Masterpiece Theatre: Past and Coming Months

Can I confess that I’ve never seen a version of Emma (except, of course, Clueless; no, I haven’t seen the Gwyneth Paltrow version because I try to save up Jeremy Northam for special occasions).  I haven’t read a lot of Jane Austen, but I’m familiar enough with the basic plot: Emma’s a know-it-all who fancies herself a matchmaker and is completely clueless about how she’s destined to marry her best friend.

There was a lot I didn’t necessarily love about the current Masterpiece Theatre production, but I couldn’t stop watching, either. And much of that was due to the utterly charming Romola Garai, who was just so fresh and brought a lack of obnoxiousness to a character (Emma) that could so easily be annoying.  Also, it seems that Masterpiece Theatre is doing its part to keep Michael Gambon employed in between Harry Potter movies; three cheers for that!

I would like a word about Jonny Lee Miller as Mr. Knightley, however. I caught Miller in a production of Byron on Ovation a couple of months ago, and I think that he’s actually a very engaging guy, but I don’t think he’s right for period pieces. He’s a bit too modern, and he tends to feel like the best-dressed guy at a costume party, as opposed to someone who could have actually lived 200 years ago. 

(The real reason I watched the Byron miniseries was that Philip Glenister was playing Lord Byron’s manservant. Let me tell you, the main problem with that miniseries is the main problem with every television show ever: not enough Glenister. If PBS is hard up for money, I’ve got a recommendation: create a subscription channel that features everything Philip Glenister was ever in and call it “Pure Animal Magnetism TV.” Half the female population would watch…and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting would never need to rely on the fickle ways of the federal government ever again.)


On a related “extremely attractive men I don’t see enough of” note, Rupert Penry-Jones, who I thought was pretty decent in the too-short Masterpiece production of Persuasion, and who is also married (in real life) to an actress whose character was the worst aspect of one of my favorite shows.  But we won’t hold any of that against him.

So, Penry-Jones starred in a production of The 39 Steps.  (This is the part where I confess that I really don’t like the Hitchcock movie, despite the presence of Robert Donat, who was in one of my favorite movies of all time, and Madeleine Carroll, who was in my absolute favorite movie ever.)  So it was touch-and-go whether I’d actually watch this version.

The problem with reviewing this version is that Penry-Jones is so distractingly beautiful that I have no idea whether he’s a good actor.  I can tell you that the plot (especially the ending) is different from the Hitchcock version, but I haven’t read the book, so I can’t tell you which version is more faithful to the book.  I thought it was more watchable and enjoyable than the Hitchcock, but much of that could be due to the leading man.

(For a short time, you can still watch all of The 39 Steps if you missed it.)


On Sunday, Masterpiece will be presenting Sharpe’s Challenge, which I caught on BBC America a while ago, but which I will definitely watch again.

If you’ve watched Sharpe before, you know the routine: Sean Bean’s Sharpe is war-weary, he’s got to find his missing sidekick, Harper, while wearing a jacket with a ridiculous amount of buttons, etc., etc. 

This time, though, Toby Stephens, my absolute favorite bad guy, is playing yet another bad guy.  (It’s also interesting to note that Stephens and Bean both played bad guys in Bond movies…)  I could watch Toby Stephens read the phone book as long as it was done with an evil voice and a maniacal twinkle in the eye.

And everyone knows Daragh O’Malley is extremely easy on the eyes, so just watch it and let me know how you like it.

17 thoughts on “Masterpiece Theatre: Past and Coming Months

  1. t-traveler says:

    wheres the love for Salmon Rushdies ex and worcester homegirl and Clarkie Padma Lakshmi? Also Sharpes Peril coming in April!

  2. Nicole says:

    Well, at least I included a picture with her in it!

    Also, regarding Salman, I used to find him unreadable, but then I listened to The Enchantress of Florence (on audiobook) and really enjoyed it, so he’s either getting better or my taste is getting worse…

  3. t-traveler says:

    do you think you’ll read the new Martin Amis the Pregnant Widow?
    Also I have two audio recommendations by Nick Hornby, Slam! and Juliet Naked.

    • Nicole says:

      I haven’t read Amis before, though I’ve been meaning to read Kingsley.

      I’ll try those audio recommendation after I finish my month-and-a-half’s worth of Neil Gaiman…

      • t-traveler says:

        whats the gaiman like?

        • Nicole says:

          It’s American Gods, and it’s really good so far. I was a little worried, because there was a sex/getting eaten by a goddess scene on the first CD, and that’s a little more intense a listen than I usually like during my commute. But I just really like Neil Gaiman, period. (I actually got into him because my son adores The Wolves in the Walls.)

          Anywho, the other thing I was thinking is that this would make a perfect part of a seminar course focusing on travel in American lit (which would include Huck Finn, Lolita, and On the Road).

  4. Lee says:

    The Hitchcock version of The 39 Steps is not one of my favorite movies either. But I was curious enough to watch the Rupert Penry-Jones version. He’s quite riveting and Lydia Leonard is beautiful – as was much of the scenery. So I found myself lost in the visual aspects and enjoying the story. That is until the last two scenes (lake & station). At that point I threw up my hands in frustration.

    But it certainly was pretty while it lasted…
    – Lee

    • Nicole says:

      You are absolutely right — I should have mentioned that the ending absolutely sucked. Lydia Leonard was very good. I found the Hitchcock version so (visually) dark that having a nice, bright, beautiful backdrop (excluding Penry-Jones, of course) probably made the viewing more palatable.

  5. t-traveler says:

    according to wikipedia, Jeremy Northam is a regular on the new cbs show Miami Medical

  6. t-traveler says:

    Doctor Who on BBC America this Saturday night

    • Nicole says:

      Part of me is excited that those scary-as-hell statues are coming back, and I think the goal (from what I read somewhere I can’t remember) is to make him a bit like the Sylvester McCoy Doctor, which would be great in my book. We’ll see. My husband, who hates Doctor Who, thinks that this guy looks like Matthew Modine, so I think he’s going to be the “Modine Doctor,” because we have to have a nickname for every doctor.

      So —
      First Doctor’s nickname is “The First Doctor”
      Second Doctor = “The Moe Doctor”
      Third Doctor = “The Lost [Nicole’s Last Name]”, because he looks like a cross between my grandfather and great-uncle
      Fourth Doctor = “That Guy” (we both loathe him)
      Fifth Doctor = “The Tristan Doctor”
      Sixth Doctor = (we never discuss him because he’s that bad)
      Seventh Doctor = hmmm…I guess I just call him “Seventh”, or “The Guy with Ace”
      Eighth Doctor = “The Sexy Doctor”
      And then after that I think I just call them by number.

  7. t-traveler says:

    the new doctor will work out fine i predict, i was more worried about the last one. Eighth doctor was originally cast as Richard Sharpe and had to bail.

    • Nicole says:

      But Paul McGann is a touch cuter, no? Sean Bean’s a bit more of my type, but I think men who go through wives become inherently less attractive than the monogamous ones, Which makes no sense.

      The Modine Doctor is not doing it for me. I don’t understand the lightning-on-the-TARDIS in the opening sequence, I spent half the episode wondering whether the guy has any eyebrows, It seems like they’re trying for a cross between a spastic Doctor (like David Tennant) and a grumpy Doctor (like 1, 3, or 7). Half of these lines would work if they were coming out of Sylvester McCoy’s mouth, or Christopher Eccleston’s, but I don’t think the curmudgeon thing works when you’re in your early twenties.

      But that’s too negative. It’s a somehwat decent scary-Doctor kind of episode. (The casting of the companion from child to young woman was really exceptional.) I think the music they use is way too dramatic and theatrical, and I don’t understand the orchestration on the theme song, especially since they use a nice 1971-era theme as part of it. But at least they’re not trying to make him a romantic hero yet. That was getting really tiresome.

  8. t-traveler says:

    i understand why the producers would renovate the TARDIS but why would the doctor comment on it? in a break the fourth wall way perhaps

  9. t-traveler says:

    new series of Ashes to Ashes on BBC America, American update of Shameless coming to Showtime with Alison Janney

    • Nicole says:

      I love Ashes (though I always forget what it’s called, so I usually call it “Bolly Knickers”). Hopefully the DVR already knows it’s going to be on!

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