selenak: (Richard III. by Vexana_Sky)

By sheer coincidence, both my official assignment and the treat I hadn’t planned on writing are historicals – of a sort, since they aren’t direct historical fiction but fanfiction of historical (pro) fiction, so to speak. They even overlap in time, place and setting, while dealing with entirely different characters (and their interpretation). To wit: one – the unexpected treat – is having a go at Shakespeare’s history plays. Now I absolutely agree that the Hollow Crown ‘s production of Henry V. was the weakest of the HC productions, but by letting Falstaff’s page, referred to only as “Boy” in the play, survive into the John-Hurt-played Chorus (this is the final reveal of the HC Henry V), it gave me a fanon idea which I haven’t been able to dislodge from my brain since, to wit, that Falstaff’s page is, in fact, none other than Owen Tudor, aka that adventurous Welshman who got together with Henry V’s widow, had several children by her and thus without intending to ended up founding a new dynasty. (His grandson was the first to make it to the throne; everyone’s least favourite wife killing monarch was Owen’s great-grandson.) After I had kidded around with [personal profile] likeadeuce about this a couple of times, she ended up requesting it for Yuletide, and well, how could I not? Especially since, thinking about the premise further, it occurred to me that if Owen Tudor = Falstaff’s Page, it meant he’s also the sole surviving character of the Henriad to have experienced both Prince Hal living it up at the taverns and Henry V. winning Agincourt. He’d have had a front row seat at the Falstaff/Hal relationship and ended up living with Henry’s Queen for fifteen years. He even got old enough to see the Wars of the Roses start and thus lead into the next quartet of history plays.

When this occurred to me, I also knew which form my story would have, to wit, it would be Owen, on the eve of his execution, talking to the man he’d known both as Hal and as Henry. Whether he’s chatting with an actual ghost here (it’s Shakespeare fanfic, after all) or just having an inner monologue is up to you, dear reader. Owen – spelt the Welsh way, Owain, because I can – was great fun to find a voice for, which helped me overcome my inhibitions at tackling the Bard’s characters.

Gentlemen of the Shade (3155 words) by Selena
Chapters: 1/1
Fandom: Henry V - Shakespeare, Henry IV - Shakespeare, The Hollow Crown (2012), Shakespeare - History Plays, 15th Century CE RPF
Rating: Teen And Up Audiences
Warnings: No Archive Warnings Apply
Relationships: Owain ap Maredudd ap Tewdwr | Owen Tudor/Catherine de Valois, Sir John Falstaff/Prince Hal (Shakespeare), Sir John Falstaff & Owen Tudor, Henry V of England & Owen Tudor, Catherine of Valois/Henry V
Characters: Boy (Henry V), Owain ap Maredudd ap Tewdwr | Owen Tudor, Prince Hal (Shakespeare), Henry V of England, Sir John Falstaff, Catherine of Valois Queen of England, Fluellen (Henry V), Nym (Henry V), Pistol (Shakespeare)
Additional Tags: Ambiguous Relationships, Agincourt, Character Study, Messy, Yuletide, Yuletide 2016

In which Falstaff's page has a chat with the late Henry V. about shared bed fellows (plural), accidentally founds a dynasty and changes the course of English history.

Meanwhile, when offering fandoms I was ready to write for, I included Sharon Penman’s novel
The Sunne in Splendour, which deals with the Wars of the Roses from a distinctly Yorkist and Ricardian pov. Now The Sunne in Splendour is a novel I’d read for the first time when I was 20 or 21. And I fell in love instantly. Decades later, I freely concede its flaws to anyone grumbling about them – the pseudo medieval language at times (which Penman ditched in later novels), Richard as the hero is verging on too good to be true ness, a bit odd pov choices (Penman is prone to include more than necessary every time), etc. But. But. The reasons why I loved it so much in my early 20s to begin with are still there. Penman’s great with the family dynamics of both the Plantagenets and the Nevilles. She was the first author I’d read who does more with Edward IV than “playboy king”, and her version is still the most interesting Edward of them all to me, just as her Elizabeth Woodville is my favourite Elizabeth Woodville (way more interesting than Philippa Gregory’s who is meant to be the heroine, btw). The Edward and Richard dynamic pushes my button for sibling relationships. I love that while being pro York, her pov chapters for various Lancastrians – Edmund Beaufort, the Duke of Somerset, and Marguerite d’Anjou herself – makes them not just human but sympathetic. (Yes, Marguerite is a villain from Yorkist pov chapters, but not in her own, and not in a villainous monologue way, either.) Her solution to the “What happened to the Princes?” mystery makes sense to me. And I still can’t get through the last chapters without crying.

Now, my recipient’s request for this story was that she wanted more about the Richard/Anne relationship, with Richard and Anne being supportive of each other, the way they are in the novel. (She also suggested maybe the wedding and subsequent nights fleshed out, but I can’t write sex. Truly, I suck at it, and not in the fun way. So emotional exploration it was.) Well, the Richard/Anne relationship is of course pretty central in the novel and thus already well covered by Penman, BUT remember those odd pov choices? One of them is that we don’t get Anne Neville’s until after she’s widowed the first time (before that, she’s described from either Francis Lovell’s, or her sister Isabella’s), and Richard’s only intermittently, and not at all at what must have been turning points for the relationship. Which gave me something to work with in a missing scenes & alternate pov kind of way. It also provided me with a friends-to-lovers arc, and the challenge I gave myself, to write the development of the Richard and Anne relationship in a way that I hoped would work both for readers of
The Sunne in Splendour and for people who haven’t read a word of the novel but are interested in the era.

Still: it’s meant to be a Penman derived fanfiction, and thus I was of course bound to her narrative choices (Anne’s first marriage: not a happy event, to put it mildly), including her choices of (nick)names. (Or full names; that Anne is the only one in their families close to Richard who doesn’t call him “Dickon” but “Richard” is important in the novel, and of course I stuck with it.)

Below is the result: Plantagenets, Penman edition.

Troth (9410 words) by Selena
Chapters: 4/4
Fandom: The Sunne in Splendour - Sharon Kay Penman, 15th Century CE RPF
Rating: Teen And Up Audiences
Warnings: Creator Chose Not To Use Archive Warnings
Relationships: Anne Neville Queen of England/Richard III of England, Anne Neville Queen of England & Richard Neville Earl of Warwick, Edward IV of England & Richard III of England, Richard III of England & Richard Neville Earl of Warwick, Edward of Lancaster | Prince of Wales/Anne Neville Queen of England
Characters: Anne Neville Queen of England, Richard III of England, Edward IV of England, Richard Neville Earl of Warwick, Edward of Lancaster | Prince of Wales, George Plantagenet Duke of Clarence, Isabel Neville, Marguerite d'Anjou | Margaret of Anjou
Additional Tags: Missing Scene, Dysfunctional Family, Friends to Lovers, Friendship/Love, Regicide, Yuletide, Yuletide 2016

Four times the relationship between Anne Neville and her cousin Richard Plantagenet changed, and yet remained the same.

selenak: (Romans by Kathyh)
As promised, a Yuletide (and not celebrity death) exception to the no more until February rule; I want to get these recs out there before the reveal. Incidentally, state of my own Yuletide tales: the two treats got lovely comments from their respective recipients, the official assignment recipient apparantly has had a busy week, but has now commented as well (and graciously).

On to other people's stories read during the last week in various fandoms:

Greek Myth:

The Faces of Helen: Helen of Troy from various povs. Interesting Helens are still a rarity; loved that and the interactions with her brothers, the Dioskuri, and Cassandra especially. Also a welcome rarity: sympathetic Paris!

A rift never destined to mend: More Iliad fragments, sharp and perfect. Oh, Andromache.

She whose beauty rivals the goddesses: Iphigenia and Elektra, before. Extra kudos for laying the basis for Elektra's feelings for her parents despite what will happen to her sister in a way that makes sense.

Jessica Jones:

On the road (to recovery): Jessica, Luke and Malcolm at some future point. Great take on all three of them, and I loved their interactions.

Luke Cage:

We are the ones we have been waiting for: CLAIRE. All the Claire centric stories this year are great, and this one also offers wonderful looks at her interactions with several other Marvel tv and cinema inhabitants.

My Beautiful Laundrette:

Maintenance & Repairs: Omar and Johnny, several years on, more mature in some ways, in others not at all, and still so very them.

New Tricks:

Lost Souls: Case fic! Team fic! Oh, I love it. It feels exactly like a good episode.


Not one but two stories I've enjoyed equally, offering different beginnings for the Mark Antony/Caesar dynamic. Excellent voices for both characters.

The Start of the End of the World



And play the dog: In which Margaret, early on, negotiates with the Duke of York and meets his son Richard for the first time. Excellent take on the Shakespearean versions of these characters.

Stranger Things:

Sugar Kisses: a lovely "Five Things" for Joyce and Hopper, who had one of those dynamics on the show where I didn't want them to become lovers now (because both of them certainly had more than enough on their plate emotionally and otherwise), but was hoping for something in the farer future, and this story delivers very well.


Mechaye Hametim: Haddass, Avigdor and Yentl working their way back together through the years after the show. Haddass pov, and I appreciated the author gave Haddass time to sort out how she was feeling about Anshel/Yentl, instead of letting her be instantly okay with everything.

And now, off to combat DRL once again! Oh, and I was going to make the annual "guess my stories" dare, but have gotten three correct guesses already without doing so, so, I figure it's way too obvious this year with all three of them. :) (However, I'm pathetic enough to hope for a few more readers before the reveal, especially for the Super Ambitious Wanted To Write The Definite Tale For This Fandom one.)
selenak: (Servalan by Snowgrouse)

The BBC is currently broadcasting a radio version of Night Watch, available on iplayer for us non-British folks, and I'm listening, enthralled, to the first episode.

Blake's 7:

If you're a B7 fan, chances are you've already read this, but if you have not: a great new essay, on B7, Blake, Gareth Thomas and Chris Boucher. It's passionate and highly enjoyable to read. (Minus a few unneccessary swipes at non-B7 topics such as John Crichton, Clara Oswald and David Tennant's performance as Richard II. But it would be a boring internet life if we agreed on everything with the people we agree on some things. :)

Stephen King:

Handy and amusing flowchart showing how all the novels and characters are connected.


The Lingering Reminders: hands down one of the best, most even handed post-Civil War stories, in which Tony Stark runs across one of Peggy Carter's old mates. No, not that one. The author's take on old Jack Thompson feels extremely plausible, and there's a hilarious inside gag if you're familiar with the Spider-man mythology. (If you're not, you'll still be amused.) Great mixture of humor and angst all around.


Sons of York: Great take on Shakespeare's version of the York family, specifically the two Richards, father and son.
selenak: (Bardolatry by Cheesygirl)
Another result from my London trip: this miniseries from 1978, the existence of which had been unknown to me before. It stars a young Tim Curry as Shakespeare, a young Ian McShane as Christopher Marlowe, and was written by John Mortimer of Rumpole of the Bailey fame.

Structure wise, it consists of six episodes covering the ca. 16 years Shakespeare spent in London, each episode putting one of the works in central focus. (Mostly plays, but episode 3 picks the Sonnets for plot obvious reasons.) As far as attempts to tackle the Bard in screen fiction are concerned, this works far better than the Rupert Graves starring movie I came back with last year. Not least because the Lord Chamberlain's Men players actually get to do more than cameos and are real characters - especially Jack Rice, who in this version plays most of the Shakespearean heroines (and btw, the staging of the Elizabethan theatre scenes does this without attempt at camp when he's playing them, as opposed to the brief excerpt from the A Midsummer Night's Dream mechanicals scene, which goes for the traditional broad comedy) -, and because the characterisation keeps the balance between sympathetic and flawed for Shakespeare himself. Which is to say: he's likeable and he's a lousy husband and father, which the series is aware of, not either/or, and there's no attempt made to blame Anne for either. (Anne and the kids don't show up before episode 4, but when they do, it's clear whose fault the situation is.)

Given the 1978 production date and the fact the miniseries does inevitably go the "the Fair Youth and the Dark Lady were real people" route, I was curious how they handle the sexuality question. Turns out that while we don't get as much as an m/m kiss, the Will/Southhampton relationship (the miniseries goes with Southhampton as Mr. W.H.) is unambigiously romantic. In fact, he solely beds the Dark Lady because he's jealous that Will's spending time with her, while Will partly goes into that affair because he wants something not-Hal (Henry Wriothsley, Earl of Southhampton, goes by the "Hal" moniker here, and draw your Shakespearean conclusions) in his life. The narrative isn't very interested in the Dark Lady per se - here, she's a fictional character named Mary Fleminge, wife of a Judge - and she's far less on screen than Hal who shows up in episode 2 and remains in the series till the end. He's one of the more interesting Mr. W.H.'s, not just drop dead gorgeous to look at (actor: Nicholas Clay), which is a requirement given all the sonnet praise, but charming enough to make it clear why Will sticks around for more than patronage and aesthetics; reckless; also completely privileged and incapabable of seeing other povs, until the disaster of the Essex rebellion and his stint in the Tower give him a wake up call, at which point he belatedly grows up, but into self serving courtier ridding himself of his scandalous past. He doesn't exactly tell Will "I know thee not" when the later commits the faux pas of calling him "Hal" at court (in Will's defense, this is the first time they've seen each other since Southampton was released from the Tower), but he does pretend not to know him.

Curry, whom I've mostly seen in over the top roles, plays Will as mostly a low-key keen observer with something of a wild streak that Marlowe and Southampton bring out, a good friend and colleague to the players but also with a streak of selfishness re: anyone from Stratford. He adores his son but only as long as the kid doesn't make uncomfortable demands, and has zilch interest in his daughters. (This being a 70s series, you could of course argue whether or not this is intentional male chauvinism as a flaw, but given that we get a scene where Will makes up a story (a Midsummer Night's Dream, btw, which makes me wonder, since this predates Sandman, whether Neil Gaiman watched this) for Hamnet and then cut to Judith asking Anne whether her father will ever invent a story for her the way he does for her twin, I'm going with "intentional". (Seriously, though, there are a lot of echoes/foreshadowings/what not to the Sandman "Dream" story if you've read it - Hamnet is welcomed by the players in costume as Titania and Oberon and Jack Rice-as-Titania tells him he'll stay in their realm, for example.)

Except for Marlowe, no other writer shows up (so much for you, Johnson, Beaumont and Fletcher), and Marlowe is only in the first episode (which is very much about him and called "Dead Shephard"), but young Ian McShane has predictable fun in the part; the series' interpretation of Marlowe is that he craved real life danger and excitement, not just the written variety, thus volunteered for spying, but made no bones of the fact he had equal distate for both Protestants and Catholics, which ended up getting him distrusted and killed. The "those who do not love boys or tobacco" quote is used, and the two scenes where Marlowe first gets young Will to write Henry VI, Part I for him since he's too bored by the premise ("baronnial bullies waring with each other, none better than the others") and later beta-reads/edits in his Marlowian way (where he gets Will to come up with a personal nightmare scenario to spice up the play, and Will's personal nightmare is, of course, a father killing a son) in their McShane/Curry combination are golden.

Other memorable scenes: the sequence where Jack Rice blackmails the other players into letting him play Lady Anne in Richard III, pulls off a good performance and then later tells Richard Burbage not to stand in a way that makes it impossible for the groundlings to see Rice-as-Anne's face; Will and Hal smouldering at each other; Anne making verbal mincemeat out of Will when he tries to pull the "at least I send money!" defense; Essex and Southampton persuading the players to stage Richard II (that entire episode works like a tense political thriller) in order to promote Essex' rebellion, and then the actual staging (Bolingbroke's player none too subtly costumed in a way that echoes Essex); Elizabeth I. in the fallout orders Shakespeare to play Falstaff scenes for her, and there is a lot of cross cutting from the Queen's face to Will's (that episode parallels Elizabeth/Essex with Will/Hal in that both Elizabeth and Will know the object of their affection is really not worth it but care, and in that scene there's the added layer that Will doesn't know yet whether the players are truly off the hook re: rebellion participation, plus he's worried that Southampton will follow Essex to the block, while the playwright in him is also fascinated by Elizabeth having ordered a man she loves to die, and how she deals with that - he's observing her all the tie); and the already mentioned scene where newly reformed and in King James' favour Hal snubs Will (who is at court because the Lord Chamberlain's men have just become the King's Men).

Faults: the series has so little interest in the Dark Lady/Mary Fleming that we open the relevant episode in medias res, i.e. she already knows Will, and her decision to have sex with Southampton basically happens between two eye blinks with no more motivation than "he's there, I might as well". And while Jack Rice is a fascinating character in the first half of the miniseries, he's reduced to minor supporting player in the second, which may not be a fault given what else is going on, but it irks me because I liked the character so much. Also, I'm still waiting for the Shakespeare bio tv or movie that uses Ben Jonson (and by use, I don't mean him just being name dropped but being his colorful self), and while we're at it, uses Will's younger brother Edmund who was a player, too, for a while.

In conclusion: worth watching, if you can get your hands on it. Oh, for youngsters: this being a 70s series, it also has a 70s pace.
selenak: (Richard III. by Vexana_Sky)
I almost didn't make it to the Almeida on Friday night, which, given that the chance to watch Ralph Fiennes and Vanessa Redgrave in Richard III was one of the reasons why I picked this particular week when my APs gave me a week in London for Christmas, would have been a not so fun irony. The London Underground played one of its tricks, with the Northern Line temporarily breaking down. But thanks to a taxi driver who had a hysterical foreigner in the form of yours truly at hand, I did make it in time. It was an excellent production, with one caveat, and reminded me how much The Hollow Crown version cut. (For example: that terse monologue about Hastings getting framed post-execution which makes it very contemporary indeed.) Contemporary costumes, except for the final battle scenes, for which everyone was in armor and had swords.

The play opened and ended at the car park in Leicester where they found historical Richard III's remains, which I took as an attempt to tie in the revived interest, because otherwise of course the production was firmly Shakespeare, not history, and not just the usual habit of casting middle aged actors as the York brothers but also the women in very different ages to their historical counterparts helps seeing the play as its own 'verse. Fiennes' Richard does the usual "clever mastermind loses it as soon as he actually has power trajectory - come to think of it, I guess the only ursurper whom Shakeskpeare allows to remain subtle instead of ham fisted is Claudius in Hamlet -, with an undercurrent of "both power hunger and misanthropy are the result of being loathed from birth", and he does it well. I've seen a complaint that he doesn't seduce the audience by being charming, complete with trajectory that Fiennes isn't able to. Having recently watched his Monsieur Gustave, I beg to differ: he can be charming, if the role calls for it. His version of Shakespeare's Richard doesn't; he's very compelling, though, more like a clever cobra taking out lots of hapless bunnies before realising he's stuck with lots of dead bodies and no idea what do actually do with them.

I hadn't been sure whether Vanessa Redgrave was playing Queen Margaret or the Duchess of York when [personal profile] londonkds asked me about it; turns out she was Margaret, far less mad than clear-sighted here, though Margaret carrying a baby doll around (which she in her second scene bequeathed to Elizabeth Woodville) was presumably a signal that she's not all there after all. Seriously, though, what I loved about the performance was that this Margaret was both tragic and and vengeful without being over the top about it. There was a stillness in Redgrave when she watched her enemies fall, a slight smile, that reminded even an audience that didn't listen to the textual reminder of her killing of Rutland and York that Margaret is no nice woman wronged, but an aged monster rendered powerless herself. The way she and Richard keep an eye on each other through Margaret's first scene also comes across as two predators knowing each other by instinct, or maybe it's also the star quality both actors have.

Redgrave aside, this was another production making it very clear that Tudor's appearance at the end not withstanding, Richard's true opponents in this play are the women. Hastings - who kept checking his twitter feed - was a bombastic, with non-malignant fool, Clarence naively blind, and Buckingham the not-so-faithful Lieutenant type considering himself somehow excempt from Richard's malignity out of sheer ego. Meanwhile, Joanna Vanderham was a very young (no idea how old the actress is, but she looked at least twenty, if not thirty years younger than Fiennes as Richard) but firm Lady Anne who only just starts to come around at the end of the wooing scene but mostly acts as she does because she doesn't want to become a killer, Susan Engel is the other matriarch, Cecily Nevill, Duchess of York (age wise looks a match with Redgrave, so that bit of internal verse-sense is kept) and her palpable loathing of her son remains, despite all that Richard does, as disturbing as ever. (The production closes with her reappearing on stage, standing at his grave in Leicester and enigmatically staring in it.) Aislin McGuckin was a great Elizabeth Woodville, but alas, her scenes include my one caveat/complaint about this production, though it's no fault of hers or Fiennes' but of the director's decision.

The Richard & Elizabeth scene pre battle of Bosworth goes the traditional way of him by now incapable of swaying his target and her not buying a word of - and then he proceeds to rape her. Now, the way the rape is played makes it clear it's not about hidden sexual attraction but about power and humiliation, and yet another example of Richard resorting to tyrannical power exertion because he can't get what he wants by his wits anymore. It's also in tandem with this Richard projecting his mother issues by misogyny. But still: the rest of the second half of the play makes that point already. And I'm just so tired of rape (the one thing not even Holinshed, More and Shakespeare thought to accuse Richard of, btw) being the default act to signal that a villain is really truly bad. So could have done without that.

Still on a Shakespeare note: the British Library currently has a "Shakespere in Ten Acts" exhibition which I visited with [personal profile] londonkds. Truly full of treasures, starting not just with the expected First Folio but copies of the Robert Greene book containing the "Johannes Factotum" crack about Shakespeare, and the 1602 collection of anecdotes - in hand writing, not in print, which was fascinating to me, since I've rarely seen handwritten bound books in the post Gutenberg era - that contains the "William the Conqueror arrived before Richard III" story about Shakespeare, Burbage and the female fan. There is a rough chronology of the exhibition, but also various of the plays as a central focus in different eras. In the mid 19th century, we get Othello and Ira Aldridge's entire career getting a wall to himself, which I can't help but suspect and hope was influenced by interest in Ira Aldridge being revived through the Adrian Lester starring play I watched the last time I was here. Seeing the posters both British and European was fascinating - and telling, what with the American born Ira billed as "a native of Senegal" in the early English ones. And speaking of black actors playing Othello, I had of course known that Paul Robeson had done so, but not that Laurence Olivier refused to join a Robeson supporting campaign in order to get him to play the role in Britain because, as Olivier openly declared, he wanted to have a go at Othello himself.

There are costumes and stage props of more recent productions, as the 1960s Peter Brook directed Midsummer Night's Dream, and interviews with surviving actors; I was amused to find a recording of the puppet play version of the early German version of Hamlet (hails from ye late 17th and early 19th century days when the Bard was more popular in our part of the world than at home, before Garrick helped him to a comeback). All in all, truly a satisfying anniversary exhibition to visit.
selenak: (Bardolatry by Cheesygirl)
Back in my university days, I once took a class about A Midsummer Night’s Dream, which meant watching a lot of productions, both filmed and on stage. That class had the worst possible placement – Friday afternoon – during the spring-to-summer term, and when I tell you that most of the 15 participants showed up regardless, you may gather we had fun. However, with that kind of overexposure to one particular drama, it took me a while to watch A Midsummer Night’s Dream again.

It’s been long enough, I’ve found: the RTD version was eminently watchable to me, with occasional “oh, how Professor Götze would have loved this” asides. Wasn’t surprised my flist was divided, though: Russel T. is that kind of producer.

Read more... )
selenak: (Richard III. by Vexana_Sky)
Aka the one with the inevitable compare and contrast. Not only did I watch various versions of the play throughout my life, but I had to write a paper on it decades ago in school, so.

I am determined to play the villain... )
selenak: (Richard III. by Vexana_Sky)
In terms of actual plays part 3, of course. In which young Will Shakespeare gets to bloody business, and creates both a female and a male supervillain.

Spoilers for Shakespeare and altered history )
selenak: (Bardolatry by Cheesygirl)
Or rather, part 1 and 2 mixed up, emphasis on part 2, since the producers made the York tetralogy into a trilogy. I haven't read the Henry VI plays more than once, and that was many years ago, but even my vague memories tell me the most obvious cut - the entire Jack Cade rebellion. Which means no scenes not involving the nobility, which fits with the entire production trying to lure the Game of Thrones audience in.

Cutting just in case someone minds being spoiled for Shakespeare and tv alterations of same )
selenak: (Bardolatry by Cheesygirl)
How long has it been since I was writing something set in a mega fandom? Years and years. The difference in terms of reader/comments/kudos numbers is truly stunning, she says, looking slightly dazed.

Seriously though. You write story set in, say, The Americans, you're lucky to get ca. 300 hits a year. You write a Star Wars story, you get over 400 hits in less than two days. And 57 kudos. Truly, the Force must have been with me. :)

Merlin at its height wasn't big enough to count as a mega fandom, so that probably wasn't the last time. Hm. As far back as when I wrote for Heroes during the s1 to s2 hiatus and in s2? I.e. the height of its popularity? Yes, it must have been as far back as that...

Well, I'll try to enjoy it while it lasts. Soon enough I'll be back to my small fandoms and desperately hoping to get double digit numbers in my hits at all...

On another note, here Ian McKellen lists his favourite performances in film versions of Shakespeare. (Ignore the stupid comments which don't seem to grasp this isn't a "best of Shakespeare on film" list, just his personal favourites. This being said, it warms my heart he lists his Lady MacBeth, Judi Dench, because she's my favourite as well (and also the Trever Nunn MacBeth staring McKellen and Judi Dench is the only one to date where I thought both M and Lady M were played by equally strong actors at their best - usually I'm only happy with one of them at a time). Unexpected but pleasing to me choice: Ralph Fiennes' Coriolanus. Most baffling to me choice: Paul Scofield as the Ghost in Zeffirelli's Hamlet. (Maybe because I watched that one only once. Hamlet and Franco Zeffirelli really weren't made for each other.) Most-amusing-to-me description, when McKellen explains why he picked Orson Welles' Falstaff: "Orson Welles was a considerable man of the theatre and learned his trade assisting Micheál Mac Liammóir, the flamboyant Irish actor."

(To understand why this phrasing cracks me up, start by checking out an old post of mine on Orson Welles. If you don't want to, let's just say that Mac Liammóir and Hilton Edwards were indeed 16 years old Orson's Godfathers Of Theatre, so to speak, and proceded to have a decades long intense and tension filled friendship with him before alas it got wrecked in the 1960s, but that Orson being competitive Orson, he would have insisted on pointing out he never ASSISTED Micheál Mac Liammóir because he already played the second lead in his debut with them while the lead was played by Micheál's partner Hilton Edwards.) (Otoh Micheál Mac Liammoir would have gotten such a kick out of this description and would have quoted it to Orson Welles on the phone.)
selenak: (Bardolatry by Cheesygirl)
No Doctor Who review this week, because it's another two parter, and in this case what I think of it REALLY depends on what the solution will be, because the allegory is really heavy handed and potentially disastrous.

However, last night I watched the latest cinematic version of the Scottish Play, aka the one with Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard.

Thoughts: overall, this strikes me as director Justin Kurzel's GrimDark Shakespeare fanfiction, err, vid. Not that Macbeth is a bundle of laughs in any case, and any screen Shakespeare ends up having lots of lines cut (unless it's Kenneth Branagh wanting to make a point about Hamlet), but not so coincidentally, this Macbeth is lacking any and all of what few lighter moments there are. Which means no porter scene at all, no precocious Macduff kids chattering away before doom arrives. Considering the porter scene in particular is always held up as evidence of Shakespeare being a genius (i.e. it's the most suspenseful, tense moment of the play, Macbeth has just committed regicide, there's KNOCKING, and suddenly! Drunk Comedy Scene!), this tells you something about Kurzel (and his scriptwriter team's) idea of how to do drama versus good old Will's.

Otoh team Kurzel even added to the body count, ways of execution and motivation. The opening scene is a funeral for the Macbeths' child (thereby solving ye olde contradiction between "I have given suck" and "he has no children" in ways that doesn't evoke actual history, where historical Lady Macbeth, Gruach, had a child by her first marriage), watched over by the witches who speak a few lines from the play's opening scene, and the implication that losing their child is partly what motivates the Macbeths and already started to unhinge them is there through the rest of the movie. The opening funeral scene later is doubled, and this one goes beneath a spoiler cut because it's in the last third, Kurzel-only, and maybe someone does care to be spoilered. How Kurzel explains Lady Macbeth losing it completely. )

Speaking of history, though, the movie attempts to go for a "primitive Scotland" atmosphere by excising any and all contemporary to Shakespeare stuff. Except for the royal castle in the second half of the movie, there aren't any castles at all, Macbeth while he's still a thane has a settlement of wooden huts/houses. (Lady M's reference to "my battlements" is duly gone as well.) No dialogue between the Doctor and the Not!Lady in waiting (who is reduced to a silent female companion of the queen's). Oh, and (entirely correctly) no kilts, in case you feared there were. Though everyone but Cotillard goes for a Scottish accent, which is wavering in Fassbender's case, though the rest is more steadfast.

Acting: Fassbender does his thing of intense brooding with undercurrent of emotional turnmoil, which he does as easily as breathing, but because that's already how he STARTS, there isn't much of an emotional arc. Also the film is the type of Macbeth production which actually visualizes M's hallucinations. (I've seen productions where the dead Banquo actually shows up, and productions where he doesn't, and let me tell you, the later always worked better for me. And showing the dagger Macbeth imagines never is as good as relying on your leading man, not to mention it patronizes the audience.) Marion Cottillard isn't as hard as she could be early on, nor really insane and in pieces later. She doesn't sleepwalk, she returns to what used to be the Glamis estate and speaks all the lines of the sleepwalking scene awake as if musing about her past, until the camera reveals that spoiler cut just in case. ) In a movie that's GRIM with capital letters, it comes across as an odd restraint or maybe as the wish to keep your leading lady sympathetic.

Another thing: this is a movie with a fondness for male cheek touching, forehead touching, and men cradling each other. When the messengers arrive with news for Macbeth and Banquo, Macbeth is busy cradling a fellow warrior whom Banquo patches up. Duncan cradles Macbeth's cheek (and before that of the rebellious previous thane of Cawdor while pronouncing sentence on him), Macbeth and Banquo do it to each other, Macbeth holds the slain Duncan and so forth. You get the impression someone really really liked both the "I know it was you!" scene between Michael and Fredo from Godfather II and Craig!Bond's thing for cradling people ('Vesper, Mathis, M) a lot. Or, to put my highbrow hat on, Kurzel is going for a correlation between death and physical expression of affection. (Not surprisingly, the Macbeths end up having sex while conspiring Duncan's murder.)

Influences of previous film versions: Polanski for the final twist. No, it's not Ross as in Polanski, but Fleance, but the implication is the same. (And presumably Team Wurzel wanted to tie up the Witches' prophecy re: Banquo's issue, presumably correctly assuming that most of their target audience don't know Banquo's issue were meant to be the Stuart dynasty.) The famous 1970s Trevor Nunn production (that starred Judi Dench and Ian McKellen and still is my favourite of the play) for individualizing the Witches and going for mother-maiden-crone, though Wurzel also adds a silent child witch and a baby for good measure.

Unholy influence of Zack Snyder: slo mo and frozen battle scenes and key points intercut by fast moving ones.

Trivia: you know, Tolkien came up with the Ents because as a boy he was disappointed when the "when Birnham Wood comes up to Dunsinane" prophecy didn't get fulfilled by the trees literally moving towards Dunsinane? Tolkien would have been horrified by Wurzels innovation on how the prophecy gets fulfilled, but it makes for the showdown visual he wants. Spoilery explanation why. )

In conclusion: not a must among Shakespeare film versions, and I've watched both Fassbender and Cotillard doing better, but it should provide a lot of vid makers with material.
selenak: (Richard III. by Vexana_Sky)
If you should happen to be in or near Los Angeles during the next week, if you're interested in a) German literature, b) exiles, c) Judaism, or d) all of the above, why not check out this conference? A great many of the presentations and debates will be in English. I'll be attending as well, which means I'll be in LA from Thursday till Sunday (then it's back to Europe).

Meanwhile, have some fanfic recs:

The Hobbit:

Three Adventures Belladonna Took Never Went On : great, endearing portrait of Bilbo's famous mother Belladonna. Her relationship with Gandalf reminds me a bit of Amy Pond and the Eleventh Doctor here. (You'll see what I mean when you read it.) And, something I haven't seen in fanfiction, there's a dead-on take on the narrator voice Tolkien employed in The Hobbit.

Richard III, Shakespeare version:

Under a Hog: darkly hilarious American politics AU of Shakespeare's play from the pov of Richard's campaign workers. Bonus point for not needing Henry Tudor at all and making Lizzie Woodville his rival instead, campaigning for her dead husband's seat.

York Tetralogy: and history:

The Daisy Queen: what formed Marguerite d'Anjou. The author superbly uses actual French history, most of all Marguerite's hardcore grandmother Queen Yolande.
selenak: (Richard III. by Vexana_Sky)
....we've got our first glimpse at CumberRichard:

So far so good. Now give me photos of Sophie Okenodo and Judi Dench as Margeret of Anjou and Cecily Neville respectively, internet!
selenak: (Carl Denham by Grayrace)
Guardians of the Galaxy: funny, entertaining, and nothing else, which is what it aims for. I can see what [personal profile] londonkds meant about it being "dumbed down Farscape", and agree with [personal profile] trobadora's longer review. At the same time: given how many movies are out there who aim for funny and succeed only in "cringeworthy", maybe we're too harsh on it, with its success on the pure comedy/parody level. Anyway: wasn't bored, left with a smile, have no urge whatsoever to watch it again or read fanfiction.

Much Ado about Nothing, Whedonian version: FINALLY I had the chance to watch this one, which Joss shot with a couple of his favourite actors as a way to relax from wrapping up Avengers two years ago. (And some of his former scriptwriters from BTVS, as it turns out; I spotted David Fury, Drew Goddard and Drew Greenberg in the credits for the wedding scene(s) crowd.) A great way to unwind, I must say. Sean Maher makes a surprisingly good villain - and his character usually feels like a vague pre study for Iago without the genius yet, so that was new. Not surprisingly, Amy Ackerand Alexis Denisof were great as everyone's favourite sparring lovers. Any Benedick and Beatrice pairing stands or falls whether they can make the transition from the admission of love to "kill Claudio" , and they can. This is also a production that goes with the "Beatrice and Benedick had a short fling before the play" interpretation caused by such lines like "you always end with a jade's trick, I know you of old" - "You have lost the heart of Signior Benedick" - "Indeed, for he lend it me a while, and I gave him use for mine, a double heart for his single one" etc., so much so that it starts with a silent "morning after" scene, which means the actual first scene between Beatrice and Benedick feels like the two are compensating for not wanting to admit it had actually meant something to them because it didn't seem to mean anything to the respective other. (And then it hit me: Joss made it into anothe post coital morning after disaster scene, his specialty!) It also means them getting convinced that the other does care later on feels less like a revelation and more like a release.

My favourite Much Ado remains the Branagh one but all the Dogberry and Watch portions in it make me cringe. (Michael Keaton, argggh.) Not helped by the fact I don't find the Watch scenes funny when reading the play, either. (Don't care for embarrasment humor generally.) But Nathan Fillion and Tom Lenk - and Whedonian editing, I suppose - made them somehow not cringeworthy for me. Understanding the Miami Vice parody sunglasses probably dates me. :)

The general endless cocktail party conceit with everyone getting more and more sloshed worked for me. There was no getting around the one big clash between modern day dress and content - Hero's virginity being a big deal to everyone -, but at that point I had suspended my disbelief long ago, plus Clark Gregg managed to make Leonato, whom I always disliked for his turning against his daughter in the first wedding scene, come across as torn between love and rage with love winning out physically if not verbally even before the Friar manages to calm him down.

And lastly: seems Fritz Lang's masterpiece M is re-released in Britain right now, and the Guardian thinks you should watch it. I think so, too - it's my favourite Lang movie by far -, but I found myself grumbling at the Guardian critic and the commenters that a) the police isn't presented as "incompetent" and an allegory for Weimar polticians just because they can't catch a serial killer until the grand finale (the leading inspector became such a favourite that Lang brought the character back in his second Dr. Mabuse movie), and b) no, it's not "foreshadowing the crumbling of the Weimar Republic and the Nazis". The Nazis were already very present on the streets in 1931 when Lang shot the film, having almost daily clashes with the Communists, and neither party is present in this movie. (If you think the criminals organizing into a hunt for the pedophile killer are meant to be Nazis because some are a) wearing trench coats, and b) speaking German, pray remember neither would have been unusual for a German audience in 1931, who hadn't gone through Hollywood aesthetizing the Third Reich into certain images.) I strongly suspect somewhere some editor dictated you can't sell a German movie to an audience if it's not about Nazis somehow.

What I agree about with the Guardian is that Lang's direction (and use of sound - this was his first sound movie, and as opposed to many a silent movie director he really embraced and used the new medium in very creative ways) is outstanding, and that Peter Lorre gives a fantastic performance. Incidentally, while the daring turnaround in audience sympathy during Lorre's monologue at the trial is justly mentioned as the movie's standout scene by not just this but every critic writing about "M" ever - and btw something I can't imagine in any current day movie about a serial killer of children -, no one seems to remember the actual final scene of the movie (a silent sequence showing us the grieving mothers of the dead children), which is a shame, because through it Lang achieves balance and ensures Lorre's big scene is earned by not forgetting the victims and their families.
selenak: (M)
I must say, this It's hard out there for a York tv version of the Henry VI plays plus Richard III , aka the Hollow Crown sequel for Shakespeare newbies, sounds better and better, casting wise. In addition to Sophie Okenodo as Margaret of Anjou, we also get Keeley Hawes as Elizabeth Woodville and Judi Dench as Cecily Neville, Duchess of York.

...which makes me imagine she'll pulverize B. Cumberbatch in the scene where Richard gets chewed out by his mother, but maybe he'll be able to hold his own. Also, given what the Hiddleston-as-Hal/Henry V. casting wrought in fanfic, when can we expect the historical Sherlock AUs where he's M's kid?
selenak: (Berowne by Cheesygirl)
Watching the Tennant Richard II and rewatching some Hollow Crown stuff put me in the mood for Shakespearean Histories fanfiction. Chances are all the stories listed below are already known to anyone interested, but just in case they aren't, or you'd like to do some rereading:

Here is what I enjoyed reading most )
selenak: (Judgment Day by Rolina_Gate)
The RSC Richard II. with David Tennant is out on dvd, and since I couldn't see it in the theatre last year, naturally I pounced.

Some thoughts under the cut )
selenak: (Richard III. by Vexana_Sky)
Walking home after rewatching The Winter Soldier, I check twitter and what do I find? Just a day or so after it was announced that Martin Freeman will play Richard III. , the BBC confirms that Benedict Cumberbatch will play Richard III on screen, the small screen, that is, in the It's Hard Out There For A York the follow up to their Hollow Crown filming of Shakespeare's histories, to wit, the Henry VI plays plus Richard III.

I must confess I had a moment of amusement. Not that either gentleman isn't a fine actor, but still. Also, I can just hear the BBC staff meeting where they wonder which actor to hire to replicate the Hiddleston-fans-go-Shakespeare effect, and of course they pick BC. Now can we hear who'll play Margaret of Anjou? *still hopes for Amanda Hale* Anyway, given the fannish tendency to pair up characters played by Cumberbatch with John Watson and/or characters played by Martin Freeman in crossover fanfiction, I await with bated breath CumberRichard's meeting with a doctor returned from the wars. Or a hobbit. Or himself from another universe.
selenak: (Richard III. by Vexana_Sky)
Via [profile] angevin2, lots of great Shakespearean news. The Hollow Crown team will, as some of us have hoped, do the Henry VIs and Richard III, which means after "It's Hard Out There For A Lancaster", we'll get "It's Hard Out There For A York". Now, my first two thougths were: A) Who'll play Margaret/Marguerite d'Anjou? - because if you do the Henry VIs in addition to Richard III, this is surely one of the all time great female roles in Shakespeare, and it offers an actress the possibility to go from teenage princess to ancient crone, from vicious power player to nemesis and accuser - and B) Who'll play Richard? (because even a Ricardian like myself will admit unreservedly that Shakespeare's Richard III is one of the best villains ever. I also hope the Duchess of York, Elizabeth Woodville and Anne won't be cut into near non-existence a la Laurence Olivier but will get to have their impact. And speaking of female roles, I wonder what they'll do with Shakespeare's Joan of Arc (aka never mind Richard, THAT'S the most blatant truth distorting propaganda by playwright in the histories)? (I know what Shaw's suggestion would be. Replace the Joan scenes with some from his own St. Joan. :) Anyway, Margaret of Anjou. Spontanously, I would want Amanda Hale, who was one of the few good things in The White Queen as Margaret Beaufort and I could see playing both the young and the old Queen with full intense force.

I also saw in today's New York Times that they want to publish a Gone With The Wind prequel about Mammy called Ruth's Journey, which got me interested despite the fact the two sequels to GTW ("Scarlett" and "Rhett Butler's People") were dreadful, because certainly giving Mammy a name and a story of her own is long overdue... but then I saw that the book will be written by the same man who wrote Rhett Butler's People. Which killed my interest. (Two of the most objectionable things about Rhett Butler's People:a) retconning the entire Scarlett and Melanie relationship and Melanie's character by claiming Melanie never liked or trusted Scarlett and was secretly writing letters to Rhett's sister about how jealous she was, and b) making Rhett a quasi abolitionist who objects to slavery (and has a discussion about that with Ashley mid war). (This is not how you rectify the treatment of slavery in GWTW. Rhett grows more and more conservative as the novel - GTWT, that is - progresses, and even at the start, the reason why he predicts a Southern defeat isn't because he sees slavery as wrong but because he is aware the Northern states have the better industrial resources. Which Ashley, btw, agrees with.) I'm all for adding new perspectives to compelling yet deeply problematic sources - this is what fanfiction often DOES, after all - but if you're prone to do so via completely throwing out the original characterisation, then you've lost me.


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