Friday, 28 October 2016

Why Downton Abbey survived Seasons and Time

picture from IMDB website
Downton Abbey, created by Julian Fellowes, made it with flying colours through six seasons with fans asking for more. Although there are no more new episodes to watch till the much-hyped sequel film makes it to the big screen, fans including myself won't tire of rewatching all the story over and over on DVD or Blu-ray. (If at all possible and you haven't got your own copy already, get the Blu-ray version. It costs little more than the DVD boxset and shows off the castle and costumes to fabulous perfection. There were times when I could actually see the individual stones that make up Highclere Castle!)

Now back to the point of today's entry, let us explore what makes Downton Abbey stand tall, proud and award-winning amid so many other hopeful series.
picture from IMDB website

As we all know, historical accuracy often takes a backseat in such drama-filled stories but in this case, the production team employed a historian to keep the background on track. Even minute details such as the medals on the soldiers' posh red uniforms were chosen with care, as well as their exact positions on the clothing items! Detail, as well as setting the story during important historical events such as the sinking of the Titanic and the First World War, intrigue viewers and make the characters more real for suffering through realistic if phenomenal periods in time. A cardinal rule of novel-writing is that fiction should be made believable and that it is truth that is stranger than fiction. We believe the tragic stories found in newspapers however odd and sensational they may be and yet would have trouble believing the same events in a novel. So Fellowes' idea of setting the drama in implausible situations that everyone believes in because of history books, gave him free reign in causing problems for his characters without the trouble of having to justify how possible the scenarios would be. These situations allowed him to start the tale with a grand opening - both heirs to the throne are tragically dead - leaving not only the Abbey but also the eldest 'princess' with an uncertain future.

At this point, enter Prince Charming in the guise of a doctor's son, giving the story its first twist. Not only is Matthew Crawley the unassuming heir to the estate, but also middle class enough to be shunned by most at Downton Abbey at the start, a classical example of the hero if you may. In this particular instance, the hero comes with a mother in tow, one with ideas of her own to add to the tale. The introduction of a sensible yet high-aiming mother-in-law for Mary ensured Fellowes could have a subplot or two to add.
Downton Abbey was meant to focus on the future aristocratic Lord and Lady Grantham, with their will-they-won't-they romance that eventually gave way to the will-they-have-an-heir-or-won't-they question. However, as well-made and promising as that sounds, the plot went hay-wire when Dan Stevens, the prince charming himself, opted out of renewing his contract for a fourth season. With a looming possible end to the whole Dowton world, Fellowes opted to kill off the character Matthew on the happiest day of his life, giving audience a new baby and a death in the space of mere minutes not just on the screen but even in the Crawleys' life.

To end the Christmas season with a death scene is an improbable way to keep your audience coming back but Downton had by then gained such a trusted following that the fourth season, despite starting off with not only a lost Mary but also a lost-cause plot, managed to keep enough of its dedicated followers to pick up again whilst spinning the story off into new routes. With the maid Anna and husband Bates, Tom Branson, Daisy and Edith all getting their own bit of fame, as well as Lord Grantham's dramatic ulcer-rupturing scene and Lady Violet's love-from-the-past making an appearance, the show went on to more encores. However it was only fitting that Mary should take centre stage again once she'd recovered from her debilitating loss (which we quite understand, seeing as Matthew was the only one who loved her for who she was and saw the good in her). Failing over and over to find another true love, Mary once again becomes her seemingly cruel self, quick to help those in need but just as quick to ruin her sister's plans as she would have in the first season. Finally married off to a clueless Henry Talbot, it was only fair to plump out his character a fair bit once he became the chosen one and it was only fitting that he leave the racing world behind for a business venture in order to be fair to Matthew's memory.

The final instalments of the last season might have sent everyone off into the sunset they deserved, and yet despite showing two weddings in two episodes, they only served to remind the viewer of Mary and Matthew's previous magical union, cheered by all and destined to work. So truly, whilst all the characters were well-rounded enough to deserve a place in the heart of the Downton Abbey die-hard fan, none of them has left an imprint in fans' hearts as Matthew did, showing us that the tale, just as proposed in the beginning, was the tale of Matthew and Mary after all.

Friday, 21 October 2016

Cities as Community Spaces - A Conference

Cities as Community Spaces is the third annual conference organised by the Valletta 2018 Foundation. The conference will take place between the 23rd and 25th November in different community spaces in Valletta.

The main aim of the conference is to focus and explore the role of community spaces in the cities and the interaction between different communities. Whilst it is being based in Malta’s capital city - soon to be the European Capital of Culture - the sessions are about issues of international interest and that could be applied to various cities throughout the Mediterranean and Europe as well as beyond.

The conference will be exploring the following six main themes:

Driving Seats - Community Driven Spaces
Moving Walls - Community Contested Spaces
Creative Revivors - Developing Creative Spaces
City Starters - City Space as an Empowerment Tool
#Community - Online Community Spaces
Policity - Policy for Active Community Spaces

Representatives of community organisations as well as researchers, cultural practitioners and policy makers will be participating and sharing their professional views. Nonetheless, the conference is also open to community members, members of community groups and non-governmental organisations as well as local councils who will have different opportunities to share their experience and network with their international counterparts. The Plenary Sessions will be held at the King’s Own Band Club in Republic Street whilst the Parallel Sessions will be divided also among San Gorg Preca Primary School, Spazju Kreattiv and Splendid which has now been reopened as an exhibition and performance space in Strait Street. The Crypt of the Church of St Augustine will be used for networking sessions including dinners.

There will be an accompanying social programme which includes an artistic installation and short film screenings. 

A full programme of events is available here:

Registration for the conference closes on the 31st October 2016. If you would like to attend, you may confirm your registration by clicking the button at the top right hand of the Programme page.

Friday, 14 October 2016

Love, Rosie... A book turned into film

A pretty long while ago now, I had mentioned an idea that was brewing in my mind to write a comparison review between a book and film about the same story. The fictional account I will be tackling today is one of those rare cases where the film is actually better, if very different, to the book, despite that the book came first.

Please note that this entry contains SPOILERS.

Love, Rosie, originally published as Where Rainbows End, by author Cecelia Ahern, is the extremely long if original account of Rosie Dunne's chaotic years from childhood right up to her fifties. Her relationship with best friend Alex is explored mostly through letters going not only back and forth between the two of them but also a multitude of family correspondence in which the two unconciously reveal their feelings for each other, which seem to be obvious to all but themselves.

Letters work well in some novels but not, initially, in this one. To leave things out for the reader to find out is all well and good, but to purposely leave out information on which the whole story will hang is a no-no in my opinion. Truth be told, I doubt I'd have willed myself through the first tedious chapters of the book had I not already watched the film and fallen in love with the story. That said, so much was changed from book to film that at times the story goes off on a totally different route to the one on screen. This is understandable in that the book version is so long it would never work as a film.

Rosie's daughter's subplot about following her dream career is totally omitted, leaving the young Katie only the roles of catalyst and her parallel friendship-turns-to-love subplot. So are the two men Greg and Katie's father turned into one character fulfilling the role of both in the less-than-two-hour-long interpretation. These two changes leave no consequence on the main story but some other changes do, working to better Ahern's story as we are spared the long years of interminable side-tracking to get to the perfect ending. In the book Rosie suffers a long stint working in a rundown hotel that, whilst giving her the work experience she so needs for her eventual career, does nothing to help the book along other than to disgust Alex' wife. This prolonged work placement is not to be found in the less dragging script. Yet another significant change is caused by Alex getting married for a totally different reason in the book, which albeit responsible does torture the reader with eighteen years of a failing marriage. The film instead gives Alex every reason to leave his ailing relationships, pushing him into Rosie's arms faster.

As I mentioned already, Katie's father is not Greg in the book and yet Greg is probably Ahern's best bet at making the plot work. Though he is still the one to hide Alex's letter in the film, the book makes him into a sorrier excuse of a man as he goes about his cheating life without the charm of the handsome Christian Cooke's acted out Greg. Alex's cute teddybear scene that comes right after the funeral and before Greg shows up drunk, putting Alex and Greg in clear comparison on film, is missing from the book. Meanwhile Ahern's antagonist is pitted against Alex all through the book in obvious hints that only the confused Rosie could miss. Alex's perfect description of the holiday he guesses Rosie would prefer is in perfect contrast to Greg's choice and probably my favourite scene in the book.

Given that this has been about comparing and contrasting rather than the usual review, I afraid this entry may have given some details away. However, I have tried as well I can to keep the main surprises out of this text so that you may still enjoy their discoveries whether you choose to read the book, watch the film or do both.

Despite that I have often suggested during discussions with friends, that in this case I would think it makes better sense to watch the film before reading the text, this is always up to the individual's taste. The one thing I can say is that they are both a treat in a different way to each other and whichever you choose to do first won't spoil the other as they are so different, almost like two seperate stories at times if you will, further helped along by the fact that the author of P.S. I Love You has, even in this case, resorted to letters to make her point, whilst the film relies heavily on characterisation instead and presents us with a story that is being played out in real time instead of explained in letters. What works in a book does not always necessarily translate to film and vice versa. So, dear readers and film buffs, I leave you today with a task. If you do follow my advise and see what all the fuss around Love, Rosie is about, do take the time to comment on this post. I would really love to read new opinions about this story that is a favourite of mine.

Thursday, 6 October 2016

What I Learnt This Week

I know it has been ages since I wrote about books and films on here but it's been another hard week which left me with barely time to eat and sleep let alone catch up with freelance work so this will be another impromptu entry.

This week marks an achievement in my lacking culinary repertoire, since I managed to make veal stew (for the first time) and all three of us actually enjoyed eating it! I am a lousy cook (my husband would say that's an understatement!) and don't usually do much cooking myself. So to see my son, who I must emphasise has a distaste for meals in general, forcing himself to eat more because he liked it so, even when he was full, was a big win.

On the house front, our living area is currently packed up in boxes and cupboards due to the refurbishment, and I have found myself singling out my favourite decorative items much more easily, because they are those items that I miss having in plain view. In fact, I found it pretty easy to haul four heavy matching canvas prints to the charity shop yesterday. A clear sign that they should go was the fact that what I felt as soon as we got them off the walls was relief. I had made the colourful and now outdated purchase ages ago, when we first started living in our current home. In a bid to fill the walls of a still new and empty place, I would bring home cheap and affordable purchases or ones that matched our rooms' style, without really knowing where I would be putting them, at times miscalculating their proportions on our walls or, worse than that, without even liking the thing I purchase. These items lingered, became too familiar to part with, and had my husband repeatedly advising he would rather keep them till we found a replacement to avoid having bare walls and shelves. Now that we have removed most everything from the areas we are tackling in our home project, there were no qualms about letting go. Out of sight out of mind they say, though it doesn't really work that way for those of us who are Minimalists, as whatever is in storage still weighs on my mind. Therefore I can't wait for our home to be ready and be able to unpack it all again, not only to put back my faves and the DVD/BluRay collection I am missing so much, but also in order to see what can go. As I believe I mentioned last time, the rule for my current decluttering campaign is 'Anything that doesn't fit must go', which will see a multitude of frames and knick knacks leaving the house, added to those I have parted with already. As Marie Kondo states, it really is about 'feeling' whether something gives you joy. Some things very clearly didn't so I decided we should part ways.

That said, I do not live alone. It is tricky at times, when other family members have different tastes or wants to your own and you're 'stuck' with an item you dislike on a daily basis. However, I have found that once I know an  item is treasured by someone I love, it automatically gains my respect and as a result even becomes more bearable to live with. A Capodimonte statue of red roses has gained its rightful place already in the new surroundings because my husband likes or loves it enough to actually remember it from time to time and ask where it is. Meanwhile my son specifically asked me to keep a set of three matching frames that house pictures of the three of us together. As I am not too sure whether I would like these frames to hang around and don't really have a place to put them, I asked him to tell me was it the photos or the frames he wanted to keep. He said it was the photos, but also made it clear he wanted them put in frames he liked. Compromise is, in this case as with everything else, key.

Multi-tasking is not a forte of mine but I have been writing this entry whilst eating my dinner, which I have now finished. As my to-do list for today is still not all ticked, I am going to have to end this here. Keep tuned, for next time.