaigning in the rest of the country) or without her own opinions (she's completely against him continuing the coalition with the Tories post WWI).

Other than Maggie and Frances, the female characters who get deeper characterisation than a few lines are two of Lloyd George's daughters, Mair (who dies young at age 17) and Megan (after finding out the truth about her father's relationship with her former governess the big Frances hater of the family, and following her father into politics). The important male supporting characters are his uncle Lloyd (Welsh shoemaker and preacher who raised him), brother William (type supportive Faithful Lieutenant) and young Winston Churchill (type Ambitious Lieutenant). It was interesting to me that a show made in 1981 chose to not only use the occasional Welsh but also doesn't subtitle it. (You can usually guess the meaning from the context.) Which is historically accurate - David Lloyd George being to date the only British PM whose first language wasn't English, and a little googling tells me Philip Madoc also had Welsh as his first language -, but that usually doesn't stop fictional depictions to avoid other languages.

Lastly: two quotes about Lloyd George not in the series but which, hungry for more after watching, I found and which struck me as capturing the personality as given by the series:

What Lloyd George failed to understand was no man, however gifted, is a major political power in himself. He can teach, he can preach, he can make a significant contribution, but power politics is a struggle between social forces, not a duel between individuals. Once the war was over the Tories had no more use for him. He was an outsider, an upstart Welsh lawyer who had got above himself. (Jennie Lee, Baroness Lee of Asheridge in My Life With Nye (1980))

David Lloyd George was the best-hated statesman of his time, as well as the best loved. The former I have good reason to know; every time I made a pointed cartoon against him, it brought batches of approving letters from all the haters. Looking at Lloyd George's pink and hilarious, head thrown back, generous mouth open to its fullest extent, shouting with laughter at one of his own jokes, I thought I could see how it was that his haters hated him. He must have been poison to the old school tie brigade, coming to the House an outsider, bright, energetic, irrepressible, ruthless, mastering with ease the House of Commons procedure, applying all the Celtic tricks in the bag, with a talent for intrigue that only occasionally got away from him.
I always had the greatest difficulty in making Lloyd George sinister in a cartoon. Every time I drew him, however critical the comment, I had to be careful or he would spring off the drawing-board a lovable cherubic little chap. I found the only effective way of putting him definitely in the wrong in a cartoon was by misplacing this quality in sardonic incongruity — by surrounding the comedian with tragedy.
(Cartoonist David Low)

Also: as it turned out I knew the theme of the series already, because it was composed by Ennio Morricone and became a breakout hit:

Great news to wake up to: I just heard via [profile] angevin2 that Sophie Okonedo will play Margaret of Anjou in the Hollow Crown take on the York plays. From the way it sounds in the article she'll play Margaret in all four, well, three since they're shortening the Henries, dramas. This is fabulous, because Margaret is one of the all time great female roles in Shakespeare (also one of the few great female villains), but because the Henry VI plays are both less good and less popular than Richard III, most people only get to see Margaret in her final incarnation as prophecy spouting crone. Never mind Cumberbatch as Richard, now I'm really looking forward to It's Hard Out There For a York.

Tangentially related: when I visted England a few months ago and chatted with [personal profile] rozk about alternative histories, one of the ideas I mentioned for an AU which I don't think anyone ever did could be headlined: Queen Juana of England. Because: what if Henry VII., who after the death of Elizabeth of York was in the marriage market again in the last years of his life and actually tried rather hard to get a new bride, had succeeded in securing his favourite candidate for a second wife, who was none other than his daughter-in-law's older sister, Juana of Castile, commonly known as Juana the Mad?

Whether or not Juana actually was mad was is still up to debate. What's not is the ruthlessness of her male relations in assigning that position for her. Background: Isabellla of Castile and Ferdinand of Aragon had united Spain via their marriage, but when Isabella died, the crown of Castile did not pass to her widower; instead, it went to her oldest daughter, Juana. Which doomed Juana. First her husband, Philipp le Bel, tried his best to make her look mad so he could control Castile in her place. Then when Philipp died Juana's father, Ferdinand, after some time of dithering played his hand and had her locked up as mad which left him in complete control of Spain again. And when Ferdinand died and Juana hoped her by then grown up son, the Emperor Charles V. would release her, it turned out, of course, that Charles had no such intention because as long as she lived, Castile was legally Juana's. So he kept her locked up until she died.

Now, Juana during the last years of her marriage had actually visited England. Her youngest sister, Catherine (of Aragon), was then already widowed from her first marriage (to Henry VII.'s oldest son Arthur) but not yet married to Arthur's younger brother, Prince Henry (the future Henry VIII.). In part because Henry VII. and Ferdinand of Aragon were endlessly haggling about Catherine's dowery (plus Henry VII. wasn't sure he couldn't secure a better marriage for his son), which was the main reason why Philipp and Juana were dispensed on a state visit to England, together with an Anglo-Spanish trade agreement. Then, I quote from Thomas Penn's biography of the first Tudor king:

Philip had tried to keep Juana as far as away from the English court as possible. On his arrival at Windsor he claimed that 'a small incident' had kept her from accompanying him - even his close attendants claimed not to know where she was staying- and he was keen to avoid her being accorded a reception befitting her status as Queen of Castile in her own right. At his insistence Juana and her entourage entered Windsor unobtrusively, via a side gate. But Henry, his interest undoubtedly piqued by the reports of Juana's celebrated beauty, ignored Phiilip's repeated requests for him not to give Juana an official welcome and waited for her, together with Catherine and Princess Mary. (...) Philip immediately whisked Juana off to his apartments and kept her there. AS far as he was concerned, Juana was at Windsor solely to add her signature to the new trade agreement. (...) As if all this were not evidence enough of Philip's and Juana's estrangement, the king of Castile's attendants were at pains to emphasize quite how mad his wife was. During the storm that had shipwrecked them, they described how she had been a liability, sobbing at her husband's feet, her arms locked fast round his legs. Later, the Venetian ambassador travelling with Philip's party put it rather differently: she had, he wrote, 'evinced intrepidity throughout'. Henry concurred with the Venetian. Reports of Juana's insanity were, he later concluded, groundless. 'She seemed very well to me', he recalled. 'And although her husband and those who came with him depicted her as crazy, I did not see her as other than sane.'

At that point Henry was trying to get Margaret of Savoy as his second queen, but when Philip died, he switched his attention to Juana. Now, obviously however much or little he may have been impressed by that personal encounter, this was all about Juana's claim on Castile, not her looks or spirit. But he was really serious about it, putting heavy pressure on young Catherine and making it clear that he wouldn't let her marry his son unless he himself could also marry her sister. He even offered to go on crusade against the Turks on Ferdinand's behalf if he could marry Juana. The reason why this never worked out is obvious: Ferdinand had no intention to relinquishing Castile to someone who was easily his match in being a Machiavellian wily old bastard, and he wasn't about to be blackmailed with his youngest daughter's marriage, either, because when all was set and done whether or not Catherine married a second time into the new upstart Tudor dynasty wasn't that important to him. And I can't imagine circumstances under which Ferdinand would change his mind there. However, Juana had some months of liberty before she got locked up - the time which is commonly held as the proof for her madness, when she was supposedly travelling with her late husband's unburied corpse around the countryside -, and sometimes melodramatic twists do happen in real life. So let's say Juana gets convinced in time of her father's dire intentions for herself and makes a getaway from Spain to England. Not because of any romantic feelings for old Henry Tudor, but because Henry's actually the one powerful royal male at that point in whose interest's it is to present her as not insane, who has, indeed, publically declared his faith in her sanity when launching his suit. Plus at least in England she'd have her sister at her side. So let's say Juana goes to England, and Henry VII. is only too delighted to marry the heiress of what is the up and coming power on the European continent. (Now with new colonies overseas to exploit.) Let's further say Henry VII. and Juana proceed to have a male surviving baby before Henry VII. dies his historical death. What would happen then?

Henry VIII. would still become King, I assume; he's the older son and an adult, so a baby brother is no rival. But it's at least questionable whether he'd have married Catherine of Aragon. On the one hand, young Henry was a romantic who did see himself in love with his brother's beautiful widow whom his father had shamelessly exploited as bait and trade hostage. On the other, young Henry was also already capable of the Tudor ruthlessness. (His bid for popularity upon coronation was to try his father's two most unpopular officials for high treason and execute them after a show trial. The two men in question had squeezed the population financially dry on Henry VII's behalf, so everyone cheered when they died and overlooked the fact this was judical murder because the accused had only done what Henry had asked of them and had definitely never committed treason. Nobody seems to have clued into what this said about Henry VIII until many years later when Anne Boleyn came along.) And the fact of the atter was that after a Henry VII/Juana marriage, the Tudor's wouldn't have needed Catherine anymore. The only reason I can imagine for Henry VII not sending her back to Ferdinand would be to keep his new wife sweet, and well, Henry VII. never was sentimental. Henry VIII. was, but it didn't keep him from looking out for No.1.

If young Henry VIII. doesn't marry Catherine upon ascending to the throne, the question is whether another wife (whoever would have brought him the most benefits, I'm sure Wolsey would have arranged something) could have given him a male heir and avoided a lot of ruined lives. If he still does - let's say his affection for Catherine who is still in England to be married wins over pragmatism -, him having a younger brother as a back up heir also would have made a big difference. And I think he'd let the kid grow up because of that claim to Castile. (No Tudor would have avoided a chance to grab more power.) Charles, being Juana's oldest son, would have the superior claim, of course - after Juana's death. But in this scenario, Juana isn't declared insane and locked up. So she can, among other things, keep her kingdom of Castile separate from the Holy Roman Empire. She can make her son's succession dependent on his behavior. Moreover, it's questionable whether or not Charles would be elected Emperor. In real life, he was partly because super merchant Jakob Fugger financed the Habsburg bid and partly because the alternate candidates, who included Henry VIII., were deemed to have lesser claims or none. But now the Tudors actually have a blood connection and access to the gold from the newly exploitable Americas to offer.

I'm not saying it would have been a better world (except for Juana, and everyone Henry VIII. ever married in real life), far from it. (Lesser power for Henry VIII = a good thing.) But it certainly would have been a different one. And much as Elizabeth I. is one of my favourite English monarch, I can't help but wonder what an offspring of Henry VII. and Juana would have been like, especially if he'd have ended up on the throne in the end.
selenak: (VanGogh - Lefaym)
( Apr. 6th, 2014 02:45 pm)
On a somewhat more cheerful note, I managed to get my Rarewoman ficathon story done, which meant a return to an old fandom I haven't been writing in for eons, and that proved to be joyful and relaxing. Thus fortified, I started Robert Cara's multivolume The Years of Lyndon Johnson biographies reccomended to me several times over, and so far, Robert Caro strkes me as the best type of biographer: one who sets his subject in the context of the era said subject is living in, and one who while unafraid to show his subject's (massive) dark side also describes, in great detail, amazing achievements. So you get, for example, young LBJ the college election stealing sinister breaker of people, blackmailer and sadist described in detail by former fellow students, while simultanously getting young LBJ the inspiring teacher who (because he had to finance being at college to begin with, took teaching jobs in between terms) teaches Mexican-American kids to speak English and is still remembered with fondness and awe.

I'm also going to watch Cap II again in a few hours, because I was that much entranced by the movie. It feels odd, though, when going through other people's reviews and realise, not for the first time, that 99% of them contain a good deal of capslocking and "feels" (still dislike that word; am a proponent of "feelings" all the way) about Person In The Title, which wasn't what made the movie for me at all. I mean, I'm sorry for SPOILER, given what happened to him, but it's the vague kind of general sympathy that comes with the awful situation of someone whom, as a person in general, you don't have feelings about one way or the other. I seem to be that way with all the Sebastian Stan characters, be they Jefferson in Once Upon A Time, Jack in Kings, or TJ Hammond in Political Animals. As most of the fannish output in the various fandoms tends to be centered around Stan's characters, this puts me always in something of a looking for needles in haystacks position when trying to find fanfic that's not about any of them. One day he and Tom Hiddleston will be in the same film/show, and then there will be nothing for me at all in terms of fic dealing with everyone else whom I'll invariably be more interested in.
So, during the last week we had, in my part of the world, repeated headlines about the senate report on the CIA and its torture practices during the Bush years, mostly focused around the "revelation" that said torture didn't get any results and that what results were achieved by the CIA, they got first, then tortured anyway, then filed reports to make it look better for themselves by reversing the order of events. Then again, there also was apparantly pressure from above to use "enhanced interrogation techniques" against at least some field agent's reccommendations. Various comments to these articles included the suggestion that this was the CIA taking the fall for the government because of course they carried out wishes. The use of torture itself was, of course, old news. It's noticeable that after more than a decade, nobody bothers with the "a few rotten apples" disclaimer anymore which came with both the few army (Abu Ghraib) and the CIA incidents that were reported back in the day.

Meanwhile, also in the news: George W. Bush opens an exhibition of his paintings. The paintings, various reviews inform us, are nicely avarage, neither bad nor particularly good, and Dubya himself just such an affable guy.

This is why political satire has become redundant.

I mean, there never was a chance that Bush, Rumsfeld and Cheney would end up in The Hague on trial, but maybe some hope that the distaste of the public for them would last a little longer than that. And, as much as it's a "go after the tool, not the wielder" unfairness, maybe some chance that some of the actual torturers would face charges, but, so the articles on the Senate report reminded us, the Obama government had refused to charge a single CIA agent in this regard. (Undoubtedly aware that doing so would establish precedence and allow some future person to charge agents for what they did during the Obama years as well, which, while not waterboarding, still would include illegal activities.)

I wonder: did a single reporter interviewing Bush about his painting activities even try to ask him how he feels about the going two wars he started, and the fact that under his government, torture became an accepted interrogation method?

(Where is a shoe-throwing Iraqui if one needs one?)
selenak: (Claudius by Pixelbee)
( Mar. 1st, 2014 02:54 pm)
So, of course I returned from England with a lot more books. In brief, my reactions:

Suzanna Dunn: The May Bride. I've liked Suzanna Dunn's previous novels in varying degrees; this falls for me under "interesting, also very frustrating, and I'm not sure what the author really wanted to get at so probably a failure - but one who did hold my attention a lot". The novel is told in first person by Jane Seymour (the third of Henry VIII.'s queens, aka the one who died in childbirth), but isn't about Jane, or her marriage with Henry at all. This isn't new in Dunn's work - for example, her Katherine Parr centric novel is told by the Duchess of Suffolk - but unusual in that the narrator is a far more known figure than the people the story she tells is actually about. Which is something very obscure in Tudor England history, though readers of Hilary Mantel's Thomas Cromwell novels might recall it, because Hilary Mantel brings it up a couple of times, to wit: the first marriage of Jane's older brother Edward (who'd later go on to be the Lord Protector for her son, his nephew, before losing power and head), which ended in a major scandal because his wife supposedly had two sons by his own father, Sir John Seymour. (Historically, the wife ended in a nunnery, the sons bastardized but later re-legitimized - the later Seymours are actually descended from them - , and Edward went on to marry Anne Stanhope.) Now, in Dunn's novel, teenage Jane Seymour is absolutely fascinated by her brother's new bride, downright crushes on her, and is very sad when the ostensible love match gets worse and worse. Also, Dunn, as opposed to Mantel, lets Sir John Seymour be innocent (Mantel in the introductions to the dramatization of her novels, by contrast, points out Jane didn't go to her father's funeral and that having an affair with his daughter-in-law remains the thing he's best known for), and mostly blames Edward's lack of passion and later issue ridden paranoid jealousy; his first wife does have a one night stand with someone but not with his father. Leaving aside historical likelihood, within the universe of the novel it's psychologically plausible enough told, and teenage Jane who only gradually becomes aware of what is actually going on makes for a good narrator. However, the last fifth or so of the novel try to connect all of this with why Jane later marries Henry VIII, and this is where the author loses me. In her version, Jane, feeling guilty for various reasons, but also for not standing up for her sister-in-law when the later was sent to a nunnery, comes to court, serves Katherine of Aragorn as a lady-in-waiting just when Anne Boleyn becomes a factor, identifies Katherine of Aragorn with her former sister-in-law (also called Katherine, btw, Katherine Filliol), and, when Anne's star starks to sink years later, decides to avenge both Katherines by making Henry marry herself. Just how marrying Henry is supposed to be a blow for the sisterhood and revenge on brother Edward (who profits from this marriage along with brother Tom) for putting aside his first wife with an unjust (in the novel) accusation is beyond me. I'm all for Jane Seymour actually having an agenda instead of just being the tool of her brothers and producing Henry's longed for son at the price of her own death, but this one really lacks all logic, emotional or otherwise. What the novel mostly achieved, in the positive sense, is making me interested in Edward Seymour, who is by far the most interesting character in it. It's rare to find him in Tudor fiction that's not dealing with his brother Tom's and the young, teenage Elizabeth, and he certainly had some valuable reforms to his credit while otoh mishandling the Scots disastrously; keeping Henry's favour beyond his sister's life was more than any of the other in-laws of the other wives managed, especially considering Edward was a determined Protestant. But this was all much later, and Dunn's version of a young Edward both very competent and very emotionally mixed up, incapable of handling a bad marriage, was new to me.

The title, by the way, refers both to Katherine Filliol when marrying Edward and Jane Seymour (who of course married Henry VIII immediately after Anne Boleyn's execution - in May). It's just a shame that the author tries to enforce a parallel and motivation which refuses to appear.

Stuart Moore: Civil War. This is a novelization of the Civil War storyline from Marvel Comics; the novelization must have been only relatively recently published (I'll get to why in a minute) whereas the Civil War storyline in comics was published in 2006 and 2007. I reviewed the most important trade collections dealing with it in the following posts: Road To Civil War, Spider-Man: Civil War and Casualties of War/Rubikon, and Civil War: Iron Man; if you're interested in details about the original storyline, what it was about and why it was so controversial, check these out. Suffice it to say here that among various problems it had was that the various authors in this multiple comics characters extravaganza was that the various authors were quite obviously not on the same page as far as the characterisations of the main participants were concerned, nor, in fact, the characterisation of the main issue, the Superhuman Registration Act. So I was quite interested what a single author with years of hindsight would make of it. Given that just about every major Marvel hero and their spin-off had been involved, streightening this out to form a coherent book was not an enviable task. Stuart Moore focused on Mark Millar's main storyline, which I suppose makes sense but still unfortunate in that many of the most interesting and complex chapters of the Civil War saga weren't written by Mark Millar at all. He does include information from some of the tie-in stories, notably JMS' Spider-Man ones, and works them into Millar's main series. The main povs are: Tony Stark, Peter Parker, Steve Rogers/Captain America and Susan Storm. Something that's immediate noticable if you're familiar with the original comic books is novelization did some updates, both within and without the Marvelverse. The original Civil War storyline happened before Peter Parker's marriage to Mary Jane was retconned by editorial fiat into non-existence (on a Doylist level; Watsonian wise, it was retconned by a deal with the devil to save Aunt May, I kid you not). The novelization, however, goes by the new continuity, i.e. Peter never was married to Mary Jane, so Mary Jane accordingly had to be written out of the story she was originally a part of... until the last third, when she does show up again and gets to help Peter and Aunt May. The other within-universe updates are nods to the cinematic versions of the characters; thus, Christine Everhart, a movieverse character, shows up among the reporters interviewing Tony who does remember his one night stand with her (I might add the novel treats her more respectfully than Iron Man II does), and also recalls coming out as Iron Man at a press conference after her questions (which happened in the first Iron Man film but not in the comics - he did come out as Iron Man quite a while before the Civil Wars storyline, but not in the same fashion). Similarly, Peter Parker remembers MJ flirting with him and Harry Osborn when visiting them in the apartment they shared, which sounds to me more like a nod towards the first Sam Raimi film than to the comic book continuity. And then there's one update that's outside the Marvelverse. Now, Marvel comics usually don't have identifiable real life Presidents, they have fictional Presidents. (With exceptions; back when Obama became President there was one Spider-Man story set specifically around his inauguration, not least due to to the fact Obama had called Spider-Man his favourite comic book hero shortly before that.) Nonetheless, back when Civil War was published, many people saw it as a reaction to the Patriot Act and George W. Bush as President. Stuart Moore's novelization, however, sets the story specifically in the current day US, with Obama as President, not Bush. (Obamacare is referenced in dialogue.) The most depressing aspect about this to me is probably the realisation that it works as a story under either President. What with the NSA, the Obama government repeatedly described as the most control-obsessed and paranoid since Richard Nixon's, Guantanomo still not closed and Whistleblowers faring worse, not better, under Obama than under Bush? It works.

Other observations: writing-quality wise this is a good tie-in; not better and not worse than avarage fanfiction fleshing out canon scenes. If Stuart Moore can't sell some things - like Sue's reconciliation with her husband, Reed Richards, at the end - it's the problem of the source. (Mind you, both Mr. and Mrs. Richards fare better here charactersation wise than they do in the original comics, see my linked reviews; Sue, the unconvincing reconciliation at the end aside, is written consistently and sympathetically, while Reed Richards isn't saddled with such clunkers signifying evil as "hooray for MacCarthy!".) What surprised me, given that Millar's main series of which this is a novelization certainly favours Cap's side over Iron Man's, is that Tony Stark emerges as the better written character, not because he doesn't do the stuff he does in the original comics - he does - but because Moore in his pov chapters shows him as emotional, conflicted over what he's doing but convinced it's the right thing and because the alternative is worse (it's also the difference between visual - the comics showed him mainly in armour, thereby emphasizing the threatening aspect - versus the written - we're repeatedly in his head). Whereas Captain America, called "Cap" in his pov characters and never "Steve" which is probably already saying something, is written as in the right but without any interior conflict (not least because Moore doesn't use any of the Cage and Bendis stuff re: the Captain America/Iron Man relationship; we're told they used to be friends but don't see it from Cap's pov, who instead mentally compares punching Tony with punching Hitler). With every other pov character - Sue, Peter, Tony - being conflicted and torn during the course of the narrative - this makes Cap the least interesting, which is a shame. Especially since I guess one reason why this novel gets published now is to interest people who only know the characters from the movieverse in the comics (hence also the movieverse nods). Anyway, this also means that the main emotional breakup happening in the novel is the one between Peter Parker and Tony Stark, not the one between Steve and Tony; which reminds me that relationship actually was interesting before getting retconned out of existence along with Peter's marriage and other signs of adulthood. Oh, comics. You do provide so much engagement and frustration at the same time.

Jo Graham and Melissa Scott: Silver Bullet. The third of these authors' "Order of the Air" series; like its two predecessors, see here , a great adventure novel set in the first half of the 20th century, with an engaging ensemble of characters. By now, we've arrived in 1932 and there are ominous historical rumblings. That one part of the plot is kicked off by a German-Jewish collector of antiquities wanting to sell in order to leave the country is maybe predictable, but far less predictable and very interesting to me was that the bad guys aren't operetta Nazis clicking their heels but various (American) people from the American Legion, and that with the country still suffering from the Great Depression the way some of the rightwing extremist ideas gain traction has uncomfortable present day parallels. (And not just because chief baddie Pelley is talking about a coalition of the willing, borrowing a Dubya phrase.) As in the other novels, there is a mixture of adventures flying and magical peril going on, though in this novel the magical peril is scaled back (though still there - it's clear there will be a long term arc with one of the villain's schemes) in favour of technological peril, since of of the plot MacGuffins is a malfunctioning Nikola Tesla invention at Tesla's old laboratory in Colorado (no, not the invention from The Prestige, she says evilly) which the villains would like to get their hands on, while our heroes manage to recruit the aged Tesla himself. (BTW, this affords the opportunity for a nice Sanctuary in joke when Tesla has to deny he's a vampire.) The flirting between Mitch and the newest addition to the team, Stasi, which started in the previous novel has now reached the serious romance stage, and given Mitch's backstory there are some obstacles which, however, are sensitively dealt with (by the narrative) and gloriously overcome (by the characters). While I still love Alma and Lewis, I must admit Stasi, conwoman, thief and medium, is pushing all my Amanda-from-Highlander buttons and has become my favourite, plus Mitch is very endearing as well, so their scenes were particular highlights. But really, there is no character in the team who doesn't hold my interest and sympathy, and I hope for many more of their adventures to come!
This morning there was an interview with Bryan Cranston in the NY Times, about playing Lyndon B. Johnson in All The Way. It's a good interview, and I knew this was his upcoming project, but somehow I'd missed out on the fact this was a theatre play, not a movie or tv miniseries. Which is great for theatre goes in New York but sad for transatlantic me, who thus won't get to watch Cranston in said role. And I'd love to: Cranston bringing out all the ambiguities, the flaws and virtues of Johnson surely will be awesome to behold.

The other reason why I'd have been looking forward to watching the film or tv product this isn't: it wouldn't, couldn't fall into the two categories American dramas seem to when featuring a President in a prominent role: if Nixon, then a tragic villain, if Lincoln, then a noble saint. Johnson's reputation has had its ups and downs, but seems to have settled for "Great Society Awesome, Vietnam Bad" as far as his presidency is concerned, and "Most efficient Senator and Democratic Leader in the Senate Ever/Totally Not Above Stealing If He Needed To" for the decades before that. I remember Ted Kennedy in his memoirs calling him the best American President post-Roosevelt, but even his enemies seem to agree that Johnson, for good or ill, got things done. The Cranston article summarizes: But in 2014, the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act and the War on Poverty, with anniversaries of two other Great Society triumphs, the Voting Rights Act and Medicare, a year away, Johnson endures as something far more interesting and even inspiring: the last and perhaps greatest of all legislative presidents, with his wizardly grip on the levers of governance at a time when it was still possible for deals to be brokered and favors swapped and for combatants to clash in an atmosphere of respect, if not smiling concord. And before that: The story of a ruthless president who got things done — without blinking at the costs and compromises — reminds us that partisan gridlock doesn’t have to be a permanent condition.

There is a pointed if unspoken comparison here to the current President. In all the non-Republican criticisms of Obama (and non-foreign: in my part of the world, he and the entire US government are currently under fire for something else altogether), the constant red thread seems to be that he's too aloof and hands-off to mingle with anyone in Washington outside his inner circle; that something like "the Johnson Treatment" (which, Wikipedia tells me, was the nickname for Johnson's tried and true method of cajoling, intimidating, flattering and terrorizing - whatever worked - Congressmen and Senators alike) would be unthinkable. (Ditto for Clinton-style arm-pressing and socializing.) To which the defense in the recent New Yorker profile of Obama was that in the current climate, with the Republicans so dead set to object to anything from the government, it wouldn't be of use anyway. Which is probably true, but it strikes me that one reason why types like Johnson wouldn't even make it to the presidency these days (except the way LBJ did, i.e. as Vice President taking over from a suddenly dying incumbent) is that both Republican and Democrat candidates harp on presenting themselves as outsiders to the Washington scene. No matter how accurate or not, every candidate spins it like he/she is the noble saviour from outside, untainted by poisonous inside politics and corruption, and voters reward that. That the result isn't change but even more obstruction and inertia isn't really surprising, if you think about it.

Now, the recent Lincoln did show some political manoeuvring and cajoling and showed Lincoln as savvy in addition to being noble, but it still couldn't resist te occasional half profile shot where you expect him to have a halo because of the way he's lighted, and also, being the President who ended slavery and was assassinated means you don't have to convince the majority of the audience he was a good guy. Johnson, otoh, has the Vietnam albatros around his neck, and that's before you get into conspiracy theories about the Kennedy assassination or more reliable tales about his intimidation tactics which make him sound like the Gene Hunt of Presidents. (Phlipp Glennister for Johnson if the play is a success and comes to London?) And then, it's impossible to end his story on a triumphant note for anyone: he leaves office, Vietnman gets even worse, America gets Nixon, and the days of major liberal laws being passed and being put into practice, are over for the next few decades. In conclusion and back to the beginning, I'm really curious about this play, and endlessly frustrated I won't get to see it.
selenak: (Elizabeth - shadows in shadows by Poison)
( Jan. 27th, 2014 08:02 am)
Festivids went live, and there is much to watch. Now, I don't rate The Tudors much as a show, but it did have the occasional good performance, and of course it provides good visual. (Other than Jonathan Rhys Meyer as an ever thin Henry, which, well, enough said.) Vids, however, can do amazing things with flawed sources, and this year there are two good ones using The Tudors. One of them takes the wives and makes the point Abigail Nussbaum eloquently made in her review of Hilary Mantel's Cromwell novels:

One of the reasons that the story of Henry VIII is retold so often is how versatile it is. It encompasses family, politics and religion, and has so many interesting movers and shakers, that you could tell it from almost any perspective and in almost any way--tragedy, romance, soap opera, political intrigue, farce--and end up with a good story. But to me, the story is, at its heart, about women. It would be hard to come up with a better illustration of how patriarchy screws women over, of the zero-sum game they're made to play with other women, of the chutes and ladders a woman must traverse when she sets out to parlay her biology into power, of the inescapable trap that is the virgin-whore dichotomy, than the six wives of Henry VIII. You can play by Catherine's rules, tolerating disrespect and infidelity so long as you get to keep the titles of wife and queen, only to be told that you have to relinquish them, discovering that the protection you thought they offered you has disappeared. You can play by Anne's rules (or rather The Rules), playing the harlot but refusing to give up the goods except for a ring and a crown, but these won't make you any safer than your predecessor, and the power you amassed when your demands for respect were enticing and sexy will melt away as soon as these become grating. If you're unfaithful, you die; if you're faithful, you still die. If you can't bear a male heir, you die; if you do bear a male heir, you still die. And best of all, at no point during this decades-long process will anyone around you stop to consider that maybe the problem here isn't with the women, but with the man who, directly or indirectly, caused the deaths of four out of his six wives. (Actually, the real best part is the surprise twist ending, the fact that all that desperate, bloody scrambling after a male heir results only in the brief, inconsequential reign of Edward VI, while the seemingly unimportant daughter of the ignominiously dispatched Anne Boleyn becomes one of England's most famous monarchs, but most of the characters in Mantel's books will never have the historical perspective necessary to get that joke.)

This vid tells exactly this story

Call the Midwife has an ensemble of endearing characters; I was delighted to find this year's Festivids presents one of them, Shelagh/Sister Bernadette. This vid is a beautiful character portrait of her arc.

And lastly, a Doctor Who fanfic rec, with an awesome Jackie Tyler voice:

Demeter Walks (2395 words) by kaffyrutsky
Chapters: 1/1
Fandom: Doctor Who
Rating: General Audiences
Warnings: No Archive Warnings Apply
Relationships: Jackie Tyler/Pete Tyler, Jackie Tyler & Rose Tyler, Jackie Tyler & the Doctor
Characters: Jackie Tyler
Additional Tags: Missing Scene, Character Study, POV First Person

I walk a lot these days. And I owe it to Rose and himself.

Jackie Tyler talks about love, loss and learning.
selenak: (Goethe/Schiller - Shezan)
( Jan. 10th, 2014 09:00 pm)
My Sleepy Hollow marathoning has arrived at episode 4, wherein the operetta Germans [personal profile] zahrawithaz warned me about show up, and they are indeed hysterical. Oh, and Ichabod getting congratulated for his German is on a level with Duncan MacLeod getting congratulated for his German in the Highlander episode Valkyrie, meaning neither actor knows how to pronounce a single word. Otoh, the actors who play the Germans in this episode don't, either (in the opening scene, the only reason why I knew it was supposed to be German that the guy in red talked was because Zahra had warned me), so it's understandable their characters think Ichabod is fluent. (Clearly, they themselves are zombies hypnotized into believing they're Hessians by watching too many Hollywood movies.)

No offense to the good citizens of Hesse, but the funniest thing is the repeated declarations that Hessians have a reputation for ruthlessness, because err, well, um, not so much. (They have a reputation for having the easiest-going school system in the German states, though.) At least not in the martial toughness/brutishness sense the term is used in the episode; otoh Hesse produced the most famous German poet of all time, who also spent a lot of years in politics (not in Hesse, though; in Thuringia) and was the first German writer to establish a copyright (thank you, Goethe), and he could certainly be ruthless in another sense. Also from Hesse: one of our former secretaries of state, Joschka Fischer, with a curriculum vitae from taxi driver and radical violent protester against the state to second most powerful politician of the country, so there's that. But the Hessian accent can't help sounding soft to this Franconian's ear, and I hear it at least once a year when I go to Frankfurt for the book fair.

As for the Hessian soldiers in the American War of Independence: I have no idea how ruthless, or not they were then, but the one contemporary thing that immediately comes to my mind when thinking about German soldiers in the revolutionary wars is a scene from Schiller's drama Kabale und Liebe, in which he attacked a practice that was all too common then among the princes of the dozens of German principalities. All of whom wanted to have their mini Versailles which was costly, and several sold regiments to the British. Not regiments of volunteers, mind. Regiments of gangpressed farmer's boys. The scene in question, which is one of Schiller's most famous, has the mistress of the duke receiving new jewelry from him. Which she's fairly indifferent towards, since both she and the Duke at this point are over each other, eying greener pastures. She does, however, notice that the man delivering the necklace seems to be upset over something, barely holding it together, is curious, pushes him a bit and then it bursts out of him that his sons are among the pressed-in-to-service-and-sold-to-the-American-wars which are paying for her finery and goodbye jewels. 7000, the old valet says, and describes how anyone who protested or questioned was clubbed down or shot: Wir hörten die Büchsen knallen, sahen ihr Gehirn auf das Pflaster spritzen, und die ganze Armee schrie: Juchhe! nach Amerika! -

("We heard the guns shoot, saw their brains on the cobblestone, and then the whole army cried: 'Hooray! To America!' -")

So I'm sitting over here, imagining the scared out of their wits gang pressed sons of the valet in Kabale und Liebe....ending up in a weird place where everyone makes a fuss about tea taxes as unbearable tyranny.
selenak: (Cora by Uponyourshore)
( Jan. 5th, 2014 11:26 am)
Once Upon A Time:

Sorting the OuaT cast HP style: in which the regular Once upon a Time characters get sorted into Hogwarts houses, and some unorthodox choices are made. Very enjoyable meta, and I agree with most of the picks. Spoilers for the first half of season 3, though, i.e. if you haven't seen it yet and wish to remain unspoiled, you should just bookmark this for later.

Time Travel and History:

Everyone kills Hitler on their first go: hysterical spoof of a certain time travel cliché (and on internet etiquette)
selenak: (Alex (Being Human)  - Arctic Flower)
( Dec. 27th, 2013 05:19 am)
Part of the Yuletide experience is also the fretting about one's own stories. I was fretting A LOT until literally an hour ago when I got the lovely feedback from my main recipient which assured me she liked my Yuletide story. (Given she's someone I highly respect in another fandom than the one we were matched, I was mightily relieved.) With that burden off my chest, I can proceed to the reccing stage. :) A first bunch of recs, to be followed by many more, under the cut.

Recs for Being Human, Elementary, Broadchurch, Emma, Coriolanus, Historical RPF, A Place of Greater Safety, Orphan Black )
Bonus, the requester said, if I specify the regeneration. Well, let's see.

Historical people:

Lucrecia Borgia & the Seventh Doctor: which is an idea I couldn't get out of my head since this bit of silliness. Seriously, though. She's clever, enterprising, witty, charming and despite pop culture reputation actually not into killing people, though undoubtedly capable of doing so if she deems it necessary. He's the most Machiavellian of Doctors behind a deceptively harmless facade, very good at outhinking the opposition, also into mind games and co-dependent relationships with young women. They're made for each other.

Annette von Droste-Hülshoff & the Sixth Doctor: Annette oder die Droste as German professors also refer to her was one of our most important nineteenth century poets and had a horribly constricted life coupled with a longing to escape and travel, which is why a few years with the Doctor would be ideal. Seriously, when you read a biography or just some poems of the woman and consider how she's been treated by a lot of people in her life you just want her to run away. Also I want to read the poems space travel would inspire in her. Why Six? Because of his audio canon, which proves that travelling with an argumentative intelligent middle-aged woman with health problems but very firm convictions is good for him, and he for her.

James Hemings & the Second Doctor. True, Two already has a Jamie around, Jamie McCrimmon, but they could handle the name confusion, and the two are even contemporaries, which could be helpful for some initial adjustment. James Hemings was hot-tempered, brave, intelligent, loved travelling (once he was free to do so; there is a reference in Jefferson's letters to James maybe visiting the moon next), and getting away from his era (and his entire family's situation with Jefferson) might have saved his life. (Then again, if he travelled with Two, the Time Lords would do to him what they did to Jamie and Zoe, so maybe not.) (But still: James Hemings for Companion! And he'd be just the Second Doctor's type.)

Fictional people:

Well, Yahtzee has already convinced me that Scarlett O'Hara should have an adventure with the Tenth Doctor and Martha Jones, and Rheanna that the Third Doctor and Sydney Bristow are made for each other. Some additional suggestions:

Chiana from Farscape & the First Doctor: Because a Doctor who is bound to treat her as a replacement granddaughter is better for Chiana than one she'd try to have sex with, which is all the others. (Depending on wen she'd join One, she would, of course, have a fling with Steven, a threesome with Barbara and Ian and at least flirt with Ben and Polly.) She could handle One in grumpy mode and have him eat out of the palm of her hands in no time, while he would draw the line at changing history for her, which sooner or later she'd try (at least to ensure certain spoilery tragedies in her life don't occur).

Jesse Pinkman fromBreaking Bad the Third Doctor(after Three regains his ability to travel through time and space, of course): Jesse is prone to be mentored by older men with a huge ego and a chip on their shoulder who can get into lecturing mode quite easily. Sadly, the three guys who do that in his own fictional universe are all criminals, so who knows what would happen if someone into world saving takes his turn? Moreover, you just know that Jesse would want to learn Venusian Karate and while making a crack about Three's opera cloak secretly it's cool and ever so super-hero-ish. As for the Third Doctor: he's probably react to Jesse not dissimarly to how he responds to Jo Grant at first (not least because Jesse is bound to make his entrance ruining a lab experiment as well) , and as with Jo, the combination of bravery, loyalty and innate charm would make up with the clumsiness and surface ditziness soon, winning him over. What the Brig would make of the Doctor adopting a former drug dealer, though, is anyone's guess...

....and then there are Sarah Jane's kids from The Sarah Jane Adventures, all of whom would make great Companions, but I'm rooting most for Clyde and Rani going on a few adventures with either the Tenth or Eleventh Doctor. They've met both, he likes them a lot in both regenerations, and he knows Sarah Jane would kill him if he doesn't bring them home for supper so the TARDIS would actually be punctual for once when it comes to returning them. And Clyde and Rani have such a great rapport that it would be a shame to split them up.
Not the Michael Douglas and Kathleen Turner film, obviously.

I first got introduced to this bit of English history when I had to do a report on Shakespeare's Richard III for English class. Being the thorough sort, I also aquired a biography of the historical Richard III (the one by Paul Murray Kendall) and thus was introduced to the whole Ricardian controversy at the same time. Then I read Josephine Tey's The Daughter of Time and promptly became a partisan with all my teenage righteousness. Incidentally, I'm still more Ricardian than not, but the intervening twenty plus years ensured I have a whole lot more time for the non-Yorkist pov.

Of course, Richard III (both historical and fictional versions) only marks the end of the War of the Roses, and while I battled, bad pun inevitable, my way through the three parts of Shakespare's Henry VI, my teenage self was also a Joan of Arc fan and wasn't impressed to find Will S. slandering her in the Henries. Plus his later dramas were far better written anyway. As far as non-Shakespearean presentations of the War of the Roses were concerned, I found the occasional novel which didn't really grip me and more interesting non-fiction books (until, in my early 20s, I came across Sharon Penman's The Sunne in Splendour, and it was love at first sight. I probably would be far more critical of some aspects now if I read it for the first time today, but back then it was a terrific experience. Not least because while York-centric, it was an ensemble piece, with multiple interesting relationships and people whose name I had known before but whose personalities hadn't registered, like John Neville (younger brother of Warwick the Kingmaker). Most of all, it made Edward IV. into the type of morally ambiguous, smart and charismatic figure who couldn't fail to hold my interest, and his relationship with younger brother Richard hit my soft spot for sibling relationships (so rare to be treated as central in historical novels unless they're incestous) massively. The most common criticism I've heard of the novel is that Richard is written as too good to be true, and I can see that, but all the same, the Edward-Richard relationship was my favourite sibling relationship in a novel until Penman tackled Llewelyn and younger brother Davydd in her Welsh Princes trilogy. Speaking of morally ambigous characters, ironically enough I find Sharon Penman's Elizabeth Woodville far, far more interesting than the one from Philippa Gregory's The White Queen. In The Sunne in Splendour, she's a tough as nails ambitious woman who doesn't need magical powers to succeed, and while she's at times an antagonist, she gets enough pov chapters to come across like a three dimensional character to me.

Which brings me to the current most popular fictionalisation. The White Queen tv series, based on three of Gregory's novels, was advertised as the War of the Roses from a female pov, and it is certainly that, but I had been hoping it would transcend its source material. (This happens occasionally: see also, the first season of Dexter versus the source novel, or The Godfather films versus Puzo's novel.) Which it only rarely did (one reason why I never even finished watching the series). The most striking improvement to me in the early episodes I watched before giving up was Amanda Hale as Margaret Beaufort (mother of the later Henry VII). Margaret Beaufort in Gregory's novel The Red Queen was simply an unsympathetic madwoman, but in the tv series she was the most captivating of the female characters, and her early wish to become a saint, coming across as preposterous and vain in the book, came across as ardently sincere. (A power hungry schemer who is also a sincere believer struggling with those contradictions, and getting steadfastly more ruthless? Margaret Beaufort, let me introduce you to Rodrigo Borgia. You're totally my type now!) Hale just radiated intensity in everything, from her need to see her son on the throne one day to her anger at her mother for having married her off as a child. Something else this version of the tale truly brought home to me was how relatively young Margaret Beaufort still was during the last phase of the War of the Roses, due to having been married and immediately impregnated (NOT the norm for child brides) at twelve with the son whom she eventually would see as king. (Otherwise, the tv White Queen is terrible with everyone's ages. When Edward married Elizabeth, his brother Richard and Anne Neville were both still children, for example, but the tv show, not wanting to hire kid actors, one assumes, already lets them be played by the adult versions. And Elizabeth herself doesn't age through all the episodes I've seen.) I had never considered that before, having imagined her as the equivalent of the York family matriarch Cecily Neville. Speaking of whom: poor Cecily is the victim of the usual Phlippa Gregory thing where she can't write about one woman positively without bashing another. (See also: Mary Boleyn versus Anne Boleyn, Mary Tudor and Mary Stuart versus Elizabeth Tudor.) In this case, Cecily Neville draws the short end of the stick and in both novels and series is presented as a harridan who only cares for one of her sons (George) and is horrible to all the other characters. Good grief. And Cecily's daughters don't even show up, including Margaret who was arguably the Yorkist sibling to make the most of her life - loyal to her brothers (and sheltering them when Edward and Richard were in exile) but also a very successful Duchess of Burgundy, trolling Henry Tudor even after the War of the Roses ended and dying in bed. Okay, back to the few things I found positive about The White Queen: Jacquetta Woodville, Elizabeth W.'s mother, certainly gets her due here. (She also gets to have magic. I only rarely like it when historical novels use fantasy elements. Some authors can pull it off, and then I love it. But in two thirds of all the cases, including this one, I don't.)

Leaving aside all fiction: the War of the Roses, thus non-fiction books tell me, was the last gasp of the middle ages in England, the last time the nobilty played such an important role in deciding who was king, and the various provinces, whereas the eventual winners, the Tudors, ushered in the more modern form of absolute monarchy. Whether this was for good or ill is beside the point: it was inevitable. I dimly recall George R. R. Martin saying one reason why he wrote his fantasy novels and not a straightforward rendition of the War of the Roses was the suspense factor: everyone knows who will win going in a War of the Roses novel, so he claimed. (I think he's overestimating the state of historical knowledge in the avarage reader, who can't tell their Henry VI. from their Henry VII, for starters, or, depending on their age, is prone to ask "which one was played by Laurence Olivier/Kenneth Branagh/Tom Hiddleston?") Sometimes I come across the occasional compare and contrast of the Game of Thrones/ASOIAF characters to the War of the Roses characters. I've seen the Lannisters, despite the name similarity to "Lancaster", matched to the Woodvilles, for example, Cersei to Elizabeth and Jaime to Anthony, with Robert as an unflattering version of Edward IV. and Ned Stark as the Richard who doesn't take the crown for himself and thus promptly loses his head; otoh I've also seen it declared that Tyrion Lannister is Richard III (and will end on the throne for a short while before being vanquished by Danaerys-as-Henry-Tudor), with Sansa Stark as Elizabeth of York. Littlefinger's closet match is usually Lord Stanley. But whatever the original inspiration, I think the GoT characters have been far too much their own people for their story to work even as a fantasy AU of the War of the Roses. One actual AU I would dare someone to write, though: Edward IV. doesn't die relatively young but lives into old age. (Which means that when he does die, Stillington is dead as already and thus nobody finds out the marriage to Elizabeth has a certain legitimacy problem. Both of his sons, hopefully without a Joffey among them, are adults and ready to succed.) Richard stays in the North with Anne, which by all accounts he did a good job at and was very popular for. Anthony Woodville, who was patron of the arts, helps rushing in the Renaissance a bit earlier. And Henry Tudor? Was always very good with numbers, knows he'll never get French backing for an invasion under these circumstances and decides to go to Italy, where there's always a market for smart Machiavellian power players.

...otoh, where's the drama in that? On second thought, I can see why no one has written it. Especially not history.
Breaking Bad rewatching unfortunately leads to Breaking Bad missing, badly. How so good, show? So very very very good?

...also it contributes to considering dropping Homeland. I don't know, I've watched the latest ep, and during the exposition about Saul's backstory with a certain s3 character I kept thinking, show, I can't help associating real life politics here and you just don't want me to, because seriously? The history of the US and Persia of the Shah era, and the time immediately preceding that, where then-Persia actually had a parliamentary democracy and the US got rid of its democractically elected leader and helped re-installing a monarchy instead, making itself popular forever more, long before Khomenei & Co. came to power - that's what comes to mind when trying to imagine a spoilerly spoil. ) But leaving rl associations aside, it seemed to be to have a sense of emotional diffusion and not really going anywhere. Maybe I'm wrong. A few more eps, and we'll see, I suppose.

In other news, two more days until the Doctor Who Remix ficathon goes live, and I'm starting to get nervous. Writing in the larger Whoverse again after quite a while has been emotionally challenging and satisfying to me, but it also made me look for stories on some of the characters I was writing about to see whether there was anything new in the last two or three years, and, well, some, but what those stories also reminded me was that my pov on certain issues and characters remains definitely a minority pov. So I tell myself, self, be prepared. Not in a Scar-in-Lion-King way, since he wasn't, or in a Torchwood way, since they weren't. :)

Speaking of the Whoverse, it's getting harder to avoid spoilers for the big anniversary episode, because spoiler cuts apparantly are a strange and unmasterable thing to mainstream publications, which makes me wary of navigating the 'net until November 23rd because I don't want to be spoiled.


Not entirely unrelated: I was thinking about how flexible, or not flexible, affection for characters is. For me, since I can't speak for anyone else. Some characters you immediately take to (or against), sure, but maybe it's a part of getting older than in the last decade, especially in the last five years or so, the number of characters I developed deep affection for not at first sight or even in their first season but later in their respective canons has risen whereas the number of characters I immediately fall for has shrunk. Which, incidentally, contributes to frustration when fandom friends (or acquaintances) start those canons and make snap judgments that make me inwardly go "but wait, yes, such and such certainly seems that way this early, but later she/he becomes so fascinatingly layered that you'll even see those early canon moments with other eyes". To get a bit less abstract, Skyler, Marie and Hank in Breaking Bad or Gwen Cooper in Torchwood are all characters that in their respective first seasons I was indifferent to. Didn't hate them, as lots of fans apparantly did, but I also had no particular fondness for them. Whereas later on they became my dearly beloved favourites I would get defensive about to no end. Or: on good old (well, new) Battlestar Galactica, both the affection for Gaius Baltar or Ellen and Saul Tigh and the dislike of Bill Adama definitely wasn't there at the start for me. I was amused by Gaius and Ellen, and okay with Bill, but my instant favourite in the first season had been Laura Roslin. By the time the show wrapped up, I still liked Laura but didn't love her anymore, deeply loathed Adama, whereas I loved Gaius B., and both Tighs. (The Sixes in their various incarnations are a special case; I had been intrigued by them from the get go but it wasn't love until late s2.) All of this makes me approach long term (i.e. both tv and book series, as opposed to movies) canons in a sightly different ways than I used to: I no longer assume that character x I fell for on sight, on the rare occasion when I do, will still be my favourite later in canon time, and I'm more attentive to and patient with characters that don't immediately fascinate me because who knows, maybe they'll be the ones who sneak up on me when I least expect it.

...and then there is the tried and true method of changing character affection, which I've found works in two thirds of all the cases for me: a majority of other fans decide X is absolutely the worst and turn nearly every fannish discussion around to bash X, often in comparison to extolling the virtues of Y. Now, even if at the start of all this I myself was more fond of Y and had no opinion on X because frankly, X never was that interesting to me, few things are more guaranteed to make me bristle, decide to examine events from X' pov and look at Y with a more critical eye. It's perhaps a bit silly - after all, it's a reaction to other people's reactions, not to something the characters in question did - but it's undeniably there within me. And it works about 70% of the time.
selenak: (Baltar by Nyuszi)
( Aug. 20th, 2013 04:43 pm)
You know, I don't often identify with Lee Adama, aka Apollo from the rebooted Battlestar Galactica, but right now I do. To be more specific, with his speech during Gaius Baltar's trial in the third seaon finale, and his "We are not a democracy anymore, we are a gang" conclusion. Because what else are we these days, "we" being the Western democracies, plural, not just one (or two)? The British police detaining David Miranda, the partner of journalist Glenn Greenwald who was Edward Snowden's foremost media channel, for the nine hours it is currently possible to detain someone without having the charge them with a crime is just the most recent example.

Leaking information about war crimes is unpatriotic and treason. So is leaking information about the complete disregard of just about anyone's privacy (especially if they don't carry a US passport) world wide. But using plain old mafia tactics of intimidation and harrassment, oh, that's okay, because that's how you fight terrorism. Back in 1962, something happened in Germany that's known as "die Spiegel-Affäre", the Spiegel Scandal - you can read the details here you don't know them already. Back then, the fact that one of our major magazines published an article about the state of the German army, which led among other things to the then secretary of defense, Franz Josef Strauß, having the author of the article (who was on holidays in Spain) and the chief editor of the magazine arrested and accusing them of treason. Lack of patriotism. Leaking military secrets and helping the terrorists communists. Cue major public uproar (which is why the Spiegel Affair is seen as a big turning point, the first trial, so to speak, of whether Germans were still in the old authority-beholden mindset or had internalized democratic values) and effectively the end not just of Strauß' as a secretary of defense but of his political career outside of Bavaria.

I think of that, and the what's seen as acceptable behaviour by the state these days in the name of "fighting terrorism", and well, I do feel like Lee Adama. We're a gang now, or several gangs. Sure, it's still better to be in this gang than, say, in the Russian one, especially if you're gay, but you better not question the gang leaders tactics anyway, or keep it to complaining, as opposed to trying to document said tactics, because otherwise you're aiding the terrorists. And there are no polticial leaders, none, from wichever party in whichever country, who aren't complicit in this.

The terrorists won a long time ago.


selenak: (Default)


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