Saturday, May 17, 2014

CWE: "Fortunes of War" (1987) - Parts 1 & 2

Summary: Shortly before the start of World War II, a young woman follows her new husband to Romania, where he teaches English. They try to stay ahead of the war, fleeing to Greece and then Egypt, all while learning who each other really is.

One of the things that I really enjoy about this series is how it looks at the interplay between class, race, nationality, gender, sexual orientation and so much more when it comes both to actual and assumed privilege. Guy and Harriet Pringle are straight, white and English, and by and large, they approach the world from a position of assumed safety. Harriet, with no family aside from Guy, and what would seem to be a relatively unprivileged background, is perhaps more cautious, but she's also a person who stands up for herself and takes care of herself no matter the situation. She is, ultimately, still English and has, until now, presumably lived there her whole life. The type of challenge and danger that she faces are completely unique, but again, she's used to doing what she needs to do.

Guy is something else. He's probably more privileged than Harriet, but maybe not by much. But he's a man, and he's traveled, and his naturally outgoing and friendly nature have probably protected him in most situations. But he also has somewhat naive opinions, which repeatedly get challenged throughout the series by the situations he is in.

There is such a huge flow of secondary (and slightly less major main characters) characters who come and go. They all have different backgrounds, although most are English (and Prince Yakimov is half-Irish, half-Russian minor royalty, supposedly). Most are relatively upper class, diplomats and college teachers, with a few journalists (and Yaki, a supposed prince but basically a wanderer who gloms onto whoever will let him). A few are gay, although it's rarely specifically articulated -- this being the 1940s.

Harriet is one of my favorite characters in everything ever. I can't remember if I'm remembering things from the books or later episodes of the series, but I think her parents died when she was quite young. She and Guy met just a few months before the series begins and marry quickly. They don't know each other at all, really. But it seems very clear that she is incredibly capable, very smart, and whatever issues that she and Guy develop later in the series, there could not be a better partner for him. Whether he is the right guy for her...

Part 1:
  • This series is long and I have reading to do, so there may be gaps of my attention.
  • I absolutely love this series. It's longer than the limit that I set for myself, running 7 episodes of about an hour each, but I'll make the exception.
  • I think I heard about this as the show where Emma Thompson and Kenneth Branagh met, so I had wanted to see it for years. I found the books on which it's based when I was living in London, but it must have been after that when I finally got the DVDs. Maybe I watched it through Netflix first?
  • So many lines and scenes from the series stand out in my mind. 
  • The first appearance of Yakimov!
  • "How did you get this table? There are all those people waiting!" "Because we are English! And England is protecting Romania! And besides, I bribed the waiter."
  • "I don't appreciate being sent anywhere, not being a parcel."
  • "Sophie probably imagines that war was declared for the sole purpose of depressing her."
  • I love that Yakimov's shoes never match. "Funny thing is, I have another pair just like them at home."
  • Guy thinks that everyone is extraordinary.
  • Harriet and the landlord negotiate in French, even though neither of them speaks the language.
  • Sascha and his family are interesting. Very rich, with Jewish father and Romanian mother. Everything taken, the father imprisoned, Sascha taken for the army.
  • Dubedat. He starts out looking so ratty. Doesn't stay that way.
  • Harriet telling Sophie that if she keeps threatening to kill herself, she really should just go ahead and jump, is the best. I love her unwillingness to put up with any more of her crap.
Part 2:
  • Commander Sheffy feeds on the Englishmen's patriotism, plus Guy's quiet guilt at being unable to fight.
  • "People are dying. Is that an argument in favor of sitting on cats?"
  • Lawson is an odd duck. Hey! I just learned that the actor playing Lawson is Derek Jacobi's partner! Neat!
  • "If Guy shows up, tell him that I'm at the university. Or the ligation. Or in the lake." "The lake's frozen." "I enjoy a challenge."
  • "Guy will turn up. He'll keep turning up all your life."
  • "You do agree, the mountains have some good moments."
  • Ah, the beginning of the "Troilus & Cressida" performance plot.
  • I love Yaki, but he is a scrounger. And let Harriet's cat die. Although, you know, it wasn't really his fault.
  • And Harriet loses her role to Sophie.
  • "Isn't one bitch much the same as any other?" "No, Harriet. The answer is no."
  • "The only problem is that I can't decide if [the play] is a defiant gesture in the face of the enemy or a shameful waste of time and money in the midst of a national crisis. What do you think?" "I blame capitalist imperialism." "Of course you do, I was forgetting."
  • Unsurprisingly, Yaki is a very good actor.
  • The play is performed accompanied by actual footage of the Germans invading Paris.
  • ... and Lawson asks Harriet to run away with him. "Your husband is a fool." "I'd rather have a fool who believes in something than a fool who believes in nothing."
  • Sascha! Escaped from the army.
OK, time for a break.

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