Welcome to the first of my ‘month in review’ posts – I’m planning a lot of exciting new features for my blog this year, and just wanted to get the ball rolling with this. It’s a chance for me to share some of the historical things I’ve been reading, watching and listening to, and see what you think too! Let me know in the comments what you’ve been engaging with this month, I’d love to hear your suggestions.
Anne with an E – Season 3 (TV Series)
I’ve waxed lyrical before here on how much I love Moira Walley-Beckett’s adaptation of L. M. Montgomery’s wonderful Anne of Green Gables. If you love period dramas to stick to the book by the letter, you might be a little confused by this version of Anne, portrayed so beautifully by Amybeth McNulty. But I think even the most staunch purists will love it: Walley-Beckett has really captured the spirit of Montgomery’s books about Anne Shirley, and it honestly is so joyful. This is (unfortunately – please Netflix no!) the final season of the show, and it continues the themes of addressing socially important themes without being preachy or anachronistic. Issues surrounding feminism, racism and class are all weaved into the storylines in thought-provoking ways.
One of the most compelling storylines in this series is the way Walley-Beckett chose to address First Nation history: Anne visits a Mi’kmaq camp on Prince Edward Island and befriends Ka’kwet, who shares Anne’s spirit of imagination and love of the world around her. A darker side of Canadian history is shown as Ka’kwet is taken away to a residential school and we see both her and her family’s experience of this. Questions of identity abound in this series, in particular with Ka’kwet’s harrowing experience of her identity being forcibly removed, and her resilience in trying to escape this monstrosity. We also follow Anne’s emotional search to know more about her parents.
This show is truly one of my favourite adaptations of a book of all time. This series delves deeper into the roles expected of Anne and her female friends, as well as the romance between Anne and her academic rival-turned-friend, the lovely Gilbert Blythe. Whilst I love Andrew Davies’ Pride and Prejudice because it stays so true to the book, I love Anne with an E because of the way the show so gets the main character and explores the many sides to her character through new characters and storylines. I binge-watched this show and am sad I didn’t wait longer to enjoy it… but I guess I’ll just have to return to the beginning!
Watch the trailer for Anne with an E here and find it on Netflix.
The Aeronauts (film)
Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones star together again (how wonderful were they in The Theory of Everything?) in this film about a meteorologist and an aeronaut who reach heights no human has ever accomplished before in a hot air balloon. Set in Victorian London, Redmayne’s character James Glaisher (a real meteorologist) is laughed out of the Royal Society for suggesting that weather might be predictable. He teams up with flamboyant Amelia Wren (played by Jones and based on a number of female aeronauts) to take their record-breaking ride in the skies and gather data on the weather. Whilst Glaisher is dealing with being taken seriously and following his scientific instincts, Wren is suffering from flashbacks to her husband’s untimely death in their balloon.
I really enjoyed this film and found it quite inspirational and thought-provoking. Testing the limits of human endurance, reaching further than ever before and having true belief in an idea are themes that encompass the whole film and make it very heart-warming to watch. The cinematography and effects in it were absolutely stunning, with the sequences in the sky absolutely spell-bounding. Definitely a different and fascinating period drama film to try!
Little Women (film)
How could I not begin the year with going to see Greta Gerwig’s highly anticipated adaptation of Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women? Ever since the casting was first announced and I found out Gerwig was writing and directing the film I have been dying to see it. It certainly did not disappoint, and I found that Gerwig breathed new life into the novel.
Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love the 1994 adaptation that saw Winona Ryder steal the show as Jo March, and I really enjoyed the more recent 2017 BBC television adaptation, even if I did feel like the third and final episode rushed elements of the story a little. What I really liked with Gerwig’s take on Little Women was the way she changed the way the story was told: without spoiling anything for those who haven’t seen it yet, the film sees two concurrent timeframes. The first timeframe follows the March girls when they are younger, growing up across the way from Laurie (Timothée Chalamet was born to play this role!), in a smaller world of home. The second follows the sisters when they are older and all four have their own lives: Jo as a writer, Amy learning to paint in Europe, Meg as a wife and mother and Beth at home. Some of the most touching moments in the film were watching Beth play Mr Laurence’s piano.
What was special about this was that Gerwig made me actually want Amy and Laurie to end up together. Reading the novel and watching the two adaptations I mentioned earlier has never made me feel their connection. I always like the character of Friedrich Bhauer, but not as much as the bond between Jo and Laurie. Yet Amy is given more characterisation and we see her grow up the most. The feminist tones of the novel are brought out even more, and I felt inspired by lines uttered by all four sisters: they all have storylines that are given enough time and development in their own right. There is also a wonderful twist at the end which Gerwig said she did in homage to Alcott’s original feelings about the ending of the novel – I won’t give it away, but it worked so beautifully.
The spirit of the novel is captured masterfully, and I really feel it deserves to sweep the boards in award season. Watch the trailer here and find it in the cinema now.
City of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert (novel)
And I did do some reading this month, not just period drama watching! And this was a great book that I stumbled upon whilst having a look through historical fiction kindle books that transported me to 1940s New York and the world of theatre through the character of Vivian Morris.
The book is narrated by an older Vivian, looking back on her life: one which completely defies everything expected of her, including what she expects of herself. Vivian began as a nineteen-year-old college dropout with no idea what she wants to make of herself, who is sent to the big city to live with her Aunt Peg, the proprietor of a slightly crumbling playhouse called The Lily. A fabulous and complex cast of characters weave in and out of Vivian’s life as she recounts love, lust and female independence over decades, spanning war and peace and everything in between.
Something I loved about this book was nothing was predictable. A lot of things I thought that would happen either did not or were not as significant to the story as I thought they might be. I also just really enjoyed Gilbert’s way of storytelling, which was is very vivid and colourful. Vivian was a really interesting character who did both awful and spectacular things, as well as questioning what true love and friendship really mean and how they manifest.
What’s the best book you’ve read this month, or film or TV series you’ve watched? Please share all your history-related recommendations with me – both fictional and non-fictional – below!