Henry Cavill, humor, Loki, Netflix, reviews, Tom Hiddleston, Witcher
I ran across The Witcher on Netflix recently. I am a Never-Gamer type of person (sorry gamers, no offense) and I haven’t read the books, so I didn’t know what to expect. If you can stomach the violence, the show is as guilty a pleasure as Nacho Cheese Doritos dipped in queso, a perfect blend of eye candy, tried-and-true clichés of heroic fantasy, hammy acting, and writing that slaloms wildly between bingeworthy cheez and indigestible lead balloon.
If you are concerned about spoilers do not read further. You’ve been warned.
The main attraction is Henry Cavill as Geralt in the title role. A “witcher” is a mutant enhanced to be able to kill monsters. Never mind that the mutant trope is weirdly borrowed from superhero comics, or that Geralt’s world has medieval technology– but also advanced knowledge of genetics. (Actually, scratch the “advanced.” I have only now remembered Stregobor’s line that girls born during eclipses have “interior mutations.”)
Henry’s hairdo is one part Fabio, one part Legolas from Lord of the Rings. But I shall not cavil (verb, intransitive, “to make petty or unnecessary objections”). The camera serves him up to his eager viewers like a splendid Thanksgiving turkey, pectoral muscles a-bulging, golden-hued and glistening. (As a vegetarian I long ago gave up turkey, but in this case meat is really the only apt metaphor.) He gets to be wryly laconic, less of a stiff than he was as Superman. Despite the excessive gore, Henry really shines in the action scenes, moving fluidly yet giving the impression of immense strength. And, the show-runners seem to know that we want to see his charms displayed to best advantage. He obligingly soaks in a bathtub (apparently this is also a thing in the games), and in my favorite scene, the camera zooms in on his shapely rear end, clad in clingy black faux-leather.
The first episode, about his encounter with a woman bandit named Renfri, had me scratching my head. So…the Witcher goes around ridding the earth of monsters, but somehow the people detest him enough to stone him and run him out of town? Never mind that he just killed the huge spider-thing haunting their swamp, plus the gang of bandits that were hanging about the pub scowling and brandishing weapons. He is a sickening mutant, remember? A tall, physically godlike, golden-eyed mutant. Yeeessss. I mean, Yeccch!
In spite of this silliness, I quite liked the way Episode One handled the inevitable sex scene with Renfri. The kiss between her and Gerant was convincing, Renfri did NOT bare all, and the director did NOT cut immediately to a scene of them going at it like rods and pistons. There is some gratuitous female nudity in the wizard Stregobor’s magic garden, but it’s tastefully done. I am looking forward to seeing more of Henry’s magically delicious tush.
Just when I was about to quit my Netflix subscription, since I’ve seen nothing there of interest since Bridgerton, I found myself…beWitched.
And then there’s Tom Hiddleston as Loki on Disney Plus. Now, this ought to be the perfect palate cleanser after the feast that is Gerant. Brains and banter instead of brawn and ballast. Light on his feet and gracile yet masculine, with a 32-inch waist and a bulging cranium. The thinking woman’s superhero.
I have to admit that Loki is disappointing. Maybe it’s because I have only seen one Thor movie, and I am woefully ignorant of CinemAsgard and its resident Trickster’s machinations. The plot has Loki running afoul of creepy cosmic Time Police and meeting various alternate-reality versions of himself–even a female Loki (Sophia di Martino), who seems to be the only character with any idea what’s happening. I lost track (though I lasted a good three episodes past the Long Suffering Husband), and puzzled over the plot. How did Mobius (Owen Wilson with extra-crooked nose, playing himself) get a working TemPad so that he could return from the Void to the TVA? Wasn’t the whole point that none of them had a TemPad and they were trapped in the Void? And then they got one, but… everyone wanted to stay and battle the big cloud monster with glowing red eyes.
By the end, I was keenly reminded of old Star Trek and Dr. Who plots (Time Lords! Low-tech monsters with glowing red eyes! Clipboards! Good Spock meets Evil Alternate Universe Spock!). Even Hiddles couldn’t keep me happy. His dyed black hair isn’t particularly flattering, and he looks very pale. Though it’s fun to watch Loki stuck in a 2-minute Groundhog-Day-from-Hell with an angry woman who pummels him until he admits to utter narcissism and Jackass-style practical jokes, I am used to a diet of Hiddles as Coriolanus, Henry IV, and the Night Manager. Sorry, but this show does not measure up. The writing in Witcher is better!!!
My sole consolation was Hiddles in his slim-fit TVA suit and tie, looking like he’s ready to dance.
The turkey bit is inspired!
Thanks. I spent ten minutes trying to think up a non-turkey food metaphor that would work as well, but I finally gave up in the face of all that juicy breast meat.
Linnet, you are always a joy to read. So elegant, witty, and perceptive – and salacious (in a thoroughly ladylike way) in your appreciation of male beauty. I don’t quite follow your taste on this occasion though. He’s too pecked-up (and he’s not even Irish!).
But then I am a woman who has just spent a happy 5 minutes with white correctional fluid creating a snowy white cravat on a photo of Gregory Peck in a sober dark suit. Thus accoutred, he has become one of my favourite Regency heroes. So each to her own!
Thank you Jane, always a pleasure to hear from you! Henry’s not really my type–he’s too perfect, too symmetrical, too ample, the Marilyn Monroe of male film stars. I have to admit I am not immune to such bounty, but a little goes a long way.
Pectorals aside, very few men could hold a candle to Gregory Peck : )
Sorry Loki is disappointing! I have yet to give it a try and I will for Hiddles and Gugu Mbatha-Raw but I won’t get my hopes up, then…
As for The Witcher – mostly eye-candy, eh? I have considered it before but not sure I have the patience… LOL on your coining of the new verb ‘to cavil’!
I didn’t coin it, Esther–it’s a real verb!
The Witcher actually gets better or at least more interesting with later episodes. The female characters start to come into their own. My opinion that the writing is better than in “Loki” has been confirmed–despite the overall goofiness and occasional howlers. And it’s often quite beautiful to look at, though the gore is annoying. The female characters in “Loki” are very good too–Gugu and also Wunmi Mosaku as Hunter B-15.
You learn something new every day! Had no idea it was an existing verb. 🙂
Thanks for the Loki heads up. Yeah, I’d heard Wunmi Mosaku and Gugu were good.
Jane Dunn said:
This is not the right place for this post but it’s my only way to contact you – I can’t wait to read your eroto-sensitive, Regency-infused, intelligence on Bridgerton series 2. I shall hold my counsel until the Grand Arbiter of Outrageous Romance has spoken!
Oh no, please do share your thoughts on Bridgerton! Would so love to read them.
Jane Dunn said:
Oh gosh! Where to start? I’ve long given up on expecting any historical authenticity of any kind but where, in the first Bridgerton, the multi-racial casting, Handelian arrangements of pop songs, technicolour Disney fun was refreshing and exciting, in Season 2 it appears more cynical and stale, an exercise in ticking boxes. Even the quirky Eloise is now just irritating in her schoolgirl tics and the Featheringtons have become so exaggerated they are pantomime Dames and Ugly Sisters (in the British tradition) – even darling Penelope has lost her point now that she’s exposed as Lady Whistledown and we see her nipping to the printers twice, pretending to be her Irish maid!
Through both series Jonathan Bailey as Lord Bridgerton has been the most sexy, smouldering actor on offer (it’s in the eyes) and he really can act, but I was unmoved by his love interest, Kate Sharma. However, I do think they managed the building of sexual tension and consummation-deferred pretty well. But there were great longeurs in the middle episodes with lots of lying about alone in steamy baths/rumpled sheets, gazing moodily into the middle distance. When they finally succumb to lust the sex scenes are less woodenly choreographed than between Daph and Hastings, but still have a glossy-chocolate-boxy-ad vibe rather than real unbridled passion, with surprise and laughter mixed in with the breathless ecstasy.
The only touching bits are the young Anthony Bridgerton’s shocked panic and despair when his father dies in front of him, and his and his mother’s grief afterwards. Both these actors can truly act well. Jonathan (Anthony) Bailey is good at being distraught! Although for a romantic lead he’s really quite small and boyish.
But finally, the dramatically unforgivable thing is how the writers threw away the chance of making the much-anticipated arrival of the Featherstone heir the moment when a real humdinger of a flashy, gorgeous, villain enters the fray – a real man of action who has come back from the war/prospecting in S.America/being ruthlessly entrepreneurial in India, whatever. These exquisite Bridgerton boys and their friends, looking for a purpose in life beyond carousing, gaming and whoring, are really shaken by these heroic manly types who have actually done something with their lives. Instead we are given a really meh man, tall and weedy and without character – what does he add, when he could have added the zest, the fire, the competition?
But I did watch it to the end, so it must have something (other than the smouldering eyes of Lord Bridgerton)!
Jane Dunn said:
Oh, Linnet, reading through what I dashed off last night I am sorry how negative I sound about Bridgerton2. In fact there was much to love: the general effervescent good-heartedness of it; the Sharma sisters relationship and their beautiful Mama; brotherly love too – the Bridgerton boys are great together, ragging each other and yet supportive and affectionate. I’ve always loved the Bridgerton mama. And wonderful Lady Danbury, even though she so over-acts she’s close to losing her charm.
Perhaps the dramatic highlight is the croquet game, which is psychologically revealing and fun. Also lovely to see Phoebe again and her baby (but how exciting it would have been to have a cameo too of the sexy Duke, being husbandly and fatherly.)
I think I just missed any dramatic tension or twists in the story, anything that turned the narrative in an unexpected way. Hence my longing for the Featherington heir to be a swaggering catalyst of a character. Or something thrilling/troublesome to come out of the closet about Kate Sharma’s parentage. But no.
However, as I said, I did binge watch it after all!
Apologies for the delay in my reply, Jane. I have been laid low with Covid but am beginning to recover. Reading both of your reactions has been very entertaining and almost inspires me to reach for the remote in my hotel in Rome (which I have dubbed “Hotel Lazaretto,” as a number of us from my tour group are convalescing here). So far I have felt too tired to watch TV and find reading more soothing, but soon I will be ready for the all the delightfully excessive pantomime effects and bright colors of Bridgerton! I noticed in the first series the fairytale quality of the sets and clothing–how all the flowers were in bloom and the colors seemed saturated. This seemed to me a way of acknowledging that the stories are fantasies designed to give pleasure, without overmuch worry about historical details.
From the start I have thought that it would be delightful to see the stiff-necked Lord Bridgerton fall in love. Having just watched the trailer, I chuckled to see his wet shirt scene à la Colin Firth! And if there are fewer sex scenes, and those that do appear are less wooden, that is welcome news. In the prior series I thought that the sex scenes were rather perfunctory and even a bit dull, except for the welcome sight of Regé-Jean Page’s gorgeous body.
Agreed about the Bridgerton mama–she is perfectly cast!
Jane Dunn said:
You are in Rome, Triple Hurrah! And what a divine time to be there.
But you have COVID!!!!! What an absolute pain. I am so sorry. I hope it doesn’t take up all your precious time when you should be gazing, swooning, drinking coffee, flirting, dreaming of Caesar.
And Bridgerton is far too garish and robust for your sensitive eyes at this time. Beautiful pale warm stone, sparkling fountains and foaming (natural) blossom is about the limit of what anyone can take post-Covid.
I do hope you recover quickly enough to get some real Roman Holiday. Darling Gregory where are you?
And return home inspired.
I have watched Bridgerton 2 at last. My impressions were different–I found it much more dramatically engaging than the first series, which seemed light as a Featherington, so to speak. Indeed there was so much sturm und drang that it almost went beyond what is proper to the genre. Bridgerton ought to be a Comedy of Manners, not a Douglas Sirk melodrama. Comedy of Manners does not rule out serious emotions (such as the bee sting incident, very well acted as you say). Yet the whole sisterly conflict between Edwina and Kate seemed overwritten, there was too much weeping and arguing and old griefs, and Edwina’s character was rather unpleasant–so ready to be a viscountess, and not particularly in love with Anthony, but then so disdainful when he explained his vision of marriage, which was perfectly normal for the time but happened not to include a declaration of mad love. Edwina’s anger at Kate was understandable in some ways, but it still seemed unjustified to me, and cruel. The show is too obviously didactic when it comes to the feminist points, and yet I was sad to see Eloise written as such an awkward character. There is a touch of Mary Bennett in P&P in Eloise, and that is all wrong. In fact she’s one of my favorite characters in the series and I was glad to see she had more of a storyline, but did it have to be so painful?
I enjoyed the sexual tension between Antony and Kate. I thought their chemistry was far superior to the couple in the previous series, despite the Duke’s glorious looks (and where was the Duke, anyway?) I appreciated the slow buildup and the way the sex scenes were handled more judiciously. I liked it that the conflict between the two came from their being essentially the same type: bossy older siblings who like to manage everything and then pride themselves on being devoted to “duty.” They recognized each other as equals, in a way.
I adore Lady Danbury beyond all measure and will hear nothing said against her : )
As for the Featherington storyline, I quite liked the way it worked out. Was Featherington really attracted to the older woman Portia, or was he merely a con artist who thought he needed to be on her sweet side until he absconded with the money? Portia (the delightful Polly Walker) is a most entertaining villainess, but she has a heart after all, and has turned out to be no fool.
I felt sorry for Penelope who has become quite a complex character as well, torn between loyalty and her refusal to give up the scandal sheet, which is the only thing of her own that she really has. But what happened to Colin? Why on earth did he say what he said at the end?? It seemed most ungentlemanly. And I could have done without the whole Miss Thompson visit.
All in all, a bit too much Downtown Abbey soap opera. It could have used more witty repartée and fewer weepy scenes. I swear I was going to scream if there was one more heartfelt talk between Mama Bridgerton and Antony. But I binge-watched it too. I am ready for the next Season, how about you?
Jane Dunn said:
What a treat on a Sunday night to find your take on Bridgerton 2. My friends and sisters have largely given up (the longeurs of the middle episodes did for them) and I am desperate to discuss it with someone – and no one better than you. I do think you make a good point about it being much more psychologically nuanced than B 1. The two bossy, dutiful, eldest siblings do have an energetic equality that is attractive and plausible. Like you, I loved the slow burn of desire and deferred consummation (stifled sigh or what!) but I found Kate’s permanently suspicious scowl stopped me warming to her (and I am a bossy eldest of 8 myself!).How right too to point out the tiresomeness of Edwina’s mega-sulk against a sister who had done her best, and her graceless contempt for Anthony’s honest (and entirely proper for the time) expectations of marriage.
I so agree about how the writers have thrown away the possibilities of Eloise, the favourite character in B 1. Clunky feminist lecturing (chuck in some Wollstonecraft), physically awkward and gauche and rude to everyone – Mary Bennett indeed.
My main cavil is about the lack of dramatic momentum to the story (where is Georgette Heyer when we need her?). I think there were multiple writers and an integrated vision was missing, beyond the well-worn trope of “I hate you, I hate you, No I love you!” The middle episodes do drag and really lacked some clever twist or surprising peripeteia. And I really do think if the Featherington heir had been someone dishy, dynamic, desirable (and a conman) it would have added some much needed excitement outside the predictable plod of the two main characters towards consummation. And yes, Mama Featherington, who deserves a bit of fun, could have tumbled onto the sofa with such a gorgeous villain and we would all have been cheering her on. As it was that totally uninteresting and unsexy heir was just a twerp!
And making sweet Colin suddenly and uncharacteristically boorish and cruel is not the exciting twist I mean.
Despite all these reservations, Yes, I shall be watching B 3. Benedict is squaring up to be a pretty sexy, possibly more complex (bisexual?) character and I do hope to see Penelope, whom I love, and Eloise given better parts to play.
Thank you Jane for your observations! Kate’s scowl was a good match for Anthony’s, was it not? I found myself thinking how much more beautiful she was than her “diamond” sister-her height alone made her stand out and she has beautiful eyes, if perhaps a supercilious expression in some moods–I grant that. At first I thought she was taller than Anthony, which would have made things quite interesting but it turned out not to be the case. “Mega-sulk” is the perfect mot for Edwina’s behavior!
Now as to the Featherington heir, I didn’t react as negatively as you, but I agree that he was oddly lacking in villainous intensity and therefore not particularly sexy. The actor seemed to be underplaying the role, but maybe that was his instinct in a show where everyone else is so over-the-top. It only got interesting when he started acting all sweet on Mama Featherington. If he had been a dark alpha male type, able to turn on charm and threats by turns, that would have been a much more interesting challenge for Portia. But he fell prey to her scheme to entrap him. So yes indeed, that was bungled. We could have had a much more intriguing match of wits and wills between those two, and a breakout star.
How right you are to point to Benedict as a potential lead man! I’ve always thought he was very good looking, in fact, the most handsome of the Bridgerton males. They seem to have dropped his bisexuality in this series, but it made him more interesting. That said, Anthony really surprised me in this season with his pressure-cooker passion and his murmurings of seduction, impure thoughts and erotic torment! Jonathan Bailey deserves credit for that excellent performance.
Jane Dunn said:
Completely concur about Jonathan Bailey and his rather thrilling projection of erotic obsession and wicked gleam – and fine acting skills. (He’s in the West End at the moment in an erotic triangle called Cock) In Bridgerton 1 I thought him the most attractively smouldering male (Jean-Rege’s Duke had great presence and physique but did not smoulder) but in B 2 Benedict really shows what an amused and amusing – therefore sexy – man he is. He’s tall too and has that advantage over his rather more diminutive older brother, Ant.
I know I bang on about the lack of dramatic momentum over 8 hours, but the other possibility the writers missed, in my humble opinion, was Kate Sharma’s parentage. Great scope for some extra drama if her birth mother appeared as a disruptive force. Actually her step-mother’s awful family did give a chance for Anthony to be wonderfully gallant and gentlemanly in defence of their bullied daughter (although his noble-minded intervention lost Edwina and her family a life-changing fortune!).
But Linnet, if you’re looking for some more first-rate BBC period drama then check out today’s Guardian review of the new series of Gentleman Jack. I have yet to catch it but it’s a grand woman playing the swashbuckling romantic lead, swirling coat-tails, top hat, silver-topped cane and all! The endless allure of the Alpha heroic figure!
“Cock”?! That’s hilarious! I just looked it up and found that Jonathan is an Olivier winner…in case we had any lingering questions about his talent. Great to hear that he treads the boards.
Jane, you make an excellent point about Kate’s birth mother. I wondered about this too, and even whether there was some subtle suggestion of Kate’s lesser status in her darker skin. Considering the color-blind aspects of Bridgerton, it’s probably a coincidence, but that kind of bigotry is present in Indian culture, and it took a weirdly long time for anyone to realize that Anthony could actually marry Kate if he wished. (By the way, I was hoping for Anthony and Kate to have a marigold-filled wedding in Hindu style. At least there were some nods to Indian tradition including the haldi ceremony.) I absolutely loved Anthony’s defense of the Sharma sisters in the face of their Sheffield relatives (nice cameo by Anthony Head, was it?). Of course it was high-handed of the Viscount to toss away the sisters’ hope of financial assistance, especially as he then suggested calling off the wedding (!)
Yes, the more I look back on Regé-Jean Page, the more I agree that he looked beautiful but did not smolder. Still, scarcely a female friend who watched Season 1 failed to mention him. A shame that he did not appear this season.
Thanks for the tip on Gentleman Jack. I may have to wait until comes to Prime or Netflix, but it sounds like a delightful show.
By the way, I had occasion to recommend Georgette Heyer to a friend who loves Jane Austen. She perked up when she heard that Stephen Fry is a Heyer fan.
Jane Dunn said:
I hadn’t thought of the extra prejudice involved in skin shade in Kate v Edwina as suitable wife for a viscount. I think you’re right, it wouldn’t have been a consideration in Bridgerton casting, although a significant discrimination in parts of the real world. Kate’s possibly more lowly parentage (and old-maidish age of 26!) compared with Edwina’s part-aristocratic inheritance perhaps were the main reasons it was Edwina who was offered on the marriage market and presented to the Queen.
Anthony Head! You are impressive in your knowledge of minor English actors. We were all introduced to him here in a long-running Nescafe advert, a soap opera where he was the dishy neighbour to a pretty, coffee-brewing blonde, Sharon Maughan. I met him at Bath Literary Festival where he was supporting his dog-whispering wife Sarah (the dynamo of the relationship) who was talking about her book, with him and their golden labrador on stage (he was in fact much like a labrador himself – just fondle his ears, rub his tummy and feed him regularly!)
Talking of Georgette Heyer. Her historical research (without the benefit of Wiki) obviously thrilled her and she took such pride in her period accuracy. I just happened to open April Lady and there she is writing about the gambling Viscount Dysart going to an extremely disreputable establishment, the Beggars Club. I think she based it on a scandalous club called the Beggar’s Benison, started in Scotland in mid-18th century and active for a hundred years, with the stated aim of celebrating (aristocratic) male priapism (it appears to have been largely masturbatory).
Heyer makes hers a club started by the Earl of Barrymore, in reality a wild Irish aristocrat nicknamed ‘Hellgate’, who built and managed a theatre, ran a stable of winning racehorses, most of them ridden by himself, partied and gambled away his fortune (the equivalent of 26 million) and was dead by 23, of a bullet wound accidentally fired from his own gun! She mentions ‘Hellgate’ again, I think in Regency Buck. GH was obviously excited by these larger than life individuals – in fact if she’d put a fictional character quite so wild into one of her novels it would have been scoffed at as completely over the top!
If we’re thinking over the top characters, have you ever come across Lord Flashheart, played by the anarchic Rick Mayall, who bursts into extravagant life in Elizabethan and First World War Blackadder episodes. I think you may appreciate him.
On another point, I do hope you’re fully recovered from Covid, and managed to see something of the Eternal City.
Thank you Jane, I did manage to see some wonderful things in Rome, including the Biblioteca Angelica and the Biblioteca Vallicelliana, my two dream libraries. The Vallicelliana is the single most beautiful library I’ve ever seen: https://www.reddit.com/r/europe/comments/661yct/libraries_of_europe_biblioteca_vallicelliana_roma/
I first noticed Anthony Head as the librarian in “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.” Even though I only watched a couple of episodes, he caught my attention immediately. I recently noticed him also in “Ted Lasso” as an obnoxious ex-husband who marries a woman half his age. He sounds like a lovely man–give me a character actor any time! Far less ego and usually far more substance.
The Beggar’s Benison made me laugh. This male propensity for circle jerks seems as much biological as cultural–the homosocial/homoerotic celebration of the erection. And the same is true for the hellfire clubs that made it their recreation to commit crimes. All in the service of male bonding and testosterone. I doubt there has been any great city in the world where youths did not roam the streets at night looking for trouble–and very often put a period to their own lives in that restless search.
I’ve never run across Lord Flashheart, but I like the look of him. Reminds me a bit of dear departed Graham Chapman.
Whilst googling hellfire clubs I ran across this interesting post on Heyer by K J Charles. Have you by chance read any Charles books, and if so what did you think?
Jane Dunn said:
What a beautiful library! I have never before heard of it. How inspiring to work there, and flirt there! I used to think if I could have another life after this one, I’d live in Scotland. But perhaps more pressing would be the need to live in Italy!
As for KJ Charles. What a find as a witty, clever, insightful critic – and a Londoner too. I think her analysis of Reluctant Widow is spot on and very amusing. I got quite excited at the thought of reading one of her novels but when I saw they were largely murder/mystery/sci-fi/gay storylines I lost a bit of heart – I have too little time as it is to read,
But I do think her idea of writing gay Regency is a clever one, given how much time those exquisite, witty, wastrels spent in each other’s company – and how common (see Byron’s letters) if secret and dangerous, homosexuality was, It’s just I’d rather my extravagantly booted and spurred hero was interested in women (i.e. me – however implausible that fantasy may be!)
So thank you for alerting me to her. An intriguingly fertile mind and entertaining personality just springs off the page. I REALLY hope you, dear Linnet, will read one of her Regencies and report back. Although, it’s unfair as I know your time is at a premium too. It would be interesting to see if the intelligence and insights so evident in her critical writing translate across to storytelling too..
Slightly related – the gift that keeps on giving, Jane Austen. Someone told me they thought Laurence Olivier was the best Darcy ever. The 1940 film has just been on BBC and I think I agree. There is much wrong with this version – old cloth-eared, over-emphatic Hollywood, inexplicably changing the era to Victorian so monstrous ugly dresses (why?), Greer Garson as Lizzie Bennett is lovely but Hollywood and too mature and lady-like. However, pretty Maureen O’Sullivan is more plausible as Jane and Bruce Lester a charming and suitable Bingley. Marjorie Wood is wonderful as Lady Lucas, more lovable old trout than scary termagant. But the stand out is of course Olivier – smouldering, arrogant, sulky, supercilious Darcy. I don’t know if you’ve seen it? I fear he even knocks lovely Firth off his pedestal – although there is nothing approaching the wet shirt and one sight of Olivier from the back (how much better if he’d been wearing a Regency coat) is rather lacking in muscular manliness. But all is forgiven for those smouldering eyes!
Oh, Jane, but of COURSE I know and love Olivier in this role. I have had a crush on Olivier since I was a girl watching old movies on Saturday morning TV (Errol Flynn too!). For smoldering, there is no beating his Heathcliff, but I agree that he makes a splendid Darcy. I loved Greer Garson in this role as well. She may be a bit too mature, but her comic timing and delivery are absolutely de-lizzie-ish (pardon the pun). One of my favorite scenes is the ridiculous not-in-the-book archery practice where she saucily advises her catty adversary, “You must learn to direct your darts with more accuracy!” And then, Edna May Oliver–I have never seen a better Lady Catherine de Bourgh.
I can only deplore the horrid Victorian costumes, but it’s still a great classic. What I wouldn’t give to have been able to see Olivier in Noel Coward’s “Private Lives” or Sheridan’s “School for Scandal.” He was so good at that kind of witty byplay.
I shall order a KJ Charles book and report back. Like you, I prefer to be able to indulge my heterosexual orientation when reading a romance, but perhaps if it’s witty and well-written enough, I won’t mind foregoing that aspect.
If I had another life, I would live in the UK but make frequent trips to the continent, as well as Ireland. So much that I still haven’t seen!
Jane Dunn said:
oh of course – it wasn’t Lady Lucas but Lady Catherine de Bourgh – wonderful old trout and really amusing under all that crustiness – you feel she would have melted with a kiss! Greer Garson was certainly witty and an equal to Darcy’s character but I think her careful, stilted English accent made her feel governessy rather than a spirited gal of twenty, or whatever was Lizzie’s ridiculously young age at the time.
Oh how much I shall look forward to your review of KJ Charles. You are a star!
And as for living in the UK in your fantasy extra life – we’d be lucky to have you. You have a very European sensibility, but perhaps in some fundamental way that’s a very New York sensibility too.
Have you and your Viking seen Northman yet? The reviews here have been staggered by the visual brilliance, acting chops (and Skarsgard’s epic masculinity) but stunned by the outrageous brutality. I don’t know if I have the strength for it.
You are too kind, Jane. As for New York City, I have an abiding love for it though I am not sure I could live there. I need trees and songbirds.
We have not seen Northman, which is apparently a Viking Hamlet. I feel as you do: the brutality and violence might be too much. Hopefully there are enough shots of Skarsgård in the buff to make up for it.
Jane Dunn said:
Linnet, you are incorrigible! Given an alpha male……
The Guardian review today by Peter Bradshaw awards The Norseman 5 stars:
“A Brutal and Brilliant take on Hamlet…the Scandi noir to end all Scandal noirs…a single-minded warrior who is very buff and roars with neck tendons flaring like peacock-feathers, a loin-cloth-wearing, wolf’s-head-sporting guy who frankly isn’t that fussed about being or not being – or only in the sense that the former applies to him and the latter to his enemies…It’s entirely outrageous, with some epic visions of the flaring cosmos, I couldn’t look away.’
I think he liked it!
So interesting how both men and women are drawn to displays of pure, naked-ape masculinity. And yet I would be pleased if this aspect of maleness could be confined to the silver screen. In real life I prefer a kinder and gentler alpha male with Heyer-esque instincts of noblesse oblige. The kind who will use his super-strength to open a stubborn jar lid, rescue a cat or deal with a centipede in the tub. My Viking : ) Happy Easter, dear Jane.
Jane Dunn said:
So true, so true.
It is interesting how universal is the appeal of the Heroic Male – certainly both male and female hearts beat faster at the sight and thought (but perhaps for different reasons?) And of course, the hunky guy whose strength can be relied on to wrench open an ancient jam jar lid while scooping a kitten onto his landscaped chest is a better bet for domestic happiness than Skarsgard’s Northman (lucky you to have one at home!) But the demands of masculine pride and sense of self echo down the ages. I’m just researching the etiquette of the duel – oh my goodness. Men! and their precious honour….
You had the notorious and fatal Burr-Hamilton affair, we had Prime Ministers Pitt and the mighty Duke of Wellington, and hero-handsome Lord Castlereagh Secretary of State for War who called out his Foreign Secretary, Canning, and shot him in the thigh. It all had to be so cool, so nonchalant, so Duke of Avon! To actually take aim was decidedly ungentlemanly, to shoot into the air to save a life (to delope as Heyer knew well) was not playing the game.
Women of course were kept out of it as mighty spoilsports, liable to point out the stupidity, or alert the authorities. Those involved were largely intelligent, highly successful men – where was their sense of proportion? where their good sense? did they really think avenging being called a prating fool was more important than life itself?
Of course, the lethal concept of masculine honour continues to this day in certain gang confrontations and religious cultures (where women are killed to avenge a man’s honour!). And to my amazement, I don’t think duelling is illegal in Washington State…Can this be? But then to Europeans, the Americans seem very peculiar about their rights to shoot each other.
But killing for honour – what a waste of glorious life!
What a fascinating research topic! Despite the long-standing anthropological teaching that everything is nurture not nature, I suspect that the ingredients for so-called male “honor” are embedded in the Y-chromosome. Males have a higher propensity for violence and lethal competition because of the evolutionary past in which they had to battle each other for access to females, like rams locking horns. It’s genes driving their self-replication. Of course some men are gentle and some women are lethally competitive, but I know of few cultures if any where women engage in duels. And the duel itself is an exquisitely ritualized male combat: another aspect of masculinity that is delightful to read about in fiction or watch in a film. Yet in real life I would definitely point out the stupidity and/or alert the authorities. That said, dueling at least focuses the aggression to two men, whereas we see today all too often the sad impact of masculine aggression in school shooters and dictators alike. Maybe there is something to be said for ritual restraint.
I have just finished “Band Sinister” by R. K. Charles. Let me preface my remarks by saying that I’m glad there is Regency romance with gay protagonists and that lovers of this sub-genre are lucky to have her penning their fantasies. The book is well-written and well-researched, with some interesting uses of Catullus in the bedroom, the treatment of a compound fracture, discussion of fossils/Creationism, and a Heyeresque reference to the origins of the sugar-beet industry in England. Very un-Heyerlike are the explicit gay sex scenes, although these again are well-written. The plot is somewhat lacking, however. Amanda breaks her leg riding on the lands of a notorious rake whose hellfire club meets at his country home for “orgies.” Of course she can’t be moved from the notorious house, so her brother goes to stay with her and guard her honor, only to find himself seduced by the resident rake. It turns out that the hellfire club is actually a group of gay men who go there to indulge their enlightened intellectual and sexual pursuits without worry of being arrested. They are all admirable by modern standards: the group is racially diverse, everyone asks for consent and Brother Guy’s “seduction” is conducted with the utmost propriety (so to speak). Amanda gets a romance of her own, but it’s superficial and mostly offstage. The greatest threat to happiness is prudish old Aunt Beatrice who threatens to cut off the impoverished siblings. R. K. Charles is very good at writing male friendship and homoerotic relationships, but it’s not my cup of tea simply because I want to indulge my hetero-preferences when I read a romance. I have female friends who devour this sort of thing, however. De gustibus!
Jane Dunn said:
I had to respond immediately – just to thank you for reporting back on R K Charles’s Band Sinister. Unless it was brilliantly written with lots of wit and laughter, I don’t think I could have got through it, certainly not survived the romantic disappointment!
It sounds like Venetia inadvertently trespassing onto the lands of the deliciously reprobate and jaded Lord Damerel only to find it’s her beloved brother he wants to seduce, not her! Oh no, no, no! But then I don’t want to read about explicit heterosexual sex in my Regency romances either (or I think I don’t, perhaps there’s some brilliantly written stuff out there). I find the ‘stifled sigh’ so much more thrilling. But thank you so much for Investigating R K’s fictional prowess – I was really impressed by the insight and wit of her critical writing. Do you think if she wrote heterosexual Regency romances she could be a modern Heyer (we’re always looking…)?
Slightly related to the ‘stifled sigh’, but it has surprised me, is how erotic it is to see a perfectly ordinary American guy explaining on youtube the duelling pistols he has coming up for sale in an auction in Illinois.(I know for Regency-philes there’s an undeniable frisson about duels) I think his knowledge and enthusiasm is really attractive, but it’s mostly his hands as he handles the historic, rather beautiful, flintlock pistols and demonstrates how they would be used. They are not particularly long-fingered or elegant, but they are very nice, strong, masculine hands and he uses them with great grace and authority. There’s something so masculine about his unselfconscious, graceful, competence.
I remember the same recognition when I was in my early twenties and riding home from work on a London bus, and I looked down and there was a car beside us and all I could see was an attractive masculine hand on the steering wheel with an immaculate double cuff. That glimpse of a stranger’s hand seemed to embody a certain type of elegant, heroic masculinity that had so much more of an erotic charge than if I’d looked down to see an erect dick! (quite possible I suppose!)
But as you so wisely say – de gustibus non est disputandum
Your mention of Venetia is spot-on. The sister in this K. J. Charles book authored a Gothic novel satirizing the resident rake and his hellfire club, yet her character is little more than a plot device to bring the men together. It is said that Charles has written a few hetero books, but I was not able to find one. After many years of searching, I’ve had to accept the sad truth that there will be no more Heyer books. In the vast field of Regency romance that Heyer pioneered, I have found no rivals. My rule of thumb is that the older romances tend to be better-written, and I have enjoyed books by “Laura Matthews” and “Elizabeth Mansfield” from the late 70’s/early 80s. Also Jane Aiken Hodge. In my view the best current regencies are by Sherri Cobb South who wrote “The Weaver Takes a Wife” in 1999 and followed up with a few others. I also enjoy the sf/fantasy authors whose books have a “Regency in space” feel to them (Lois McMaster Bujold and Sharon Lee/Steve Miller).
My thinking on explicit sex scenes has changed over time. I used to maintain that (provided the conventions of the genre allow) a good sex scene would teach us more about a character than almost anything else. How people behave in bed reveals much. And I’m a strong believer in humorous sex scenes, to counteract the repetitious nature of the activities presented. I do admire Charles’ sex scenes in “Band Sinister” but I fear that now I’ve read four of them, anything more would become tedious. They’re damnably difficult to write well. I always believed that authors of so-called “literary” fiction avoid sex scenes because they fear the challenge, and fear being ridiculed. Also, a sex scene reveals much about the author of a book!
That said, my interest in sex scenes peaked when I was a teenager reading “Sweet Savage Love” and again in my late 40s. Now I prefer the eroticism of the suggestive, and value chemistry over skin contact. I always maintained that Heyer’s books were much sexier than people gave her credit for, like the Hepburn/Tracy movies.
Speaking of the suggestive, I share your appreciation for beautiful male hands. I even wrote a post on this topic, long ago: https://linnetmoss.com/2013/10/27/the-sexiest-body-part/
Postscript: if you read my post on men’s hands, please excuse any broken links. There are bound to be a few by now.
Jane Dunn said:
You are a hoot – and far too entertaining and distracting as I gallop to my Heyeresque ending to book no 2! I love your post on hands – and of course your perennial fav CH is broodingly there. While we’re wasting time in delicious distraction, you’ll have to check out the hands on Seth Isaacson, historian for Rock Island Auctions. I’m hopeless at putting links into a post like this, but if you look on Youtube for Duelling Pistols: A Clash of Honor you’ll see his hands, particularly towards the end of the film when he’s talking about the English pistols. The beauty is in their elegance and sensitivity of movement I think, and of course his complete lack of self-consciousness talking about something he loves. What a good point you make that men are far less likely to rhapsodise about women’s hands – less nuanced, imaginative and diffuse perhaps in their sexual responses?
As for sex scenes in ‘Literary” fiction. Did you know that in 1993 Auberon Waugh introduced in his magazine Literary Review of Books the annual Bad Sex in Fiction Award? They gave the best ever parties, often at the In & Out Club – I kid you not! It’s a serious naval and military club in the heart of masculine clubland, 4 St James’s Square. There a rowdy literary crowd much lubricated with alcohol would read out the offending passages from the various big name contenders (they had to be incongruously bad bits of writing in otherwise literary books) to various lewd catcalls and hilarity. Very very British humour I’m afraid. It’s amusing enough to read their reports on how they made their selections (together with extracts). The bigger and more prestigious the names the more hilarity and fun to be had. Most authors had the good grace to turn up to receive their awards; Morrissey was predictably self-pitying, but I think Stephen King and Tony Blair were good enough sports. Jeanette Winterson narrowly missed an award in 2019 I think.
For quite a few years sensitive authors were apparently inhibited from writing sex scenes for the very threat you mention of being publicly ridiculed in the Bad Sex Awards, when its influence was at is height. I think COVID anyway has taken some of the steam out of raucous parties like theirs – in later years I’d given my tickets to my daughter and step-daughter and they’d both had a whale of a time, and been joyfully picked up by louche poets and journos of various stripes, which is always fun (or perhaps, bold girls, they did the choosing!). What nostalgia for the pick-up at the party rather than screen-based dating.
Thank you for reminding me of Jane Aiken Hodge – I bet she’s good. I really like her intelligent and insightful comments about Heyer’s work in her Private World of GH. I shall get one of hers and look forward to it.
On with the motley…
Good heavens yes! Mr. Seth Isaacson has glorious hands, and what a treat to watch him fondling his pistols : ) They are well-manicured hands too, which every lady knows is a must. Your research is certainly going swimmingly and I am all agog to see the results!
I have indeed heard of these Bad Sex Awards, but I am suspicious that in the eyes of the LRB, no sex scene could possibly be considered well-written; instead, any such scene was potentially hilarious because, of course, there is something absurd about sex itself. Granted, I do believe that some sex scenes are very, VERY bad–Fifty Shades comes to mind, and the videos it inspired, of people reading the scenes aloud. Such ridicule would be enough to terrorize any author! But in fact it is only those with pretensions to literary excellence who can be ridiculed. Romance writers just kept right on doing their thing, unmolested, because it is part of their genre, and their audience kept right on consuming the content with gusto. No doubt romance novels have saved many a marriage : )
Jane Dunn said:
You’re quite right, the late-lamented Auberon Waugh (ghastly cold father, Catholic public (boarding) school from the age of 8, classic brutal education of the Victorian ruling classes) would have sniggered and squirmed at any fictional description of sex. He was actually a really humane man although something fundamental had been cauterised.
Dear Linnet, I must say any opinion of yours on my Regency novels will be immensely valuable. Your love and understanding of Heyer matches mine and I so hope that what I’ve written is not merely pastiche. Of course, she magnificently set up the whole genre that any writer who came after so easily inhabits.
The first one I wrote astounded me by just falling from my brain, fully-formed it seemed, and took three months of absolute JOY! written at first entirely for myself. I’ve galloped onto the second and I think would have continued even if I hadn’t got such positive reactions to book no 1 from friends, sisters – and butch agent. It is just so much FUN to create these fabulous characters and put them through their paces (equine metaphors abound). Of course my lifetime writing biographies finds expression in my love of research and the historical period, and I do try not to use anachronistic language or situations.
The magnificent Complete Oxford English Dict is permanently online beside me (the quotations as examples are a world unto themselves) and it’s interesting to see how many words date in their literal sense from the Middle Ages to the 18th century but only move into their broader, figurative meanings during the middle to late 19th century – would that be with the universal proliferation of novels, I wonder?
When they publish my first book (Nov/Dec) I’m expected to have at least a minimal social media presence, not something I particularly welcome but it will provide a way of communicating with you, for instance, without hijacking your own wonderful blogs. Thank you for indulging me!
Poor Auberon. I pity him AND his children and spouse.
So glad that you are enjoying the singular pleasure of creative writing. I have found it to be a peak experience. Lately I’ve not had time to devote to it, and I feel the poorer for that lack of pure immersion. It reminds me of the joy of reading I felt as a child when stories seemed to envelop me wholly and I could spend hour after hour discovering new worlds.
What a fascinating observation about the OED–I imagine that yes, the novel must have had something to do with that change–together perhaps with higher levels of literacy.
When I looked into the expectations for publication–especially for genre books–it seemed to me that a great deal of work is expected from authors these days, in terms of self-promotion. That is a drawback but part of the industry now. I look forward with great pleasure to reading your first novel! Will it be published under your name, Jane Dunn or have you adopted a nom de plume?
Jane Dunn said:
I’ve just finished!
It saddens me to think you have too many demands on your time to pursue your own writing. Can you not carve out a little piece for yourself? But you’re right about the ecstasy of reading. Something long forgotten by me, as I think I’ve mentioned, pushed out by academic reading and then reading for biographical research, then just forgotten.
Then as you know I started re-reading Heyer and the bliss miraculously returned, B&W suddenly became technicolour. Discovering you as a wonderful commentary alongside this happy renaissance just added to the fun. And I only ever began writing fiction myself to prolong the joy of this colourful, pleasure-filled, imaginary world, where even the villains were deliciously sexy.
And as for noms de plume – I had worked out all sorts of lovely ones. There’s something liberating about pretending to be someone else – and of course the anonymity. (Although I was rather taken aback when I googled Jane Darling, always rather fancying that surname!)
But my editor and MD were adamant that I had to keep my name. I really like my editor, a young woman from mainstream publishing who entirely gets the genre, and more importantly didn’t want me to change a thing! i think I would have said stuff the deal if she had wanted major changes as I wrote it for myself and really couldn’t bear to have it fundamentally messed about.
So they both insisted Jane Dunn added some authority, even though, I argued, it’s been a while since that name meant anything much in the non-fiction world and would certainly not mean a thing to romance readers. But I think they mean to make something of my historical/biograhical chops! The great liberation of growing older is that one cares much less about the world’s opinion (in this case the snobby literary world), if the world even notices.
Talking about the world even noticing – my daughter Lily Dunn has just published her memoir, The Sins of My Father, about searching for the essence of a lethally charismatic and elusive father who joined the Rajneesh cult. Weidenfeld and Nicolson published her to some great reviews – if you’re at all interested, the easiest ones perhaps to read online are the Daily Mail. the Guardian and Spectator. Having my life exposed in a small way was difficult, although it was a book she had to write and she did it with such intelligence and grace. I just needed to override my own desire for privacy and give her every encouragement and blessing.
But you, dear Linnet. The mighty Caesar awaits! Defer no longer….
Congratulations are in order, Jane, and condolences too, for finishing your novel. I have heard often about the agonies and tortures of those who write “literary” fiction, but my experience of creative writing has been deeply pleasurable even when it was challenging. Finishing a book is satisfying, but one also feels a pang when it is time to emerge from that world. It is such an exercise in imaginative empathy, and the characters become so real. I remember weeping copiously at the end of my book about Cúchullain when the hero–MY hero– died. It was an extraordinarily moving experience and I had to pull myself together in order to write the last few paragraphs. In a fictional book, all the characters are, perforce, you–villains and protagonist and bit players. It is a kind of blissful self-absorption but also paradoxically outward-turning because you are trying to imagine the experience of others.
I am so glad that your editor did not ask for changes, and I completely understand the feeling. That is one reason I have chosen to serialize my stories in my blog instead of seeking a publisher. They are too personal to change at someone else’s whim or in order to please an audience. At first I didn’t want to change a word because the text documented that experience of writing, which was so precious to me. After the passage of years I can see the need for improvements and contemplate changes (as time allows, which it usually does not), but I will keep the originals intact.
Alas for the name Jane Darling! (I googled it.) Are you aware that Jane was the name of Wendy Darling’s daughter in the Peter Pan stories?
As the daughter of a charismatic, difficult father who was absent from my life between the ages of 4 and 12 (and not particularly reliable after that), I can sympathize with Lily. She chose an interesting path to closure–somewhat uncomfortable for you, certainly–but it sounds like a healing exercise. I only hope that you have found some path to healing from a relationship with such a man and its inevitable sorrows.
As for mighty Caesar, I wrote my book about him during the pandemic (https://linnetmoss.com/2020/03/12/lucia-a-tale-of-roma-alia-1/) though it’s not very convenient to read in blog form now, as the episodes are listed from last to first. I’m flirting with a book about Augustus, but he is not as soul-satisfying as the Divine Julius.
Jane Dunn said:
Thank you for your thoughtful words. I’m so sorry you, like Lily, had an unreliable, self-absorbed father. The father/daughter relationship, so affecting and important, has long tentacles of influence reaching through a daughter’s life. Certainly Lily found it very hard to give up her romantic love for her father, longing for his reciprocal care (which never came).
I’ve been watching a chilling documentary about Ghislaine and her father Robert Maxwell – quite a towering presence here in the UK. What a poisoned chalice it is to be the favourite, Daddy’s Little Girl, of a monster of ego and ruthlessness. I hope, like Lily, you had a Good-Enough Mama!
And as for me, the romantic fool who married him at 18 in a miasma of lust and transcendental love. Well, he broke my heart, but it needed to be broken. I was young enough, and had my children, so could rise as a phoenix more truly myself. The romantic girl lay dormant (expressed in buying my beautiful derelict Georgian villa in Bath) but sprang at last to life through the medium of Heyer! Thus the circle is completed.
And THANK YOU for your link to Lucia. I so enjoyed your first chapter and was immediately present in this ancient, alien world. BUT how do I get to Chapters 2 etc? Clicking on Posts by Topic I can only access the Epilogue – Chapter 48. I feel very stupid asking you how to navigate it as I’m sure it should be clear. Any clues appreciated.
I love the idea of your writing in instalments, like the great Victorian novelists; what fun for you and for your readers. Bring on Augustus, cuckold-er of husbands, reformer of empires.
Dear Jane, when a girl is young, paternal absence creates that romantic yearning you mention. I remember wishing upon a star that my father would come back into my life. Let’s just say that when he did, it was quite a disappointment. And yet he’s in my blood. I recognize parts of him in me every day. I do love your metaphor of the phoenix rising again from the embers of passion, and the renewal of the Georgian villa in Bath. Now there is a dream come true. I just saw a TV show in which Prunella Scales and Timothy West cruised from Bath to Devizes on the K&A canal. So lovely, and sweetly romantic.
My website is terrible for navigating the serial fiction! You have to go where you found the epilogue, scroll to the bottom and keep hitting “older posts” until you get to the beginning. Much better: write me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I will send you a pdf so you can read in comfort. You’ll miss the photos and some extra information that I gave on my sources, but it’s no great loss.
Oh yes, if only I could get back outside and soak up that gentle Spring sunshine, but I am more or less locked in my room. As you say, the terra-cotta and pink colors of the buildings here are lovely, and the wisteria alone is worth the trip. And yes, Roman Holiday! By chance we went to two of the filming sites, lovely Via Margutta and Palazzo Colonna, which stunned me. The Grand Salone there is even more impressive than the Vatican. Thank you for the good wishes!