Jemma Redgrave

Grantchester (2014) s05e06

This episode serves as a possible pilot for sixth “Grantchester” and a second full season for new vicar Tom Brittney. Lots gets resolved, both in regards to recent events and season-long subplots. The show’s sparing in the schmaltz, instead going for knowing smiles and warm feelings, and it feels as good as a show about murders in a small British city in the fifties with characters who are becoming woker than most shows set in the modern day is ever going to feel.

Possibly because Brittney finally lets his guard down. The episode opens with him doing a degenerate drunk routine at his mom’s party. Mom Jemma Redgrave is marrying rich dipshit Dominic Mafham. Brittney disapproves, hence the drunkenness. So he spends the first third of the episode hungover, as he and Robson Green track a dead woman to a strange convent run by authoritarian Tracy Ann Oberman, who enrages and intrigues Brittney. He can’t understand how she does what she does in God’s name or some such thing. Sidney’s been gone so long I’d forgotten “Grantchester” used to regularly have crises of faith. Brittney’s been a rock this season, until last episode. So, broken, he involuntarily gravitates towards Oberman.

Oberman’s a good foil for Brittney. She’s unpredictable and rather cagey; her interrogation scene is almost a femme fatale thing, which is weird considering she’s just out of the habit.

Then there’s the Leonard (Al Weaver) plot. His dad—a perfectly fine but nothing special Sean Gilder—comes to visit and things don’t go well. There are unexpected revelations and dashed hopes and it’s all very depressing until it isn’t anymore because you don’t want to be depressed going out on the show this season. No spoilers but… it’s a very nice ending.

“Grantchester” has been fairly busy this season and this episode does a fine job wrapping up all the existing storylines. It’s a little uneven balancing subplots for Brittney, Green, Weaver, and Peake-Jones—even with Peake-Jones getting a lot less—with Green’s stuff all at the beginning of the season, but it works well enough. “Grantchester”’s successfully navigated the vicar change… now it just needs to get renewed.

Grantchester (2014) s05e02

I consider myself fairly capable with British Isles accents; it’s always been undubbed Trainspotting or Full Monty for me; I figured out Ulysses on my own; I could watch “Monty Python” and understand them; but “Sinjin” actually being “St. John?” Whatever. I mean, I knew it had to be weird because “Sinjin” seemed too much like an Indian import but the only thing the British seem proud of taking from India is their foodstuffs.

Anyway, St. John is Dominic Mafham. He’s Tom Brittney’s mom’s new boyfriend and, shocker, he’s a total dick because it’s 1955 or whatever and she’s just trying to get along since Brittney won’t quit the Church for her. Jemma Redgrave plays the mom.

The mystery this episode is an intentional hit and run. Brittney and Al Weaver are walking by when they see it, which leads Brittney and Robson Green to an unknown street in Grantchester (because before Google Maps, you could have unknown streets in the town where you’re a copper, I guess). The unknown street thing is short but does give Tessa Peake-Jones a nice opportunity to figure into the main plot. Otherwise she’s just around to be an obstacle for Weaver to hang out with boyfriend Oliver Dimsdale. Though there’s also the new TV in the vicarage (so Weaver and Dimsdale can chill, which is adorable) and Peake-Jones has a lot of thoughts on it. Her “idiot’s lantern” rant is excellent.

There’s a house on the unknown street with two older brothers who figure into the case. It’s an okay enough mystery, involving fraud, infidelity, and PTSD. The PTSD bit gives Green a couple excellent scenes. He’s busy with his home stuff—he brought in mother-in-law Paula Wilcox to tend to the house since wife Kacey Ainsworth got a union position at work.

“Grantchester” has settled pretty nicely since losing its protagonist last season. Though at some point someone needs to acknowledge Brittney isn’t very good at questioning suspects yet. The show’s also taking it slow with Brittney’s new love interest, Lauren Carse, which is fine; if James Norton’s Sidney were still around with Carse as a love interest, they’d probably have had at least one pregnancy scare by now.

Grantchester (2014) s05e01

It’s nice to have “Grantchester” back, especially since Robson Green doesn’t appear to have a complete jackass arc for this season. Though it’s arguably too soon to tell and he does bring in his mother-in-law (Paula Wilcox, I think) without consulting wife Kacey Ainsworth to help out around the house since they’re both so busy with work now. Green thinks he’s being helpful, sort of bringing in free labor instead of helping himself. Because it’s the mid-fifties and Green’s having some trouble adjusting to the new paradigms. All of them. But mostly lovably so.

But Ainsworth doesn’t show up until well into the episode—and their kids get nothing so far—with the episode otherwise more focused on Al Weaver’s subplot about getting back from a week in Marrakesh; he and boyfriend Oliver Dimsdale got to be out (well, more out) and now Weaver’s not just shoved back into the local closet, he can’t even tell housekeeper Tessa Peake-Jones where he’s really been. “Granchester”’s got this unpleasant reality situation where it’s not like Peake-Jones or Green are going to be able to get woke. Arguably it’s hard to believe dreamboat vicar Tom Brittney can be as woke (though he’s less woke than previous dreamboat vicar James Norton) in the mid-1950s and not be, you know, a practicing atheist all things considered. It’s a rough arc for Weaver but well-executed.

Brittney’s subplot involves rich, newly widowed mom Jemma Redgrave and her adjustments. It’s fine. Not too much heavy lifting for Brittney, though the show does seem to be setting up local reporter Lauren Carse as his love interest.

The mystery involves a progressive, proto-feminist women’s college run by Siobhan Redmond and one of her students turning up dead after a big dance. I can’t remember if the universities (one for the boys, one for the girls) have ever been in Grantchester before or maybe they’re just nearby….

It’s an okay mystery. They get to the solution a little too conveniently but “Grantchester”’s not about the the solutions, it’s about the characters and they’re in good shape. The show’s got a very nice balance between the cast and the mystery this episode. Some rather good direction from Gordon Anderson throughout too.

Love & Friendship (2016, Whit Stillman)

Love & Friendship opens with some non-traditional portrait cards for its cast of characters. The actors all appear in the opening titles, but then director Stillman breaks out introductions to the characters. Along with some narration. There’s some narration early on, which goes away almost immediately. Because narration might show a little too much of the film’s hand and Stillman wants to play it real close.

Everyone’s character gets an introduction card–done with portrait effect nodding to silent film techniques–except Kate Beckinsale. She’s not just the lead, she’s the object of everyone’s attention, which almost seems like the same thing as the film’s subject. But not so. With another twenty minutes or so, maybe Stillman could’ve made Beckinsale the film’s subject, but Love & Friendship runs a quick ninety-four minutes. There’s only so much he can do and wants to do. Beckinsale’s character might be deserving of a character study, but Stillman’s making a comedy and a light one. So object of attention she remains.

Though Stillman does obfuscate just enough to keep Beckinsale unknowable. Though no one in Love & Friendship is exactly knowable. Most character development comes out in characters discussing other ones, revealing bits and pieces of gossip and backstory, which informs how discussed characters play out, but there’s always a wink. Chloë Sevigny’s role in the film is mostly just to be knowing. She’s the wink at the audience.

Stillman takes his time introducing characters and storylines. When the film opens, Beckinsale and sidekick Kelly Campbell are just arriving to mooch off some of Beckinsale’s dead husband’s relations. It’s set in eighteenth century English society, but a lot of the film’s humor relates to just how brazen Beckinsale can be. She’s got a title and no money. She’s got a daughter and no husband. She also provokes a lot of rumor and gossip, which the audience gets in on before Beckinsale even shows up in the film. Stillman lays the groundwork for introducing her–as sensationally as possible given the realities of the setting–but also for what’s going to come in the second and third acts. He doesn’t foreshadow. He goes out of his way to avoid it, instead relying on Richard Van Oosterhout’s precise photography, Benjamin Esdraffo’s score, and Sophie Corra’s awesome editing to package each scene in the film as a separate moment. The actors give the film a continuous tempo, not Stillman’s script. Stillman’s script is about the smiles, the laughs, the intrigue, but he relies on the actors to keep the characters going.

It’s important because he’s introducing new, important ones throughout. Even if they got a portrait card in the first act, a lot goes on in Love & Friendship and Stillman uses the device for charm and humor more than establishing the ground situation. The ground situation comes out in the dialogue, the actors deliver the dialogue. Stillman directs to emphasize each exchange. Occasionally with some eclectic composition choices, always with perfectly timed ones. Again, Corra’s editing is essential to the film’s success.

The acting is all great. Beckinsale holds it all together. With everyone talking about nothing except her character, she’s always the focus, even if she’s not in the scene. So when she does come back onscreen, she doesn’t just have to do the scene, she’s also got to bridge her absence and the discussed character or plot development. Beckinsale, Stillman, and Corra get it right every time.

Xavier Samuel is good as Beckinsale’s too young suitor, Emma Greenwell is great as his disapproving sister. Morfydd Clark is good as Beckinsale’s daughter, who should be looking for a suitor of her own. The relationship with Beckinsale and Clark ought to forecast where Love & Friendship is going to end up, but it doesn’t. Stillman doesn’t want any peeking.

Tom Bennett is hilarious as Clark’s suitor, a rich buffoon. Justin Edwards is quietly excellent as Greenwell’s husband.

Sevigny’s perfect in her bemusement.

Love & Friendship is a delightful, thoughtful, ambitious, beauteous, little, grandiose picture.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Whit Stillman; screenplay by Stillman, based on a novella by Jane Austen; director of photography, Richard Van Oosterhout; edited by Sophie Corra; music by Benjamin Esdraffo; produced by Lauranne Bourrachot, Katie Holly, and Stillman; released by Amazon Studios.

Starring Kate Beckinsale (Lady Susan Vernon), Chloë Sevigny (Alicia Johnson), Xavier Samuel (Reginald DeCourcy), Emma Greenwell (Catherine Vernon), Morfydd Clark (Frederica Vernon), Tom Bennett (Sir James Martin), Kelly Campbell (Mrs Cross), Justin Edwards (Charles Vernon), James Fleet (Sir Reginald DeCourcy), Jemma Redgrave (Lady DeCourcy), Jenn Murray (Lady Lucy Manwaring), and Stephen Fry (Mr. Johnson).


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