(Also known as The Black Book) Every list has to have some comic relief.
A really dreadful tale about spies during the French Revolution that looks
like "historical noir" with muddy set direction and broad characterizations
-- but beautiful photography! -- that reek of 50's sensibility. Stars Robert
Cummings, Arlene Dahl (!), and Richard Basehart as Maximilian (don't call
me Max) Robespierre. Winner of the 1998 BAERS Silly Costume Movie Award.
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Again, we will mention here only a few of the several adaptations of the Baroness D'Orczy tale.
(1934) Based on the novel by Baroness D'Orczy about a British aristocrat rescuing French nobility from the guillotine while hiding his daring nature under the guise of a fop. A rare film that is better than the book. Literate
screenplay, great acting. Stars Leslie Howard, Merle Oberon, and Raymond
Massey as one of the more refined villains in movie history. Directed by
Harold Young. The one smirch is Miss Oberon's costumes, which true to the
style of a star, are more flattering to her figure than historically accurate.
(1954)An adventure serial starring the Scarlet Pimpernel featured Marius Goring as the Scarlet Pimpernel and Stanley Van Beers as Chauvelin, but the films are hard to find.
(1982) A television remake was made with Anthony Andrews, Jane Seymour and Ian McKellen as the leads. Beautiful to look at, and not bad for TV.
(1998) A BBC/A&E Production attempted to make the Baroness' tale more realistic. A very adult version with authentic sets, costumes, hairdos and manners.
Sense and Sensibility
Jane Austen's story of two sisters, one of whom is ruled by her emotions,
and the other by her head, even though her own heart beats just as strongly.
The vicissitudes of love thwarted is the crux of the matter, with money
and honor proving the strongest forces in society.
(1985) BBC production starring Irene Richard and Tracey Childs as the beleaguered siblings, and Richard Swann as a love interest. Directed
by Rodney Bennett.
(1995) Well-received version with a screenplay by star Emma Thompson that won her an Academy Award. Also stars Kate Winslet as her younger sister,
Hugh Grant as her love interest, and Alan Rickman as the long-suffering
suitor to her misguided sibling. Thompson manages to truncate the story
well into the feature-length version, and gives a moving performance as
the sensible mainstay in the family (though she was a bit too old for the
part). Directed by Ang Lee.
The Sharpe Series
Made for BBC, the 14 stories are from the series of novels by Bernard Cornwell. (Our apologies for not offering you all 14 listings here at this writing -- check the Internet Movie Database's search engine using the word "Sharpe's" and all 14 TV movies will be selected.)
Some are more faithful to the books than others. A "scum or the earth"
foot soldier rises from the ranks to become an officer in Wellington's
army during the Peninsular Campaign, and sometimes single-handedly saves
the day. Historically accurate in many details and devices, but the plots
can be a bit far-fetched. Stars Sean Bean in the role that made him an
English heart-throb, and a large cast of handsome riflemen and supporting
characters. Some great villains too.
A Tale of Two Cities
From Charles Dickens' tale of innocent pawns drawn through improbable plot
devices at the time of the French Revolution. Cynicism, revenge, betrayal,
love woes, and ultimate sacrifice, you name it. It's all here.
(1935) Stars Ronald Colman at the height of his popularity, Elizabeth Allen, Basil Rathbone, and Edna May Oliver. Several Academy Award nominations.
Directed by Jack Conway.
(1958) Faithful English version with Dirk Bogarde as the flippant lawyer, and Dorothy Tutin as the woman loved by two best friends. Directed
by Ralph Thomas.
(1980) Stars Chris Sarandon, Alice Krige and Peter Cushing. Directed by Jim Goddard.
(1989)This Masterpiece Theatre version stars John Mills, but it is hard to find.
Directed by Alexander Korda. British biopic about Admiral Lord Nelson and
Lady Hamilton starring Lawrence Olivier and Vivian Leigh during the height
of their off-screen romance. Critics mention the intelligent screenplay
and good acting (although there is some difference of opinion on this).
Nominated for several Academy Awards. It was Winston Churchill's favorite
1971 From the novel by William Makepeace Thackeray, made originally for BBC TV. A wonderful six-part series about the intelligent and beautiful Becky Sharpe, who pretends and flirts her course through advantageous alliances
in an effort to find financial security. A good introduction to English
society and its strictures during that era. Sets and costumes are all one
expects from British productions, and it is very well acted by all and
sundry. Stars Susan Hampshire, who was fresh from her triumph in The Churchills.
(1987) Mid-'80s production starred Eve Matheson as the determined Rebecca Sharpe.
(1998) The most recent TV production stars Natasha Little as Becky Sharpe and Eleanor Bron as Lady Bareacres.
Several other versions of Vanity Fair were made, but are hard to find. Silent pictures were shot in
1911 (with Helen Gardener),
1915 (with Helen Fulton),
1922 (with Cosmo Kyrle Bellew), and
1923 (with Mabel Ballin). Myrna Loy played Becky Sharpe in the 1932 remake.
Epic rendition of the Little Corporal's downfall produced by Dino De Laurentis,
directed by Sergei Bondarchuk. Lavish sets, costumes, and the usual cast
of thousands. Rod Steiger delivers an unflattering portrait of the Emperor,
and Christopher Plummer does a credible job with the stiff but brilliant
War and Peace
From the novel by Leo Tolstoy. The story of several Russian families during
the time of the Napoleonic wars living through political, social, and religious
upheaval. Napoleon and his Russian counterpart, General Behzukov make cameo
appearances as the great puppet masters of events.
American (1956) The Hollywood version stars Audrey Hepburn, Mel Ferrer, and Henry Fonda doing decent jobs with the script they were given.
Condensing the story to a feature-length format doesn't help either, and
many lesser characters are missing altogether. But if you don't mind that,
this one is at least diverting entertainment.
Russian (1968) Many movie fans like the Russian version at five hours and with most of the characters and plot left intact. Beautifully
filmed in Europe with the Russian army providing combatants for the military
duels. Nominated for several Academy Awards, including Best Foreign Picture.
Russian with English subtitles.
British (1973) The BBC television series could finally do justice to Tolstoy's novel over the course of a dozen episodes, including the bits about spiritual and moral anguish. All the minor characters and plots are there, and being from the BBC, the sets, costumes, and acting are first-rate. The battle scenes are not as brilliant, but if you loved the book, this is the one to see. Stars Anthony Hopkins, Alan Doby, and Morag Hood.
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