A Glimpse into the Gothic

Gothic as a genre is something that’s always intrigued me. I love the idea of dark, spooky manors, of mysteries that lurk beneath, of fog and shadows and whispers. Of course, being named after a Gothic novel – Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca (1938) – probably has something to do with it, but I’m always wanting more. Give me the ghostly, the haunted, the mysterious, and bring it dressed in pale colours, windswept and chilling. Bring it in gorgeous architecture, in castles and manors, in forests and fields and by the sea, with grey skies and constant rains.

The first novel I ever remember properly encountering and identifying as ‘Gothic’ was Northanger Abbey (1871) by Jane Austen. Then there’s Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre (1847), Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights (1847) and Gaston Leroux’s Le Fantôme de l’Opéra (1909), which are probably some of the most well known classics. Robert Louis Stevenson’s Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (1886) is on my list, although I haven’t read it yet. I’ve always known the peripheries of this story, but don’t actually know the finer points of the story, so I’d like to read it properly soon. Actually, add Dracula (1897) to that list as well because even though I’m familiar with the names of Count Dracula, Mina, Harker and Van Helsing, and the ins and outs of vampire lore, I haven’t actually read the novel itself. I’ve started it, but never delved in. Must fix this! Carmilla (1872) and Frankenstein (1818), too. For those who don’t know, Frankenstein is considered the first science fiction novel by many! And I adore Mary Shelly and studied her mother Mary Wollstonecraft for college, so I really must read the whole darn thing at some point. I also want to properly read The Picture of Dorian Gray (1891) as I love Oscar Wilde and I’ve seen the adaptation (2009) with Ben Barnes. I very much recommend that one, by the way!

As for more modern stories, I really want to check out Mexican Gothic (2020) by Silvia Moreno-Garcia and can’t wait to get enough time to actually sit down and read it. I’m also curious about Other Words for Smoke by (2019) Sarah Maria Griffin.

There are also a great many wonderful Gothic films and shows worth checking out. I loved Sleepy Hollow (1999) and Underworld (2003) when they first came out, both bringing a bit of action and horror into the genre. And when The Haunting of Hill House (2018) – based on the book by Shirley Jackson (1959) – first came out, I was immediately intrigued. Of course, I wasn’t able to start it straight away due to a busy schedule, but I loved the look of it. (I’ve since started it and it’s great.) The Haunting of Bly Manor (2020), based on Henry James’ The Turn of the Screw (1898) and other stories, dives right in with a woman telling a spooky tale from the 1980s in England and I’m already on episode three. I’m loving the aesthetics. I’m used to Gothic settings in the 1880s, and seeing it set in the 1980s is a great contrast. I love me some old-timey spookiness, but it’s great to see other decades enter the genre. Crimson Peak (2015) was particularly gruesome, but engrossing all the same. Guillermo del Toro is always good and his signature style really comes through in this one. The cast is also amazing! If you haven’t seen this one yet, I definitely recommend it. Be warned, though, things are twisty in this one! And then of course, Penny Dreadful (2014), which was cancelled much too soon.

I also really like Southern Gothic, which needs more love! True Blood (2008) is a great example, and I really enjoyed the show. When I think of Southern Gothic, the introduction to that show is the first thing that springs to mind. Winter’s Bone (2010) and Mudbound (2017) are also well worth a watch. The Gift (2000), is truly traumatising from what I remember, but it definitely fits the bill of a Southern Gothic! I also watched The Devil All the Time (2020) a couple of weeks ago and it was intense, but definitely engrossing. Justified (2010) could also probably be added to this list, but it’s more Western procedural in my mind. The show is based on Elmore Leonard’s books and it’s one of my top favourite series of all time either way, so if you haven’t seen it, you totally should! The cast is stellar.

There’s so many more books, films and shows that belong on this list, so this is by no means exhaustive!

Do you like Gothic – or a subgenre of Gothic – fiction or romance? Any recommendations? I’d love to know!

Show Review: The Man in the High Castle (2015)

I put off watching The Man in the High Castle for ages. It’s based on the classic novel of the same name by Philip K. Dick and it stars Rufus Sewell, whom I love soooooooo much (if you haven’t seen The Pillars of the Earth or Cold Comfort Farm, hop to it!), but, being Jewish, it’s nightmare fuel to see a world where the Nazis won. (Side note: if you want a great movie with central Jewish characters, I wholeheartedly recommend Defiance.) I found out though that The Man in the High Castle isn’t just alternative history, it’s science fiction, and the focus is heavily on the Resistance and fighting against all the horrors of racism and eugenics, so I decided to give it a go. The science fiction angle just sounded interesting. It’s slow to come, but it’s there, so keep an eye out for it. (The show is slow to bring in the sci-fi like Game of Thrones was slow to bring in the fantasy. It’s very political and character based.) And, seriously, epic casting all around: Alexa Davalos, Rupert Evans, Luke Kleintank, DJ Qualls, Joel de la Fuente, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa and, of course, Rufus. (And more awesome actors come in as the episodes go along. Lots of great guest stars! Lots of rep!)

The show starts off in the 1960s, so it’s a costume drama-dystopian-alternative history-science fiction show. The backstory is that, during WWII, the Axis powers won their separate theatres of war, and so the United States is divided up under German and Japanese control. The Nazis control the east, which is known as the ‘Greater Nazi Reich’, while the Japanese control the west, known as the ‘Japanese Pacific States’. There is also a small sliver of land between the two known as the Neutral Zone. The Neutral Zone is basically keeping the Cold War between the Axis powers from turning hot.

The show begins in San Francisco, which looks totally different, and follows Juliana Crain and Frank Frink. They’ve been together for years, but they worry about having children as Frank has Jewish ancestry and Jews are still in danger in the Pacific States. They try and live under the radar until one day Juliana’s sister Trudy appears, frantic. She tells Juliana that she has a way out. Before Juliana finds out what she means, Trudy’s killed by the police. Juliana then finds a film Trudy had in her possession that’s meant to be delivered to the Resistance. On the film is something seemingly impossible: a world where the Nazis lost and the Allied Powers won. (It’s not quite our world, but it’s close.)

Frank begs Juliana to go to the police, knowing how dangerous being involved with the Resistance is, but Juliana decides to go instead to meet with the person Trudy was trying to give the tape to. When she leaves, it triggers life changing events for everyone: Frank is promptly arrested, as are his family, and their Jewish heritage is used against them; an undercover man named Joe encounters Juliana on the road and, though he has his own agenda, quickly falls in love with her. At the same time, the high officials on both sides are keeping secrets and plotting against each other. We’re introduced to Obergruppenführer John Smith, a high ranking figure in New York who is trying to bring down the Resistance and find ‘the Man in the High Castle’, who knows something.

My favourite character, bar none, is Frank. He’s deeply loyal, loving, kind, and his character progression is intense. His devotion to Juliana and Ed, his best friend, make him so endearing, but he’s also just such an innately good person. I don’t want to spoil too much of his character arc, just know he’s amazing. I like Juliana, but I definitely struggle with some of her choices. Ed is a hero. While I never liked any of the bad guy characters, the actors who play the bad guys are brilliant in their roles, and Rufus Sewell’s character has a very well written storyline. There was one storyline that I really feared would happen, but it didn’t. Huge relief! Without spoilers, if a romance had gone one way, I would’ve peaced out so fast there would be cartoon dust clouds behind me.

Heads up, though: this whole show is tough to watch. There are some truly gruesome, twisted scenes that broke my heart. There’s a storyline where they follow a character with a medical condition and you get to hear all the Nazi eugenics bullshit and it made my skin crawl. The antisemitism is appalling, disgusting, wrong and hard to watch. There’s horrific racism aimed at Blacks by both sides that will make you furious and leave you crying. The scenes with all the propaganda, insignia and symbols are also very painful to watch. But, again, it’s showing how wrong all this is. How we should be free, how everyone should be equal, so if you can handle the grim storyline to watch good characters kick ass against awful racists, it has great payoff.

What I found especially interesting is how the historical events that really happened in history are basically switched for alternative events in the story’s history. It blends the events a little, but it’s pretty much Opposite World. And as the science fiction comes in and you learn the ‘secret’ of the Man in the High Castle, the show spins you on your head while leaving on the edge of your seat.

Show Review: Poldark (2015)

I’ve liked Poldark since it first aired and today started a rewatch. For anyone who hasn’t jumped on the Poldark bandwagon, may I kindly suggest you give it a go? It’s worth it! Pretty dresses and suits, lovely English scenery, and a continuous, ongoing social commentary.

The series (based upon a book series published between 1945-2002!) follows Ross Poldark, an officer in the British Army who returns home after three years in the Americas. Unfortunately, the woman he’d left behind, Elizabeth, is now about to marry his cousin Francis. Francis is instantly jealous of the history between Ross and Elizabeth, but Elizabeth insists she won’t change her mind. Heartbroken, Ross returns to his childhood home only to find that it’s in tatters, there’s no money left, the mine isn’t producing copper, and his father has passed while he was at war.

When he stumbles upon a young woman trying to defend her dog from a group of men who stole him for a dog fight, Ross saves Garrick, the dog, buys her dinner and learns that her name is Demelza and she’s being badly abused by her father and brothers. He offers her a job as his kitchenmaid and takes her and Garrick home. Ross and Demelza slowly bond, aided by his cousin Verity, who is constantly at Ross’ side to support him. (Verity is seriously such a gem!) At the Poldark house is also Judd and Prudie, two workers who used to work for Ross’ father and now work for him. They’re always drunk and rude, but they add great comic relief and warm up to Demelza over time. They are also loyal to Ross, despite their bickering.

The main complication and source of drama is the lack of money for Ross and those around him. He’s unlike the other lords who look down upon the poor and instead situates himself amongst his tenants, hiring on friends and strangers even when he has no money to give, simply because it’s the kind thing to do. It wins him allies amongst those who work for him and unlike the other mine workers and mine owners, Ross and his workers have a deep sense of loyalty to each other. The so-called elites, who want Ross to act just like them, hate him for not looking down on those they believe are worth less. (Seriously, the best scenes are Ross screaming his head off about inequality and how messed up the whole system is.)

A lot of the characters change throughout the series, but Demelza, Dr Enys, Verity and Morwenna are probably my standout favourites. Ross is an amazing character, but he can sometimes be immensely frustrating (especially where it concerns Elizabeth and Demelza). Elizabeth is a very well done character, as is Francis, though I found them both immensely frustrating from time to time. There’s also Dr Enys, Ross’ dear friend, who is lovely and doesn’t believe anyone should be a doctor for the money, but to help, something the other lords are quick to scoff at. The worst character George Warleggan, who is one of the mine owners, loves belittling others and waving his money around, and makes it his mission in life to ruin Ross.

This is definitely a series for anyone who loves costume dramas, but it’s also a good starter for newbies to the genre. The social commentary is great, the action scenes are gripping and intense, and the character development is on point. And, needless to say, the romance is perfection!

Show Review: Le Bazar de la Charité [2019]

STOP WHATEVER YOU’RE DOING AND WATCH THIS ONE. Le Bazar de la Charité is the best thing I have seen in a while. (I say that a lot, but somehow it always happens to be true??) But seriously, guys, this one is amazing. Now, that said, it is really hard to watch in parts, so go into it prepared, but it’s seriously worth it. It’s a historical costume drama set at the end of the nineteenth century, but this is definitely a show for everyone. It’s on Netflix as Bonfire of Destiny in most places, I think.

The miniseries follows the lives of three women affected by the (historical event) fire at the Bazar de la Charité in 1897. It was a horrible accident that killed over 120 people. It’s so heartbreaking. I read a bit of the case after watching episode one and learned that it was one of the first instances where dental records were used in forensics. I had no idea. My heart just breaks for all the victims.

The characters in the show are Adrienne de Lenverpré (played by Audrey Fleurot), Rose Rivière (played by Julie de Bona), Alice de Jeansin (played by Camille Lou), Victor Minville (played by Victor Meutelet), Jean Rivière (played by Aurélien Wiik) and Marc-Antoine de Lenverpré (played by Gilbert Melki). So basically, three women and the men in their lives. There’s a good number of background characters as well, and it’s wonderful how much character development they all get. But, back to the main ladies, Adrienne is trying to leave her husband Marc-Antoine, because he’s an absolute psycho; Alice is planning to marry Julien, a really, really rich man; and Rose, who’s Alice’s best friend, is married to the wonderful, lovely, fabulous Jean, and they’re planning on moving to New York. Now, here cometh the spoilers, ye have been warned.

The day of the fire, Adrienne was planning on leaving Marc-Antoine and running away with her daughter. She’s been sleeping with Hugues Chaville in secret and hates her husband (which is good, because he’s the worst). Marc-Antoine figures it out, unfortunately, and sends Adrienne’s daughter off to boarding school and then tells Adrienne that if she doesn’t stop the divorce proceedings, she’ll never see her daughter again. (Like I said, the worst.) He then sends Adrienne off to the bazaar and tells her to act normally. Instead, she gets into a carriage with Hugues and disappears. (I cheered.)

At the same time, Alice is trying to figure out how to tell Rose that she and Jean are heading off to New York. Jean leaves her at the bazaar so that she can talk to Rose about it. He then leaves. Inside, Alice and Rose bump into Victor. Well, for Rose it’s literal. Victor picks her pocket easily, but then hands the bracelet back, calling her ‘your highness’ and clearly flirting with her. Rose calls him a cad. THEIR CHEMISTRY, GUYS.

The fire starts soon after the bazaar opens and soon it’s engulfed the whole warehouse, which has only one exit with a rotating door. I’m warning you now, guys, this scene is horrible. Heartbreakingly, devastatingly horrible. A lot of people die in the fire and the scene is hard to watch.

In the chaos, Julien leaves Alice behind and pushes Rose into the flames. He gets out. Alice witness the whole thing. Victor, who had been outside, decides to be an absolute hero and begins bashing in through the wall of the warehouse, trying to make a hole to get the rest of them out. He manages it. VICTOR IS A WALL SMASHING PRINCE AND MY PERSONAL HERO, OKAY? He gets the firefighters into the warehouse and manages to save Alice. He then doubles back to save more. GUYS.

Outside, Adrienne returns to the warehouse with Hugues and decides to use the moment to fake her death and escape from her abusive husband.

After the fire, Hugues takes her in and she pushes him to help her get her daughter back. Alice, meanwhile, refuses to forgive her fiancé for leaving her to die and, you know, shoving her best friend into the fire (I HATE HIM SO MUCH). She tells her father what happened, but instead of being a good person about it, he tells Alice she has to marry Julien because they’re going to be broke and Julien is rich. (Lovely. /s) Alice isn’t remotely amused and starts meeting up with Victor in secret. And Rose, the poor thing, wakes up in hospital badly burned. When it was revealed that she lived, I straight up started crying. Rose begs a women to get her husband, but instead, the woman takes her home and pretends she’s Odette, the women’s daughter. (Don’t get me started.) The woman, Madame Huchon (played by Josiane Balasko), forces Rose to stay and threatens to lock her up if she tells anyone with the truth. Huchon wants Rose to pretend to be Odette and raise Tomas, Odette’s son. (Messed up doesn’t cover it.)

What follows are probably some of the most anxiety-inducing episodes I have seen on television in a while. It’s only eight episodes long and I binged it. It also has a really, really satisfying ending. (I promise!) The characters are so wonderfully done and all the women are just amazing and the romances are on point! Victor and Alice’s chemistry is off the CHARTS; Adrienne and Hugues work together so well trying to save Camille, the daughter; and Jean and Rose are just so precious. There’s also a great mystery to the whole thing that involves a lot of the background characters and just adds an extra layer of intensity to it all. Célestin Hennion (played by Stéphane Guillon), who’s helping Victor and starts investigating Adrienne’s death, is another wonderful character.

I 100% recommend this to everyone! But most especially if you love romance, history and drama all tangled together with a dash of politics and mystery. Oh, and of course, forbidden love!

Timeless (2016)

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Timeless is such an underrated gem of a show. It’s co-created by Eric Kripke, who also created Supernatural and Revolution (very fabulous shows, too). So gather round fellow history and time-travel buffs, this one is a gauntlet of perfection and representation. And when I say representation, I don’t just mean the beautiful, talented cast. The series itself highlights moments in history that are often overlooked and makes a point of focusing on under-represented groups and their contributions.

The show follows historian Lucy Preston, US Army Master Sergeant Wyatt Logan, and coder and programmer Rufus Carlin as they travel through history to stop supposedly crazed-killer Garcia Flynn from wreaking havoc and irrevocably changing the history of the world. The other central characters are Connor Mason, Denise Christopher and Jiya Marri, who all work with the ‘time team’ on their missions, usually staying in the present time and working on the science and bureaucracy that inevitably comes alongside running a time machine. The time machine, nicknamed the ‘lifeboat’, is one of two, with Flynn using the new fancy model (the ‘mothership’) and the Time Team using the original, older model. As their missions get more and more dangerous, the trio realises that the enemy isn’t who they thought and the danger is far worse than they realised. Friends become enemies, enemies become friends.  

The primary antagonists of the show are those who work for ‘Rittenhouse’, an organisation that spans centuries and controls everything from corporations to politics. Flynn’s objective is to destroy Rittenhouse and as the series unfolds, you slowly learn why. Rittenhouse also has a connection to Lucy, who begins delving into the mystery of her past after she accidentally erases her original history for a new one with an unintended, devastating consequence.

Despite the fact that the show only lasted two seasons (WHYYYYYYYYYYY) it covers a phenomenal number of historical moments: The Hindenburg disaster; the assassination of Abraham Lincoln; Las Vegas’ atomic tests, John F. Kennedy and Judith Campbell; Ian Fleming and Nazi Germany; the Alamo, Davy Crockett and James Bowie; the Shawnee tribe and chieftain Nonhelema; Katherine Johnson and the Space Race; Bonnie and Clyde; Sophia Hayden, the Chicago’s World Fair and H. H. Holmes; Ernest Hemingway and Josephine Baker; Marie Curie and Irène Joliot-Curie; Wendell Scott and the Darlington 500; Hedy Lamarr; the Salem Witch Trials; Robert Johnson; Alice Paul and Grace Humiston; Harriet Tubman and many, many more. For history buffs, this show is a straight up shot of awesome sauce.

The relationships of the show, like any show, are the bedrock of the series. The characterisation is great and develops well. The core trio are wonderful friends who have each other’s backs. There’s a burgeoning romance between Lucy and Wyatt, and Rufus and Jiya, and the core couples are adorable. Mostly, though, the friendships are the best part and take a more central role than the romantic relationships.

The show was famously cancelled twice, but ultimately got its finale to wrap up the storylines, so it doesn’t end on a cliffhanger, thankfully! I wish we got more than two seasons, but the two seasons of absolutely wonderful, so get watching!

 

**gifs found online, not mine

Show Review: Peaky Blinders (2013)

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I’m late to the Peaky Blinders fun, but I’ve finally joined in! I’ve been hearing about this show for years and tried to start it a few times, but I think it’s one of those ones you have to be in the right mood for.

Basically, the show follows the Peaky Blinders, a family-run gang in Birmingham, England, in 1919. So it’s just after WWI has ended and a lot of the characters are veterans suffering from PTSD. (The PTSD side plot is so heartbreaking.) The central plot focuses on the Shelby family who run the Peaky Blinders: Tommy, Arthur, John, Ada and Aunt Polly. There’s also the new barmaid Grace, who has a lot of secrets; Chester Campbell, who works for the Royal Irish Constabulary; and Freddie, Tommy’s childhood friend-now-enemy who’s in love with Ada, Tommy’s little sister. When the Peaky Blinders acquire stolen cargo that gets the attention of Winston Churchill, Campbell shows up in Birmingham and everything goes wrong.

Firstly, this show is gorgeous. The cinematography is gorgeous, the costumes are gorgeous, the scenery is gorgeous. Fabulous all around. I really want flapper fashion to come back in and this series is filled with it. Another highlight is definitely the soundtrack! It’s amazing. The theme is ‘Red Right Hand’ by Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds, which is an exquisite choice, but every scene is wonderfully scored. I’m just getting more impressed with each episode.

Cillian Murphy, Sam Neill and Iddo Goldberg are always great in everything (seriously, I adore them all), but I’m utterly blown away by Annabelle Wallis. Her singing takes my breath away! I always feel like the mark of a great singer is one who can sound perfect without any background music and she can. Her songs are haunting and melancholic. Amazing.

I’m not finished with season one, but I have a feeling I’m going to be marathoning this throughout this lockdown. (I’m almost done with my Shameless rewatch, too.) I definitely recommend this to fans of costume dramas!

Hope everyone is safe and well! ♥♥♥

gifs found online, not mine*