Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Of Christmas ~ A.D. 2014

"Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel," which is translated, "God with us." 

"Of the increase of His government and peace there will be no end, upon the throne of David and over His kingdom, to order it and establish it with judgment and justice from that time forward, even forever. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this."

~ Matt. 1:23, Isaiah 9:7 ~

(And, as you can tell, I had all sorts of adventures getting this post up. Date mix-ups, etc. I do apologize.... Suffice to say, here it is at last! ;))

Hoping you all have a most wonderful, blessed Christmas celebration tomorrow!

Merry Christmas everyone!!!

Friday, December 19, 2014

Movie Review ~ North and South: BBC ‘04 with Richard Armitage and Daniela Denby-Ashe

I’ve decided! It’s high time I reviewed my favorite period drama—the ’04 North and South. I’ve actually been planning this all year and (given that about November-time I traditionally start wanting to watch it anyway and its being just over one year since my ‘72 N&S review) everything fits together quite perfectly!

The ’04 North and South and I have a long history together. I’ve seen it three times in one month and I’ve gone several years without seeing it at all. (As a note, I do not recommend the three times in one month approach. Even the very best, most excellently well told story is hard pressed to keep its mystery after three consecutive viewings in a short period. Two is perfect and delightful.) Recently it had been about two years as I had thought it would be best to let it sit. To let myself sit. And, due to various causes and what with one thing and another (seeing the ’72 N&S, the ’95 P&P, the ’09 Emma and so forth) during the sitting duration I was even beginning to wonder if it was all I’d remembered.

Yet I had this review I’d been wanting to write and I really did want to see it again. So just before Thanksgiving—gifted with an open afternoon and with Christmas knitting in hand and keeping one eye on the fire—I settled down to some reevaluation. 

And to make a long story short (and as you can already tell from the opening sentences), the mystery and thrill are entirely there again. The characters…the acting…the beauty and depth of the story! It’s all utterly amazing.

A splendiferous cover…

This version (for certain delightful reasons) always makes me want to go over and reread the book again. The story itself is weighty, but I wouldn’t call it either morbid or depressing. 

With the weightiness, though, there is a dark atmosphere that’s perfectly captured here in the very streets, mill, rooms, and lighting throughout.

The wardrobes are gorgeous…often somber, but beautiful. And (with the one exception of her dinner dress, which is entirely too low) I absolutely love all Margaret’s dresses.

Their beauty—and how they perfectly and flawlessly meld with her character—is really beyond description.

The casting is brilliant, with everyone very much in period. I think the characters most changed from the book were the Higgins family and—as I actually love what they chose to do—I’m quite happy with the adjustment.

A twinkly-eyed Higgins

(Mrs. Thornton is also particularly outstanding)

But the principal characters. The conflict! Well, let’s simply say there is a reason why this is my favorite period drama and a top favorite rendition of one of my favorite books. :)

First there’s Margaret…with her regal beauty, her gentleness, her loyalty.

And there’s Mr. Thornton. A gentleman, yes—but first, foremost, and foundationally a true man. A man strong, passionate, honorable and upright.

This adaptation captures all the themes of the story magnificently. There’s a deep beauty and a deep integrity in North & South. There are undercurrents. There is reticence. The beyond places are reached where words—weakening—fall short to the ground, growing impossible. There is intensity—small moments catapulting to enormous tension. There is rich foreshadowing. 

*And warning: from here on there will be spoilers*

Besides all the direct dialogue between Thornton and Margaret themselves, one thing I noticed this time was how often a conversation (not gossip) between two people illuminates a third person (rather than everything being internalized within that other person’s scenes).

So we see Margaret’s imperious steadfastness in Thornton’s conversation with his mother after the first proposal.

We see his incredible covering and protection of her (Margaret) after Leonards death during the few short words of her second interview with the constable.

The man to man friendship between Thornton and Higgins is another highlight of the story and beautifully developed. 

A third element I love is how they chose to focus on hands throughout: hands showing who and what each character is, what they stand for, what they choose to do or sacrifice, and also the growth and change of a relationship between two people. (And then—of course—in the ending we have a stunning culmination of the imagery.) It’s all superbly done, flowing directly and seamlessly from the tone of the story.

For me, North & South is real. It’s about real life where a man can have pride, yet isn’t too proud to accept help from his wife. (And incidentally, I love how Gaskell inverts that plot point!) 

Thornton wanted to marry her when she had nothing and he everything. In the end, (money-wise) it’s reversed, but neither even thinks of it. With the ongoing tensions of truth, honesty, loyalty, protection and change running through the story, their relationship has left any mere financial quibbles far behind.

Reading or seeing the story I’m always challenged by Margaret—a true and thorough lady in the fullest sense of the word. Yet an imperfect heroine, her shaping is painful and powerful through the story. It’s the great uncertainties of life that shape us most, and also the sufferings—which is hard.

So much of this—the themes of the entire story—are perfectly and brilliantly captured in the ending of the film so I’ll go ahead and discuss the two together.

First, the train appears throughout—beginning and ending the film, tying it completely and richly together with its portrayal of continuation and change. While the ending (with the kissing at a public place) may (or may not) be historically accurate, from a story perspective it’s dazzling. (And here a connected thought: if it wasn’t improper for Lennox to escort her north initially as a friend of the family, then I don’t think it would necessarily be improper for another thorough gentleman—and her promised husband—to do the same. Apparently it’s a fairly short trip and his mother would definitely be present to receive her in Milton.)

But back to the train… In the beginning, while hoping to remain settled, Margaret finds herself uprooted to a new and completely foreign world. And with that catalyst (even as she tries to remain fixed within herself) the ground is pulled from beneath her by the inescapable rushing forward of life. Everything she had deemed simple and immovable—her world, her entire family, even her own mind, opinions, and (at last) emotions—are caught in that great unstoppable impetus.

From the beginning there’s a ripeness and maturity about her. Yet with that softness there’s also an inflexibility—a resistant immobility—dyed into her very character and desire for a solidity of place, for the clearly delineated safety found in habitual routine and a clearly defined social world. There’s safety in stagnation…while change can involve both danger and heartache.

But real change generally comes unasked and unlooked for.

Margaret learns she cannot box herself and she cannot box others in closely defined categories. Yet one of the greatest things I love about the story is that—changing—she doesn’t lose who she is. Lovely and gracious, she’s still Margaret, but—growing in humility—she learns also an active, diligent rest.

So comes the train station at the end. The station—that stopping place in the forward push of life and progress—the stopping place with the dizzying potential for a full face, 180-degree turn. The stopping place encapsulating those few, tangible, epic—fully historic—moments in life that completely reorient us, changing everything. Yet again.

And arriving at such a stopping place, Margaret reaches forward to the future—finding tried and tested strength to lean on, finding again a field of fulfillment and labor…

So… yes. North & South: one of my favorite stories—romantic, powerful, beautiful, and entirely magnificent!!

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Advent: The Year of Our Lord 2014

Advent: the burning, longing, laborious, questioning anticipation of the coming of the King. Advent: the time of looking forward again to the mighty celebration of the springing of light into darkness—into a darkness so thick it could be felt—tasted, heavy and bitter—a darkness leaving permanent stains of scarlet blood-guilt.

The King has come. The dragon-slayer conquered and He has turned the scarlet of His people to the white of snow. He came in trial and travail. He came in real, physical, agonizing birth. There was blood at that beginning and there was blood at the agonizing, excruciating end—the end that was really the stunning beginning where the world turned right side up and was made forever new.

From beyond the beginning of time He had determined and looked forward with iron resolve to that coming, ordering it with a love beyond the foundations of the world. Throughout the ages God gave His word, the faithful among His people clinging to it, and in the fullness of time all—every last iota—was fulfilled completely in Christ, the final word, the Word made flesh. 

And in the fullness of His coming, slaying the dragon, He brought peace. Yet peace is not ‘safety’. The worlds have been turned right side up and they are still shaking with the impact. The clay models of fallen men are turning on their heads round us and precarious territory lies everywhere. 

He has come. The work is utterly finished. At the same time we are waiting again—waiting for the final culmination. We await it as warriors. Our King stood alone in the fiery breach. He struck the death-blow and He commands His people to step out in faith—to follow Him in battle. And through all the fighting He gives us a great longing—a longing that can only be satiated with more of Himself. A burning longing blending and twined inseparably with a fathomless joy.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Announcing....A New Blog!

To make a general announcement, I recently started a new blog whereLord willingI'll be able to host some read-alongs and further literary discussions! At the moment, I have a read-along for Jane Austen's Persuasion scheduled to begin January 5 and you're all invited! The blog is here. It's separate from this one, so if you're already following here and are interested, you'll need to do a separate "follow" over there (either with Google followers, email, or bloglovin'). Also, even if you're not able to join the read-along, you're more than welcome to follow the blog, enjoy the posts and even join in the conversation! 

I've posted some buttons for the Persuasion read-along here. I'd love to know what you think and if you're planning to join us.... And I hope you're all having a lovely Monday!

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