Welcome to Downton – A Movie Theatre Review

Downtown Abbey

At the risk of sounding like an old fogy, it’s been years since I visited a  movie theatre – 22 to be exact – the last movie I saw at “the show” as we used to call it, was Titanic.   Yes, the year was 1997 and those actors are now middle-aged.   There hasn’t been a movie since where I felt I could not wait the minimal few months for it to come out on DVD, or it isn’t even called that anymore – become “available for home theatre viewing.”

So it was with much anticipation that I awaited the opening of the new  Downtown Abbey movie.   For stalwart fans of the Masterpiece TV series it was like coming home again, for it’s been three long years since we last had a glimpse of the Crawley family and their downstairs servants.   (See my Febrary post – Downton Abbey Revisited for more on their famous world.   Ah, the food, the fun, the fashions….)

Downton Abbey

The old Cineplex theatre where Titanic last sailed, has been torn down and a new multiplex Cineplex built, as that was the most requested addition according to a recent mall survey.    As the average box-office movie-goer is now a teenage boy who is into Marvel/Star wars movies, that’s probably who they surveyed.   No one I know goes to the movies anymore, so we have only ourselves to blame for the dearth of watchable movies.      

We decided to attend the noon matinee on the opening weekend, thinking the crowds would be fewer, and they were as when we walked in there were maybe fifty people at most.   The set-up reminded me of an IMAX theatre, an enormous screen with the seats facing downwards, but at least no one could obstruct your view.   I remember the last time I was in an IMAX theatre, decades ago for a Grand Canyon documentary, definitely not a good idea for someone who doesn’t like heights.   Speaking of heights, I wondered why almost everyone was sitting near the top.    We soon found out, as wow – that surround sound is certainly loud.   Even my mother, who denies being a bit deaf, thought it was way too loud.   As she was unable to climb higher than five rows up we stopped there, and had a lovely conversation with the lady in the seat behind us, who had recently had knee surgery and also found the stairs a chore.    Although there was a space below to store her walker, these places are really not designed for the handicapped…..steep uneven stairs, a long reach to the side handrail, and an elevation requiring a sherpa to achieve.    I watched the people coming down afterwards, mostly an older crowd, and everyone was navigating slowly as if coming down off Mount Everest. 

The seats were fake leather, non-tilting and horribly uncomfortable – gaming chairs really.   They must have surveyed their 15 year old target audience. 

The lights dimmed – therein followed thirty minutes of previews – lots of dark intergalactic forces at work on the planet these days, plus one unappealing Christmas rom-com staring nobody I knew.   I didn’t know they still made rom-coms, but Meg Ryan would not be caught dead in a silly green velvet elf suit.   The only one I was remotely interested in was Judy, and I can easily wait the three months to see Renee Zellweger as Judy Garland, which I’m sure will be an Oscar-worthy performance.   Most younger people would not even know who Judy Garland was, nor maybe Renee Zellweger either. 

At least ticket prices are still reasonable…..$9 for a senior and $11 regular.  Big boxes of popcorn were $9 but small ones were $7 so you might as well spring for the larger size.    And what a variety of hot foods available, my lord – poutine at the movie theatre?   I happen to think poutine is a code word for future heart attack, but hey the target audience is invincible. 

Oh yea….I was supposed to be reviewing the movie. 

The Movie:   (no spoilers here)

There’s a big difference between writing a weekly series with an ongoing storyline and having to construct one from scratch in such a way that people tuning in for the first time are not hopelessly lost.   There were lots of intro scenes establishing the background and introducing the characters.   This probably accounted for the slow first half – I glanced over and my mother had fallen asleep, (1:30 pm is her usual nap time), but when I nudged her awake, she said she was just resting her eyes.   My eyes were sore too, as I found the screen way too close even from five rows in the midsection and wished we were higher up the mountain.   Where is a sherpa when you need one….

The characters seemed somewhat subdued.   It took them awhile to don their familiar roles, which is to be expected I suppose as when you are playing someone weekly it’s easy to slip into character again.  They were rusty – not Mary or Violet though.   Although everyone had a story, some were larger – Mary, Tom, Thomas and Daisy.   Daisy really seemed to be coming into her own.   Maybe they should give her a spin-off series?    Some characters barely had a part – Cora, Robert and Mr. Bates, and Henry just showed up at the end leaping of a car in time for a ball, although for a tall skinny guy he does leap well.   The plot line seemed thin and weak to me – but then I’m not really a monarchist.   It’s hard to get too excited about a visit from the King and Queen when they couldn’t even be bothered to make an appearance the past six years – much ado about nothing – but I suppose for the time period, serving king and country and all that.  Perhaps I am unfairly comparing it to the fast-paced series where scenes seldom lasted more than a minute or two and you were constantly left in suspense, wondering how things were going to turn out.  This ending was preordained.           

The sets and costumes were lavish as usual, as Julian Fellowes is one for details, but perhaps a wee bit less extravagant than usual.   As I had read it cost 1 million pounds/dollars to film each episode of DA, I wondered if  having already dismantled all the sets (except for Highclere), they had to make do.  Big box movies have a budget too.   If the substitute rooms didn’t seem as familiar or as opulent then maybe I have just watched too many episodes and know that the place settings would never be that close together for a formal dinner with the King and Queen, where Mosley makes a speech…..oops small spoiler.   The table did seem rather crowded. 

Will we get a sequel?   We could – there were a few unwrapped hints, Edith’s comment about missing her job, Tom’s new romance, but I suppose it depends on how much money is made.  

Most newspaper reviews have rated the movie a three star, but of course to DA fans it’s a five star.    I would tend to agree with both of them.  While I enjoyed it – it was good, not great.    Actually, I think I enjoyed any of the two hour spectacular Christmas specials more, except of course the one where Mathew died, a tragic ending so unexpected it made some people tune out permanently.    So don’t feel bad if you don’t have access to a mountain near you, you can easily wait until it comes out for home viewing…..and you can save on the popcorn too.

Overall, while it was slow to start, it picked up speed and finished with a grand, if somewhat sad, flourish – leaving us wanting more.  But there’s a small part of me that wishes he had just left them frozen in time at Christmas/New Years 1926 where everything was wrapped up neatly with a big bow.   

Postscript:  My apologies for not commenting on anyone’s blogs this past month.   Real life has interceded with the Cold-From-Hell (me), plus my mother was hospitalized for a week, she’s home now and on the mend, but I have not had internet access so I have not been able to read here at all.   

 Downton Abbey

 

 

A Garden Teacup Craft Party

Making a garden teacup is a perfect excuse for having a group of friends over and a nice way to spend one of the last summer-like afternoons on the deck.  You can have a tea party after, and best part is they can brag about what they made.   Think of it as having the guests make their own party favors!    

tea cup craft

Teacups were once the sign of a civilized age and household.    I remember my American aunt coming up for visits in the summer and one of the first places she would want to go would be a china shop to add to her collection, because tea cups were used back then, not just for show.    I cringe now to think that I once gave my sister a bridal shower where everyone was asked to bring a tea cup as a gift – I thought it was a good idea, as she already had everything else.   My mother had a set of good china, white with gold rims, which she used for holiday dinners, but she didn’t have enough matching teacups, so out would come the fancy teacups for coffee, tea and dessert.  Each one would have a different pattern, color and style.   Even the guys would drink their coffee in them, and what grandchild wasn’t pleased to be served a milky brew in a real china cup just like the grown-ups.    I have a few of these special ones left, which I would not part with as they hold memories as well as tea.

Teacups

Although I still occasionally use tea cups, and have a very pretty set with a matching teapot, I know I am in the minority.    We are a mug society now.

We all have teacups collecting dust – they may be a collection we have inherited from our mother or grandmother, but even if you live like Downton Abbey, there are only so many tea cups you can use and the thrift shops are full of donated cups.   So this simple and inexpensive craft is a nice idea to put them to good use.  

Tea cups (3)

 Garden tea cups can hold a tea light, birdseed or water for a mini bird bath.   I have seen the birds enjoying mine on occasion after a rainstorm.  I have also given them as small homemade gifts.  I made two for a friend who was retiring and loves to garden, a stop and smell the roses pink one, and one with the bluebird of happiness on it.    Now that they have been popular for awhile you can find them at art and craft fairs everywhere, but I bought my first one in the gift shop of an art gallery several years ago.   It was expensive at $25, but I fell in love with it as it was so pretty and blue, my favorite color. The woman selling it very kindly told me how to make my own – for a lot less money. 

tea cup craft

These are the craft supplies, and price-wise it works out to be less than $5. 

craft supplies for teacups

You can have your guests bring their own special teacup, or supply them with ones from a thrift shop, or donate some of your own.   I buy long half-inch diameter copper rods at the hardware store, and because I am a frequent customer there, one of the employees cuts them for me in the length I desire.  I use a 12 inch length for planters, and longer ones for placing in the ground among the plants. tea craft project

I also buy matching short half-inch ends the same width as the rod which will be glued onto the bottom of the saucer to hold the rod.  

craft supplies for teacups

Using a piece of rough abrasive paper (grit cloth as below) or sandpaper, rough up the bottom of the saucer in the middle, and also the same area underneath the saucer.   This makes the glue adhere better.

sandpaper cloth

This Goop glue was recommended to me, but you can use any kind which bonds china or ceramic. 

Super goop

Using a Q-Tip apply some glue to the bottom of the teacup and place it in the centre of the saucer, wiping up any excess glue around the bottom rim.   If you wish you can also glue a tiny teaspoon on, as an added decoration, but I found they tarnished quickly as most are silver.   These can be found at thrift shops for pennies.   Let it set for a few minutes – perhaps go and put the kettle on for your tea.    

Turn the bonded teacup and saucer upside down, and apply the end piece to the bottom of the saucer with a bit of glue, and set the whole thing aside for the rest of the afternoon.   Leave it upside down, preferably for 24 hours.  The next day you can insert the copper rod and turn it right side up and place in your planter for the birds to enjoy.    

teacup craft

While it is setting, you can continue on with the food and beverage portion of your tea party.    This craft takes very little time, perhaps thirty minutes at most, depending on how long you spend roughing up the china and waiting for it to set. 

patio party

After the tea party…

See how the late afternoon shadows are slanting as the sun loses it’s warmth. Summer’s over, but at least everyone has a lovely souvenir to take home as a memory of a fun party and something useful for next year’s garden. 

PS.  Continuing with our September theme, this is the craft portion of Arts and Crafts (because wasn’t that always one of our favorite parts of back to school).   See Plein Air Painting next week for the arts portion.

A Victorian Tea

Every May 24th weekend one of our local museums hosts their annual Victorian Tea, complete with freshly baked scones, white tablecloths and fine china.   

 The May 24th holiday weekend in Canada is called the Victoria Day weekend, because May 24 was Queen Victoria’s birthday.   Older people may remember the schoolyard rhyme children chanted years ago – “the twenty-fourth of May / Is the Queen’s birthday; / If they don’t give us a holiday / We’ll all run away!”    Now many people don’t even know who Queen Victoria was, unless you watch the PBS TV show Victoria, but she was Britain’s longest reining monarch, although Queen Elizabeth surpassed her in 2015.   She became Queen at age 18 and reined over the British Empire for 63 years, from 1937 until her death in 1901, a period known as the Victorian era.   She married her cousin Albert, had nine children and survived 20 different governments and 11 prime ministers.   After her death, her birthday was made a federal holiday, which was eventually was moved to the Monday preceding May 24 because of the weekend.   Queen Victoria most likely would have approved as weekends were an invention of the Victoria era.   This May 24th marks the 200th anniversary of her birth in 1819. 

Victorian Tea CottageNote: the Union Jack (Canada did not get it’s own Maple Leaf flag until 1965) and the old fashioned lilac bush (see Lilac Time)

The Victorian cottage is one of many buildings on the museum site, whose mandate is to display our past customs and heritage.   Many have been moved to the site, including a one room schoolhouse, a small church and a log cabin from the days of the early settlers, but the cottage was part of the original grounds.   It is a small one floor dwelling, built in 1893,  which was used by a Detroit woman as a summer home until her death, when it was donated to the museum.    She was known as the cookie lady, for her kindness in treating the neighborhood children to sugar cookies on the veranda when they were passing by. 

Victoria Tea Cottage

 It consists of a good sized dining room, living room and  kitchen and two very small bedrooms.   

Victorian Tea

Victorian Tea Cottage

The inside still looks as it did during the time she lived there, floral wallpaper, quilts and all.  

China cabinet Victorian Tea

The problem with the Victoria Day weekend is that the weather is usually guaranteed to be cold, rainy and miserable, which does not deter the campers, as it is considered the unofficial start to summer.   It seldom fails, whereas the following weekend, the US Memorial Day is often quite nice.  Still, not one to let a bit of rain (or even forty days of it like this spring), get in the way of a good tea spread, I decided to attend.   The last time I was there,  it was miraculously a warm and sunny day, with a pleasant breeze coming off the river, and we were able to take our tea outside on the veranda, as opposed to inside huddled beside the stove.     It was such a fine day we lingered over a second cup.  

Victorian Tea cottage

Although the day started out warm and sunny, the forecast was rain by 3pm, (I’m quite serious about the forty days of rain), so we set out early and decided to tour the buildings first (my friend had never been there), as we could always sit inside later if it started to pour.   On our walk about, I noticed a big patch of rhubarb growing beside the log cabin and took some pictures which I could have used in last week’s Rhubarb Lunar Cake blog.  (It’s never too late to edit!)  

Rhubarb

There’s something so civilized about a tea party and the clink of china tea cups, shades of Downton Abbey.    Each small table was laid with white tablecloths, cream and sugar sets, crystal butter dishes, jars of strawberry jam and a colorful mixture of china cups and plates. 

Victorian Teat

 The servers, young and old, were dressed in the costume of servants of the day, complete with frilly caps and white aprons.   The wind was so strong, their aprons were billowing in the breeze and the tablecloths were threatening to blow away, so we decided to sit inside. 

Victorian Tea

The only occupant of the veranda was a bird nesting high up in the rafters, most likely anticipating left over crumbs.   

Bird nesting

 Even inside, with the veranda doors open, it was so windy that our vase of flowers blew over soaking the tablecloth, which they removed and replaced with one even more exquisitely embroidered.   Our server, a charming young girl of about ten, inquired as to our choice of tea and scones – raisin, rhubarb, orange or apple cinnamon.   

Victorian Tea China

 Such a difficult decision, but my choice is always the rhubarb – it was divine, light and fluffy, and I am still trying to get the recipe, a carefully guarded secret.    Unfortunately I forgot to take a picture of it before it was consumed!   Victorian Tea Cottage

They make up to 400 scones for the day, using the cottage’s own wood-fired stove.  (Note the mirror at the top – I guess that was to check your appearance after slaving over a hot stove all day?)    The cost of the tea was $7.50 with donations to the museum fund, ordinary admission being $5, a bargain for the price.    

Exactly at 3 pm as predicted, the skies opened up and rained on our lovely tea party.   Oh well, there’s always next year…I’m sure I’ll be back.  

Postscript:   Easy rhubarb scones, only for truly lazy cooks or those whose kitchens are about to be torn apart.   Mix this, Rhubarbwith this, Rhubarb scones

bake as directed,  Rhubarb sconesand you get this.  Rhubarb scones

Enjoy with a nice cup of tea in a china cup!

 

 

Downton Abbey Revisited

Downton Abbey

‘Village for sale in Yorkshire – property includes a great house with 43 low rent cottages,’ said the ad on the internet.   For only 28 million pounds you could have your very own Downton Abbey, complete with a butler saying, “Welcome to Downton” or whatever you wished to call your estate.  Downtown Abbey

I was late to the British Television drama Downton Abbey, having binge-watched five seasons over the winter of 2015, when it’s ending was already rumoured.   Forty some episodes later, I was addicted, and could see why it was watched by over 100 million people in 200 countries and considered the best drama series ever.   I had heard people talking about the show and had even tried watching a bit here and there but there were so many characters and relationships to keep straight.   The librarian suggested the only solution was to go back to the beginning, so I did.   It helped make a long snowy winter pass pleasantly, as I spend it in balmy Britain in the early part of the twentieth century.   Recently our local Public Television station has been airing the re-runs, which inspired me to revisit the world of Downton and make some observations, focusing on the fun, food, and fashions.

As a history lover, I found the era of the show fascinating, as it was a time of much change and innovation in the world, which is one of the reasons that producer Julian Fellowes chose it for his period drama.    He starts his saga in 1912 with the fateful sinking of the Titanic (and the death of the Downton heir apparent), and subsequently covers WW1 and the 1920’s, all the while working many of the decades most famous innovations into the script – cars, electricity, telephones, early airplane travel, listening to the king’s speech on the wireless/radio plus household appliances like refrigerators, toasters, mixers, sewing machines, typewriters, curling tongs and hair dryers as well as covering changes in women’s fashions, hairstyles and roles.   Looking back, Downton is a strange world in many ways, one many of us may find hard to relate to, especially if you are not British and your only exposure to the aristocracy is a picture of the Queen on your Canadian money.   The show is interesting because it depicts the rigid class structure of the time, the wide gulf  between the social classes and the upstairs downstairs aspect of running a great house, as well as the developing increase in the middle class and the importance of education.  Of course, we would all like to have lived such a life of leisure, and never have to worry about cleaning the house, making supper or childcare – there were nannies for that.   It was an envious lifestyle in many ways, even if they did tend to spend very little time with their children – an hour after tea time, but as the Countess Dowager exclaimed, it was an hour every day!

The Food

While some things would have been lovely, such as having a breakfast tray brought to you in bed, (only for married women, spinsters like Edith were expected to show up at the table) and having an elegant five course meal prepared for you every night, other things like being a slave to the 7 pm gong (dinner at eight seems way too late), and eating in the formal dining room in your best clothes in the presence of the butler and footmen, would have seemed very rigid on a regular basis.   (No sneaking leftover pizza in the kitchen of that household.)   Could you eat when someone was standing there like a statue, pretending not to watch you  or listen to the conversation whilst being ready should you require any attention.  It might be a tad uncomfortable, but maybe preferable to trying to flag down a waitress to bring you a coffee refill.    There was always conversation over dinner, and after they “went through” to the living room, more conversation.   So different from today when so many people dine with their cell phones instead of their companions.  

Downton Abbey

One would think they were a family of anorexic alcoholics from the dining room scenes.   While they served themselves from the platters proffered by the footmen, there never seemed to be much food on their plates, (especially the deserts, and I watched!) which might explain why they were so thin.    They tended to savour small exquisite portions – certainly no supersized meals there. 

Strawberry Trifle

Strawberry English Trifle

And the wine, so many different ones for each courses, but as Carson said, they usually only take a sip.   What a waste of good wine, why not just open one bottle for the meal, and be done with it.    The china and crystal were lovely however – why don’t we use the good china anymore.   It’s so much more elegant – as long as you don’t have to wash the dishes, and why did they never ever show anyone washing all those dishes night after night?Teacups

And the tea – so many cups poured, so few sips taken…but such pretty teacups.  But no scones or treats?   It’s a long way until supper  – ah yes, the crumbs and calories.  Teacups are elegant, but they hold 4 oz at most, and when I want a cup of tea, I want a bracing hot mugful.   Recently I saw a lovely silver tea service at a thrift shop, but it would need polishing and I already own too many teapots I seldom use – no one entertains like that anymore, which is why it was in the thrift shop.     

Downton Abbey The Fashions

Oh, the clothes – that long elegant silhouette, nothing too clingy, or skin tight like today’s fashions with everything emphasized and/or overexposed.    I especially liked the flapper style when they entered the 1920’s, and all the jewelry and hair ornaments….and the hats, so many stylish hats, week after week.    Even their nightgowns and robes were feminine and elegant.Hat

 For a fashionista it was worth tuning in just for the clothes.  The show must have been a wardrobe persons dream job.   The colours and fabrics were exquisite too.   But did they really need a lady’s maid to help remove their jewelry and undress themselves before bed, like a bunch of toddlers?   I found this 1912 book The Chronicles of Downton Abbey, by Jessica Fellowes (Julian Fellowes niece) most interesting in explaining the jobs of the various household servants. Downton Abbey

There were chapters on each of the characters, as well as general historical information about the running of such an estate and depictions of common household items.   Downtown Abbey Part of the lady’s maid’s job was to maintain, mend and care for the clothing.   Sign me up – I hate doing laundry and despise that half hour of ironing every week.   Imagine having someone to pack and unpack for you when traveling – it would be pure bliss.   Downton Abbey

While women’s clothing can be delicate and in need of more care, the valet’s role was even more puzzling and seemed to consist of nothing more than brushing the dandruff off the shoulders of the men’s evening jackets and polishing their shoes.  But again, there was the packing and maintenance and plenty of rules for black tie,  white tie and tweeds.   In one of the early episodes, Lady Mary inadvertently insults one of the staff by commenting that he was only a footman, but a staff position in such a great house was a steady and respected job, guaranteed employment and a step-up for many in the village.

Jessica Fellows has published a number of these lavish hardcover coffee-table type books, including this earlier one, The World of Downton Abbey, 2011, with lots of behind the scenes photos.  Downton Abbey      Highclere Castle, where the filming takes place, is a real working estate, and the present day countess, Lady Fiona Carnarvon has published At Home at Highclere:  Entertaining at the Real Downton Abbey, which chronicles the food, menus and entertainment of four historic weekend house parties held at the estate from 1866 to 1936.   There seems to be no shortage of books about Downton as recently I ran across this book, Downton Abbey and Philosophy, edited by Adam Barkman and Robert Arp, with contributions by 22 writers, about such diverse topics as the War Years, Master and Servant and Lady Edith and the Trials of the Modern Woman, as well philosophical ventures into morality, manners and socialism. Downton Abbey

The Fun

What did they do for fun?  They seemed to read a lot of books – at least they are always opening and closing them, and wouldn’t it be splendid to have that red carpeted library, although many of the books look like dusty tombs.    The dinners and parties and dances look splendid, especially the waltzes and the jazz tunes on the phonograph.   The fox hunting and horse race scenes were gorgeously filmed as was the grouse hunting in the heather filled moors and the visit to the Scottish castle.   A life of privilege would certainly have its pluses, but would it be enough?   (see the philosophy book – finding the meaning of life in Downton Abbey).    I suppose you wouldn’t question it if that was all you knew, but I am reminded of Sybil’s remark after the war was over, when they had grown accustomed to having a purpose in life (in her case nursing).   Instead of going to dress fittings and endless teas and charity events she said she wanted to be tired at the end of the day, tired from doing useful work.  Well Darling Sybil, I’m sorry they killed you off in Season Three, but work is tiring, very tiring – try it for twenty years or so and let’s check back or let’s change places.   I think I could adapt to being a lady of leisure –  are there any British castles where they will let you sample the life of a lord and lady for a month?     Highclere Castle does host some daytime events and there are cottages you can rent overnight, which brings me back to that ad?    Anyone have an extra 28 million pounds they can spare?    Or if not, then anyone care for tea?   We can always pretend…..

The Cast

I know some people who stopped watching after Season 3 as they could not handle the deaths of two of the main characters, but apparently those two actors had specified they only wanted 3-year contracts.    Maybe they were afraid of being typecast, but having watched Dan Stevens as Charles Dickens in The Man Who Invented Christmas, well seriously – Mathew was all I could see.  The story-line of Downton Abbey really draws you in, it is multilayered with many characters.   The scenes are short for the most part, and the pace quick.   Having such an excellent cast of strong actors helps, they really inhabit their roles.    My least favourite characters were Mr. Bates (bad temper, shady past and way too old for Anna), Cora with her breathy baby-like voice and snobby ways, Shirley McClain as her American mother (horribly typecast), as was Miss Bunting (rude and much too short).   I’m glad they ended the show on a high note after six seasons, as I really couldn’t take Bates facing jail time yet again…..and Mary’s multiple suitors were no replacement for Mathew.   Although she did eventually chose one, none of them could ever measure up.Downtown Abbey

In some cases, (the pigs anyone?) they seemed to have run out of story-lines.  But I was very glad poor Edith was happy at last, and ranked higher socially than Lady Mary, (but then I was a middle child too).      Downton Abbey Epilogue:     There are rumors of a Downton Abbey movie swirling, with a tentative release date of Sept 2019, but I wish they had left them frozen in time at New Years 1926.    It ended perfectly, with all the story lines wrapped up nicely, so why run the risk of spoiling it – but then I may be convinced otherwise.   I’ll be watching…..I wonder if the movie theatres will be serving tea and scones?

The official movie trailer: