Ok so before we close out the month, I thought I do another quick review/commentary of some shows I’ve been enjoying. As most of us in the Upper Midwest are forced to hibernate thanks to the darn Polar Vortex, well, here are shows well worth binging on. Yes I’m well aware most of the shows I’ve been watching are European shows… as you know I’m a self-proclaimed Anglophile, and at times Francophile 😉
If you read my blog, you’d also know there are few period dramas I do not like, esp. those set in Britain! But believe it or not, I actually have not seen the film version of Howards End, despite my longtime love & admiration for Emma Thompson.
Howards End examines “the changing landscape of social and class divisions in turn-of-the-century England through the prism of three families: the intellectual and idealistic Schlegels, the wealthy Wilcoxes from the world of business and the working-class Basts.”
Well in a way that is a good thing as I’m largely unfamiliar about the story, based on the much-revered book by E. M. Forster. What intrigues me about this series was that it’s adapted by American writer/playwright Kenneth Lonergan and one of my all time fave British actress Hayley Atwell.
Besides Atwell, the film is boasted by a strong cast of Philippa Coulthard, Matthew Macfadyen & Tracey Ullman. Julia Ormond also has a small but important role as Ruth Wilcox, a conventional woman who’s the matriarch of the Wilcox family. I love that the story is encompasses SO many social themes and is so expertly-written that almost every dialog is captivating. I am constantly in awe of Atwell as I’m watching this, and Hettie MacDonald‘s direction of Lonergan’s story structure is simply marvelous. People who love constant action on a show/film might argue that few things happen in this movie, but for me, I appreciate the intricate layers of complexity the key characters face. The sharp contrast between Atwell’s Margaret Schlegel and Macfadyen’s Henry Wilcox is palpable and often frustrating to watch, but the character transformation/redemption in the end is quite heart-wrenching.
If I had to nitpick however, I’m not too fond of Joe Bannister as Charles Wilcox. Yes I know the character is supposed to be unsympathetic but must the actor also be utterly loathsome to watch? I’d also like to see a stronger actor than Joseph Quinn as Leonard Bast, overall he’s not memorable given how crucial his role is.
Overall I think the cast is really strong however, esp. the mesmerizing Hayley Atwell. As much as I’m a big fan of romantic period dramas, I also appreciate the fact that they downplay the romance here. Instead it’s more of a character study and astute commentary of social themes of the time (beginning of the 20th century), which deals with women’s emancipation as well as economic prejudices, etc. that are still relatable to today’s climate. I also appreciate the ‘color blind casting’ as they employed actors of color in traditionally white roles. Overall it’s a gorgeous miniseries that’s well-written and beautifully-filmed. In fact I don’t even mind rewatching it at some point as I might’ve missed some of the nuances of this complex story.
Call My Agent! (Dix Pour Cent)
Dix pour cent plunges us into the intense and madcap world of talent agents as we meet four colleagues who struggle to save their agency’s reputation after its founder’s death. With humor and wit, the agency partners juggle their chaotic personal lives with the needs of the demanding celebrities they represent.
I couldn’t find a trailer with English subtitles but you should get the gist. The Netflix show has subtitles of course.
I started watching this show late last year and we immediately binged on two seasons within a week. A feast of cameos, esp. if you enjoy French cinema. But even if you aren’t you’d likely recognize big names like Monica Belluci, Isabelle Adjani and Jean Dujardin, Oscar-winner for The Artist.
The cameos are fun as they’re basically playing themselves, but even without them, the show itself is well worth a watch. The show is apparently produced by former agent-to-the-stars Dominique Besnehard so he’s got the insider knowledge of what it takes to manage the careers of some of the top French talents/filmmakers. The lives of these agents at ASK here seem ‘stranger than fiction,’ probably more over-the-top and hysterical than the movies their clients star in. Some of the storylines may seem absurd, well some are inherently absurd, i.e. the constantly-overbooked Isabelle Hupert. But many actually have genuine intrigue and emotional resonance. A method actor who can’t escape a role as a woodsman, an older actress fighting a director set on filming her nude, a wanna-be agent maneuvering his career and his desire to be loved… and perhaps the most dramatic of all, a pregnant agent trying to comfort her lover as their daughter’s biological dad want more control. There’s even a childbirth scene right in the office!
Even from season 1, I have come to adore the main characters. We get to know them more in season 3 and it’s tough to pick a favorite. I’m always amused by the shenanigans of super-agents Andréa Martel (Camille Cottin) and Mathias Barneville (Thibault de Montalembert), but I really feel for the plight of Gabriel Sarda (Grégory Montel) and Mathias’ daughter Camille Valentini (Fanny Sidney) who’s getting a hang on becoming an agent. Arlette Azémar (Liliane Rovère) continues to surprise me, and hunky-boss-from-hell Hicham (Assaad Bouab) is perhaps not as bad as we think. This season, there’s also more drama involving the agents’ assistants Hervé (Nicolas Maury) and Noémie (Laure Calamy) who are just as neurotic as their bosses.
All of this drama, humor and bizarre scenarios are fun escapist stuff. At times it made me think how fun would it be to be agents to the stars, but they practically have no personal life as they’re on call 24/7 and these stars can be such babies! The setting is mostly in Paris which means the setting and fashion alone is fun to watch. This is such an addictive show that I hope there’ll be season 4 and more in the future!
Have you seen either one of these shows? I’d love to hear what you think!