The Favourite: How important is Historical Accuracy in a Period Movie?

Yorgos Lanthimos’ The Favourite is on my Top Ripples 2018 list. I added it in after I’d already posted my annual wrap. I judged it mainly on the basis of its aesthetics, film as an art form, the acting, cinematography, and overall styling.

I went into the theatre with no prior knowledge of the historical details. So, with no a priori burden as a fact-checker, I just let my curiosity lead me, and soon I was transported to a very different world in a very different time. The Favourite shows us Queen Anne’s court in early 18th C. England, where the Whigs fight against the Tories, where men wear wigs and stay indoor cheering on ducks racing or hurling fruits at a naked, good-humoured and heavy-set man (easy target) who finally slips on the fruity and juicy floor, while women play with guns and shoot pigeons outdoor, and pretty good aims they are too, both with the pigeons and in narrowly missing the human target, just as a warning.

the favourite

The film is all about the relational triangle between three women. The trio of actors are undoubtedly the distinguished assets of the production: Olivia Colman as Queen Anne, Rachel Weisz her intimate confidante Lady Sarah Churchill, and Emma Stone as Abigail, Sarah’s cousin and novice chambermaid, soon the new favourite of the Queen’s. Abigail is a quick study; in no time they are all drawn into a three-way tug-of-war. Although initially coerced by the leader of the Tories, Robert Harley (A wigged and made up Nicholas Hoult, long way from About A Boy, 2002), to spy on Anne and Sarah, who sides with the Whigs, Abigail later learns to use Harley’s influence as leverage to her advantage.

Against the historic backdrop of the war with France, the film is an intriguing look into a royal court and partisan politics, but the most meaty story is the power struggles among the three women, and how conflicting dynamics, sexual politics, emotional manipulation, jealousy, and treachery will ultimately consume all. If you’re on an existential quest for meaning, look elsewhere. This film is pure entertainment, irreverent, surreal, sumptuous in set design, costumes, make-up, and spot-on in editing and acting; but it’s not for the serious meaning seeker.

The Cinematography effectively augments the overall aesthetics. Director of photography (DP) Robbie Ryan used a fisheye lens and a roving camera to sweep wide-angled shots, giving us a lively, larger but distorted view, like looking into a fishbowl, which is totally compatible with the genre, for to say The Favourite is a comedy is an understatement. The film is more a farce, and at times outrageous to the point of gratuitous sensationalism. The effect is acerbic sarcasm.

But there are plenty pleasing things to look at as the camera captures the sumptuous set design. The fluid, almost 360º camerawork pans like an all knowing eye. That in itself is ironic, for hidden agendas are ubiquitous among the characters. Shot in 35 mm film, Ryan utilizes natural lighting, and in the dark, a single candle light, all work to serve up a classy, Rembrandt-like impression.

The music too, plays a prominent role in establishing the overall classical tone, Vivaldi, Bach, Handel… yet with a splash of contemporary touch as well, like, Elton John’s “Skyline Pigeon” on harpsichord, and piano. Incidentally, in a few scenes, a long-lasting single note or two – which I’m sure even Philip Glass would find too minimal – will repeat and repeat to pull the string of tension, keeping viewers edgy and uncomfortable. Considering Lanthimos’ previous Cannes winning films The Killing of a Sacred Deer (2017) and The Lobster (2013), The Favourite is relatively conventional in style as a period movie.

I have no favourite among the trio, all three deliver spot-on performance, lively in restraints or outbursts. Colman’s gout-stricken Queen Anne is ludicrous and simple minded, but only in appearance. In a candid moment in front of Abigail, she pours out her inner hurts, so much tragedy in her life: 17 pregnancies, none survived. The 17 rabbits she keeps in her bedchamber are symbols representing each one of her loss, twelve miscarriages and stillborn, five dead children. Doting on them is Anne’s way of dealing with her loss.

And kudos to Abigail who at one point has indeed shown genuine sympathy for the Queen’s plight. Anne is perceptive of this too, a point well earned in Abigail’s favour. Stone is well cast in her role, her initial naiveté shines through. She soon learns that is her best weaponry, and uses it well as she turns into a master of manipulation behind the youthful and innocent mask.

Weisz’s Sarah is cool, scheming, head-strong and controlling. She is the voice and brain of Queen Anne, and yet we can see too that there is a strain of care underlying the strong front. Love speaks the truth, she tells Anne at one point, and the Queen seems to accept Sarah’s opinion with docility – including comment such as “you look like a badger”, citing the smeared eyeshadow on her face – that is, until Abigail shows up.

A palace is a decadent place where power reigns supreme for whoever that happens to grab it for the moment. A mud bath for two could easily shift the dynamics of power balance. It’s intriguing and hard to discern if Anne’s fondness of lesbian pleasures is not so much a result of her innate senses but an intentional bait to control. Ultimately all three fall prey to uncensured misery. The closing shot shows there’s no winner, only the mashed up image of the two remaining in the Queen’s chamber, blurring and overlapping with the propagation of rabbits. And what are they, these rabbits, but symbols of death and remembrance of loss? Surely not a comedic ending.


~ ~ ~ Ripples



After watching the film I went online to learn more about Queen Anne and the historic background of the movie. Here are some of my findings (Warning: Spoilers):

There were no rabbits – They are but director Lanthimos’ own creation. But does it matter that the real-life Queen Anne didn’t have a soft spot for bunnies? I feel they are quite effective here in the film, contrasting Anne’s soft heart and Abigail’s callous, sadistic dealing with those around her, notable is the scene where she steps on one almost crushing the poor creature flat on the floor. Quite like a movie adaptation of a book, a film is a totally different entity and art form for expression.

Abigail did not poison Sarah Churchill – I can understand, to advance the plot and consistent with Abigail’s callous scheming to get rid of obstacles in her way. However, maybe a slight apology to the real Abigail Hill in history for portraying her like a Lady Macbeth?

Queen Anne had a husband – Queen Anne married Prince George of Denmark in 1683.  She had been married for 19 years before she came to the throne and reigned for 12 years, 1702–1714. Prince George died six years into her reign in 1708. According to some historic records, their marriage was strong and she was devastated by his demise. Abigail arrived in Anne’s palace in 1704, married Samuel Masham in 1707, Sarah stripped from her royal position in 1711. There’s an overlap of several years with Anne’s husband still alive when Abigail came into Anne’s court.

There is no mention at all in the film about Anne’s husband Prince George. Anne was portrayed as a single woman with a lesbian lover, Sarah Churchill, then later shifted her favourite to Abigail. The main thrust of the film is built on a lesbian love triangle. Is that also within the creative license held by the filmmaker?

Sarah and Anne’s real relationship remains unclear – Historic records show Anne and Sarah were inseparable since childhood, thus fostering a long-time mutual devotion to each other. The two had exchanged letters with passionate descriptions. As for the new favourite, Abigail, there was rumour that a song was circulated by the Whigs suggested that Anne committed “dark deeds at night” with a “dirty chambermaid.”

Letters from Anne to Sarah still exist and it’s clear there was a deep love between them – until Anne shifted to a new favourite, and in the movie, all due to Abigail’s scheming.

In a BBC News article, Queen Anne biographer Anne Somerset and playwright Helen Edmundson, who wrote the 2015 play on the relationship between Anne and Sarah performed by the Royal Shakespeare Company, both agreed that “no one can now be entirely sure of the nature of the relationship between Anne and Sarah.” Further, “we should be wary of assuming that attitudes to sex, friendship and romance were the same as they are today.”

Such an ambiguity may just be too enticing a bait to pass by for a film director to tailor it for today’s audience. Does a period movie based on history need to be ‘faithful’ to it, or, the artist holds the creative license to imagine and create. Many period films do have discrepancies with historic facts. Perhaps, like adaptations from books, filmmakers can be revisionists as well?


Some links to historical background:

The woman behind Queen Anne’s reign, BBC News

Anne (1665 – 1714), BBC History

The True Story Behind The Favourite, TIME

Was Queen Anne Really Caught in a Lesbian Love Triangle? Fact Checking The Favourite, People


Related Post:

The King’s Speech: Fact and Fiction

Canada Reads 2018: Book Review of ‘Forgiveness’ by Mark Sakamoto

Mark Sakamoto’s family memoir was first published in 2014. The book reemerges now due to the Canada Reads 2018 event. The annual battle of the books is CBC’s reading campaign. Five Canadian media and entertainment celebs will defend one of the five shortlisted books in a national broadcast March 26-29. The panelists will vote down one book each day to arrive at the winner. Audience can tune in on the debates via radio, TV and live stream online.

Mark Sakamoto is a lawyer by training and has enjoyed a varied career. In Forgiveness, he writes about his grandparents’ real-life experiences, two contrasting, traumatic WWII accounts. The subtitle of the book is telling, Forgiveness: A Gift from my Grandparents.

Forgiveness (1)Mark Sakamoto’s maternal grandfather Ralph MacLean is from the Magdalen Islands in the east  coast of Canada. In 1940, he enlisted with the army voluntarily together with his friend. After a few months’ training they were sent overseas to Hong Kong, oblivious to the perils into which they were driven. With the British already retreating a hopeless post, MacLean’s garrison didn’t have a chance to defend the then British Colony. In a few short weeks after their arrival, all two thousand or so Canadian soldiers were either dead or turned POWs forced to live in sub-human, horrific conditions under their Japanese captors.

… the fate of 819 men was sealed. They would never return home. The remaining 1,155 survivors would be forgiven if they sometimes felt they were the unlucky ones.

Later, MacLean was shipped to Japan to work for the Japanese war effort, from POW to slave laborer. That he survived at all was a miracle.

Cut to the other side of the world in Canada. Mark’s paternal grandparents Mitsue and Hideo Sakamoto were born in British Columbia and lived in a fishing community. Grandma Mitsue’s father, together with thousands of other Japanese Canadians, had their own boats and were doing well as fishermen in a closed-knit community.

During the time Ralph MacLean was barely surviving as a POW in Japan, the Sakamotos, being Japanese Canadians, went through their own battle in a land they called home. Their families were interned and sent to rural Alberta as forced farm laborers. The family fishing boat, and all their possessions were confiscated. Together with thousands of Japanese Canadians–many Canadian born–Mitsue, Hideo and everyone in their extended families, young and old, were put on a train barely suited for human passengers, under the watchful eyes of policemen with rifles, and transported to Lethbridge, Alberta. There Mitsue and Hideo were separated with their parents as they were sent to different farms to work as laborers, living in shacks of wood planks and dirt floor.

After the war, Ralph MacLean came back from Japan and settled in Calgary, Alberta. Mitsue’s families knew they had no home to return to in B.C. after receiving a compensation cheque of $25.65 from the Canadian government for the loss of all their properties. They decided to remain in Medicine Hat, Alberta. Fate has it that Ralph’s daughter Diane and Mitsue’s son Stan met in a high school dance. When Ralph eventually met his future son-in-law, who looked like one of his wartime tormentors, he knew he needed to leave the past behind. The two families first met at a dinner in Mitsue’s home:

Mitsue and Ralph became instant friends. There was an unspoken understanding between them… they had both discarded the past, keeping only what they needed. They did not compare hardships or measures injustices. They knew there was no merits to that.

Two families who had suffered torments of varying degrees during the war and for very different reasons came together as their children joined in marriage. What a wonderful story. Yet the above short few lines are all that readers can find relating to how the two families came together. Despite the extraordinary personal experiences, the book fell short of delivering a satisfying read.

With the bold, one-word title, “Forgiveness”, it is surprising that the author leaves us with little internal reflections or insights. For Ralph, having gone through so much trauma and physical torments, we are told in only a few lines how he came to the state of forgiveness, that is when he read his Bible during the last days in the Japanese war camp, turning to Mark 25:11, “And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.” That is all being mentioned, just the quote. It seems a lot of the forgiveness is left to the reader’s own assumption and speculation.

It matters little that it lacks literary style, or that the writing is conversational. The short sentences make it a fast read and descriptions are vivid, especially the war years. While the thematic materials are worth telling, the book lacks editorial work to make it a cohesive whole. There are sections that are disjointed, the chapters uneven. There are moments where readers have to join the gaps on their own. The photos are helpful for readers to visualize, but there are no captions right underneath except all stated in a list at the back of the book, not too drastic a fault but an inconvenience still.

Structurally, the first two-thirds of the book about the war years are stark personal experiences many North Americans are not familiar with. These painful, eyewitness accounts told to the author by his grandparents are informative and necessary for us to know. But after that, the last part of the book about Mark and his parents, especially at the end how he had to care for his mother’s debilitating addictions after his parents’ divorce reads like another story unrelated to the earlier part, and Ralph and Mitsue seem to have disappeared.

Nevertheless, for the personal torments of Ralph’s as a POW under Japanese hands during WWII, and the maltreatment of Japanese Canadians had undergone at the same time right here in Canada, Sakamoto’s book is of value as eyewitness accounts to history and a cautionary real-life tale of how we ought to go forward as a civilized society. The last section of the book could well lead to another personal memoir dealing with the urgent social issue of addictions.


Forgiveness: A Gift from my Grandparents by Mark Sakamoto, HarperCollins Publisher, Toronto, 2014.

My review copy provided by the Publisher.



The Railway Man by Eric Lomax Book Review

The Railway Man (2013) Movie Review


The Railway Man by Eric Lomax: Book Review

This is an important book in that it chronicles the real-life experience of a prisoner of war in the hands of the Japanese army after the British surrendered in Singapore during WWII. The Pacific War is a part of WWII history that has often been ignored, other than the Pearl Harbour chapter. The British Empire in the Far East was dealt a deadly blow by Japanese invasions, and, British POW’s suffered not a bit less than those in Hitler’s death camps.

Japanese atrocities and war crimes have often been muffled in this our North American society. I don’t want to speculate why but yes, I do have an inkling which I will not discuss here. But as someone who had grown up in Hong Kong and came to Canada as a teenager, I can tell the difference in knowledge and perceptions when I compare the generally uninformed public of the West and those who themselves or their elders’ generation had lived through in Asia during the war.

Because of the general lack of knowledge on the Far East during WWII, Eric Lomax’s first person narrative as a POW in a Japanese labour camp and later military prison is all the more valuable. The memoir starts off with his love for the railways in childhood and how it turned into a youthful passion for engineering and radios that later led him to the Royal Signals Corp of the British army during the war in Singapore. As the colony fell to Japanese hands, Lomax’s life was torturously demented in subsequent decades until the very end.

The Railway Man Book Cover

Eric Lomax was a young 22 year-old when he was captured and moved with tens of thousands of POW’s to Kanchanaburi, Thailand, to build the notorious ‘Death Railway’ in 1943. It was a passage way for military transport from Thailand to Burma, and the route of a possible Japanese invasion of India. The conditions of forced labour were horrendous. Many POW’s died building the railway. This part of the world was the subject of the famous movie Bridge on the River Kwai, an unrealistic (even farcical now that I’ve read Lomax’s memoir) depiction of British POW’s inside Japanese military camps.

With his skills, Lomax and several others built a radio secretly to get news of the war. The radio was later discovered, together with a map Lomax had carefully drawn up of the railway line. Six of them were interrogated and savagely beaten by The Kempetai, or goon squad, as Lomax described them. Both his arms, wrist, several ribs, teeth, and his hip were broken. Two died from the beatings. While Lomax survived, more tortures and horrendous treatments followed in the days after. The experiences had left him permanently damaged psychologically for the rest of his life. Decades after the war, Lomax was still being tortured by terrifying flashbacks. The nightmares continued until he met his tormentor and forgiveness replaced hatred and vengeance.

So all in all, a significant story to tell. But while the book’s description is straight forward and clear, it leaves me ungratified as to its writing style and lack of deeper exploration, with all due respect to the author and his horrific, nightmares of ordeals. Yes, he had done a detailed job in reporting his personal journey from childhood to the war, the tortures and his suffering, other victims and their fate. As well, he recorded the aftermath of his horrific experiences as he re-entered ‘normal’ society, and sadly still, to a family that he no longer knew. His mother had died of a broken heart and his father had remarried. I was particularly engrossed with the after war effects in the last chapters.

However, the internal change of heart for the reconciliation with the Japanese interpreter had not been explored. After the bulk of the book describing his painful ordeals, the very last chapter of a happy ending looks off-balanced. It all started with the Japanese officer and interpreter, Takashi Nagase, who was present at Lomax’s torture, publishing his autobiography in his seventies. In there, he even mentioned the torture of Lomax, but due to his remorse, he felt he had been ‘forgiven’. Lomax’s second wife Patti, upon reading the English translation of the book, decided to write to Nagase regarding her husband. Patti’s letter opened up a chance for the later meeting between the tormentor and the victim.

Nagase had shown deep remorse, and dedicated his life after the war to help the Allies locate graves of POW’s, to ‘make-up’ for the wrongs the Japanese army had done. In his meeting with Lomax fifty years later, both in their seventies, near the bridge on the River Kwai, Nagase offered his visibly acute and sincere regrets for what the Japanese army had done to the British soldiers. A forgiving spirit suddenly took hold of Lomax and the two became friends. However, Lomax did not go deep into how his ingrained hatred and vengeance were alleviated, except noting that Nagase was a changed man now.

Further, the book had not answered a question I’ve always pondered. No, I understand it was never intended to delve into that issue as it is a personal memoir and not a political or philosophical treatise. But this question has been unsettling for me. What if the tormentor had no remorse, could reconciliation be possible? Other than Nagase, we know that many in Japan today still worship their dead WWII soldiers including war criminals as national heroes, unlike Germany’s denunciation of the Nazi regime. History textbooks had even been changed to tone down Japan’s aggression in the war. Even as recent as January 2014, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe visited and paid his pilgrimage at the Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo. The controversial Shrine is a clear symbol of, in Lomax’s words, “an unashamed celebration of militarism”. In the book, we also read that Nagase had taken the unpopular and even dangerous stance of denouncing this war monument. To victims and their descendants of Japanese wartime atrocities, the chapter has not ended; in international politics, the issue remains.

It is always a triumph to see true remorse and subsequent reconciliation. Lomax’s personal story is extraordinary for both himself and Nagase. In that sense, readers are gratified with a light at the end of a long, dark chapter of one life, a bright stroke on the large canvas of WWII history.


The Railway Man by Eric Lomax, first published in Great Britain, 1995 by Jonathan Cape. Movie tie-in edition by Vintage Books, London, 2014, 322 pages.

** Movie Adaptation: I saw The Railway Man the movie at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2013. So far, there has not been a general, major release of the film here in North America. As much as I’d like to share my view on the film, with Colin Firth as Eric Lomax, Nicole Kidman as his wife Patti, and Jeremy Irvine as young Lomax, I intend to wait till there is a public release of the film before I post my review. Let’s hope I don’t have to wait much longer.

Related Links:

Pride and Pain of Patti Lomax

Railway Man’s Forgotten Family

What Japanese History Lessons leave out by Mariko Oi 

Saturday Snapshot February 22: Austen Doors and Windows

Continuing with the theme of doors and windows, let’s hop over to the UNESCO city of Bath. I was there twice. These are a few photos I took on those trips.

The beloved author Jane Austen lived there from 1801 – 1806 after her family moved from her birthplace Steventon when she was 26. Their first address was 4 Sydney Place:

4 Sydney PlaceNo 4 Sydney PlaceIn their last year in Bath the family moved to 25 Gay Street:

25 Gay Street

25 Gay Street

Down the road to No. 40 is the Jane Austen Centre:

40 Gay Street Jane Austen Centre

The Great Pump Room was a social hub in Austen’s day. Her observations there must have inspired her satirical descriptions of high society in Northanger Abbey. Now an elegant restaurant:

The Pump Room Entrance

Austen used Bath as the setting for her novel Persuasion. Milsom Street was a vibrant commercial area of shops and businesses in those days as in now. The first time Anne Eliot saw Captain Wentworth again was when he passed by a shop on Milsom Street.

Milsom StreetMilsom Streetscape  Here’s a modern day shop window, Milsom & Son, a music store:

Milsom & Son

No, Jane would not have stepped in there to shop for CD’s or DVD’s. But she would likely have gone into this place, Sally Lunn Bun, the oldest building in Bath dating back to 1482 and a business that was present in Jane’s time. There’s a Kitchen Museum in the basement of the restaurant:

Sally Lunn's Bun

Sally Lunn Bun entrance

How can I resist showing you what’s inside the door and window:

Sally Lunn Bun

You might like to explore more of Bath in my other posts Jane Austen’s Bath and Bath’s Persuasion in which I recorded my walking tour using the novel Persuasion as a guidebook.

Saturday Snapshot is hosted by Melinda of West Metro Mommy Reads. Click Here to see what others have posted.


Saturday Snapshot February 8: Cabin Fever continues…

The snow and cold persist. I’ve to revisit Southern France to assuage cabin fever. Here are more photos from my Provence travels in the summer of 2010.

Avignon, the historic centre of Western Christendom in the Middle Ages. Its Palais des Papes, or, Palace of the Popes, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Medieval Gothic architecture was designed as a fortress and palace, residence for the Popes. Six papal conclaves were held there in the 14th century.

Palais des PapesSigns pointing to others historic monuments:


The Bridge of Avignon, Pont St. Bénezet, or Pont d’Avignon, was built between 1177 – 1185, rebuilt in 1234 after it was damaged in a siege by Louise VIII, King of France. It was an important crossing over the Rhone River. Only four arches now remain:

Pont d'AvignonNot all serious history though… Right outside the Palais Des Papes, I saw an elephant doing Yoga:

Elephant outside Palace of the PopesA closer look:

Elephant doing YogaAnd in the town centre, this beautiful merry-go-round:

Entertainment in town centreAnd puppeteers getting ready for a skeleton show:

Street performersSnap back to reality… no elephant in the room or dancing skeleton. And it’s -16C outside. Just let me hop back on that merry-go-round…


Saturday Snapshot is hosted by Melinda of Metro Mommy Reads.
CLICK HERE to see what others have posted.



Bonhoeffer Read-Along Part 1: Chapters 1-18

February 4 has come and gone without fanfare, without even being noticed by me, the one hosting a read-along of a bio on Bonhoeffer. That day two weeks ago would have been Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s 107th birthday (1906-1945). I’m feeling a sense of loss for missing it.bonhoefer book cover

A sense of sadness too which comes from knowing a young and brilliant life so purposeful even from the start was cut short violently. It also comes from empathy with the parents Karl and Paula, who had to experience the death of three of their four sons and two sons-in-law during war time. Back in 1918, their second son Walter died in action in WWI. And during WWII, their third son Klaus, youngest Dietrich, and two sons-in-law were executed by the Nazis for their role in the German resistance against Hitler. Sad especially that they only learned of Dietrich’s death through a radio broadcast of his memorial service from England. He was only 39.

My impression from the outset is, Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s was a life of purpose, even from an early age. It was made possible largely by a nurturing and vibrant family, and a lively brood of four boys and four girls. Father Karl Bonhoeffer, a prominent psychiatrist and university professor, instilled intellectual rigor; mother Paula imparted faith and fervor. The young lives benefitted from the cultural and musical home environs, but more importantly, the indomitable sense of social justice.

The Bonhoeffer children
The eight Bonhoeffer children with their governess at a holiday home (ca. 1910). Karl and Paula Bonhoeffer in the background. Dietrich to the right of the governess.

Dietrich knew he wanted to study theology when he was only thirteen. He graduated summa cum laude from the University of Berlin, obtaining his doctorate when he was only twenty-one. What brilliant mind and potential! And with that mind he saw through the trickery and schemes of an emerging demigod in Hitler. This is probably my favorite quotes from him. You can see his driven sense of direction:

If you board the wrong train it is no use running along the corridor in the opposite direction.

This has been my query all the time, and Eric Metaxas’s accounts have partially answered it. How could Hitler have gained such power without being challenged? It can’t be all due to fear, that came later. Hitler was democratically elected by the people as chancellor in 1933. The Führer Principle was readily embraced by most. So nationalism played a large part. Then came racism, with the establishment of new laws barring Jews, many of them in prominent positions too from the legal, academic, and medical fields, and then the engulfment of the German Church by the Third Reich. It’s utterly mind boggling. Why was it that the Bonheoffer family was only one of a dearth of lucid observers during this dark chapter in German history?

Nothing is beyond the Nazis reach. The ‘purging’ of the literary and scientific realms resulted in the casting out of thoughts and works by anyone not of the Aryan race, including Helen Keller, Jack London, H.G. Wells, Albert Einstein, Thomas Mann, and the poet Heinrich Heine, who wrote these prophetic words in 1821 in his play Almansor:

Where books are burned, they will, in the end, burn people too.

Metaxas’s book is informative and detailed, especially on Bonhoeffer’s effort to take back the German Church from the Nazis by establishing The Confessing Church with Karl Barth. Metaxas has also painted a very human portrait, a purposeful young man, bold, principled, passionate, and full of life. I move along eagerly, albeit sometimes confused by the numerous names and historical accounts. I want to find out what actually happened in the end, although not so sure how I can bear to read about Dietrich’s ultimate demise.

What are your thoughts so far? Throw your two pebbles into the pond. I’ll be glad to link your post here. Do go and visit:

Alison of Chino House

Ellen The Happy Wonderer


To read my wrap-up post on Chapters 19 – 31, CLICK HERE.


Lady Almina and the real Downton Abbey: Facts that give rise to Fiction

Downton Abbey in real life is Highclere Castle, situated among a thousand acres of beautiful parkland, perching on a hill with a vantage point of even more spectacular views. It is home to the Earls of Carnarvon for centuries. The book is written by Fiona Carnarvon. Lady Almina is the great grandmother of her husband, the 8th Earl of Carnarvon. The book chronicles the life and legacy of Lady Almina, who married into Highclere at 19, and evolved from a youthful debutante to a seasoned and capable, aristocratic lady with a heart. Here is the source material for the fictional creation so well received by viewers all over the world.

I’m not one easily swayed to follow what’s being hailed in current culture. But for some reasons I’ve been drawn to the human drama of the hugely successful Downton Abbey. Until I read this book I have not thought that mere facts can be as engaging as fiction. Compared to the epic proportion of historical events detailed in the book, the TV series are but minute vingnettes, albeit they do have their endearing appeal.

This is my library copy of the book after I finished reading it. There are no less than 80 tiny yellow stickies to mark my interest:

At first, I was expecting a book offering tidbits of the Highclere Castle, its designs and architecture, and how its life, both upstairs and downstairs, corresponds with the TV production, etc.

But while it lacks the design and architectural specifics I was looking for, the book has brought me something else. Yes, there is a myriad of Edwardian high society accounts, the fashion and the opulence, as expected. But to my surprise, the latter part of the book offers a greater appeal to me. I was fully absorbed by its massive archival information on The Great War, from the trenches in Europe to the battlefields in the Middle East, wartime to post-war politics, Highclere’s involvement in international power brokerage, George’s brother Aubrey and T.E. Lawrence’s friendship, and the last chapters bring me to the archeological site of the Valley of the Kings in Egypt.

Nurse Almina

Unlike the Crawleys in Downton Abbey, the Carnarvons threw themselves fully into the war effort without hesitation. As soon as Britain entered The Great War (1914-1918), Highclere was turned into a well-equipped hospital, not just a convalescence home. Financially supported by her wealthy father, Almina hired the best in medical personel, well-trained nurses and specialized doctors, and furnished the Caslte with state-of-the-art equipment. Almina herself oversaw the whole operation and heavily involved in personal nursing care as well. A real-life Lady Cora/Isabel Crawley working in unity.

Seeing Matthew Crawley’s muddy face in the trenches cannot convey to me the horrors of the war. The detailed accounts in the book are terrifying to read. There were so many ways to die: guns and shells, broken bones even just a broken femur, long, bumpy rides to a hospital, gas, hunger, diseases, lack of medical supplies and doctors, even rain. Non-stop rain in Passchendaele had caused trenches to collapse, drowning many soldiers in the mud.

The Battle of Somme claimed 60,000 lives on its first day on July 1, 1916. Four months later, 415,000 British and Dominions soldiers had been killed or wounded. The Battle of Ypres saw the Germans use a new weapon. 168 tonnes of chlorine gas was released into Allied positions. 5,000 French soldiers in the trenches died within ten minutes, 10,000 were blinded as they escaped. In 1917, the number of British casualties and injured totalled 800,000. Many of Highclere staff were wounded and killed, those sent home were the lucky ones. The missing and the ones buried on foreign soil made the impact even more heartbreaking.

The Dowager Countess of Carnarvon, Elsie, had always been receptive to innovations and improvements. Unlike her counterpart in Downton Violet Crawley, Elsie welcomed electricity and the telephone. In 1919, at 63, she became vice-chairman of the Vocal Therapy Society and promoted the use of singing to help shell-shocked men to overcome debilitating stammers. Umm… she would have made a good team with Lionel Logue, who set up shop on Harley Street. Just ask Bertie KGVI, he knew it worked.

On a totally different note, the last chapters of the book transport me to the archaeological site of the Valley of the Kings in Luxor, Egypt. Almina’s husband George Herbert, 5th Earl of Carnarvon, was one of the last British aristocratic archaeologists, having spent £50,000 (£10 million in today’s money) over the course of fourteen years on excavating in Egypt.

Howard Carter, left, & Carnarvon at King Tut’s tomb

Lord Carnarvon personally hired the expert archaeologist Howard Carter to team up with him in his pursuit of Egyptian antiquities. Their breakthrough work came in 1922, when they discovered the burial chamber of the young King Tutankhamun. Unlike rumors that had distressed the archaeological dual that they would ship the finds to England, the King Tut artifacts have  been the possession of the Egyptian government since the discovery.

I had not realized the connection before… how Downton Abbey could have a certain degree of separation from King Tut. But the book soon ends with the sad news that the already weak Lord Carnarvon soon succumbed to illness. He died in Cairo at age 57, just a few months after the excavation. It’s noted in the book that at the time of his death, back at Highclere Castle in the night, his beloved terrier Susie howled once and died.

Here I’ve just touched on a few yellow stickies. You need to read the book to grasp all the significant events during that first quarter of the 20th century. As the book has been written and published ‘in record time’ as the author has noted, likely to coincide with the broadcast of Downton Abbey Season 2, it is not a literary work, not even a social or political commentary of any sort. Yes, I was looking for the author’s view on aristocracy and the Empire. Nevertheless, it is a compact historical account that chronicles the lives of some individuals who had left indelible marks in an era of irreversible change and new discoveries. 

Excellent Photos, A Bibliography of researched works and archival materials, and an Index make up the supplementary resources.

~ ~ ~ Ripples

Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey: The Lost Legacy of Highclere Castle by The Countess of Carnarvon, Broadway Paperbacks, NY, November, 2011, 310 pages.


Other posts you may like:

Quotable Quotes from Downton Abbey

The Rant of the Armchair Traveller


Cave of Forgotten Dreams (2010)

In December 1994, a small team of cave explorers came upon a cave near the valley of the Ardèche River in southern France. They were awestruck as they went inside. Since named after the team leader Jean-Marie Chauvet, the Chauvet Cave had provided the natural canvas for prehistoric paintings dating back 32,000 years to the Upper Paleolithic period, twice as old as those previously found in Lascaux. These are the earliest paintings ever discovered.

The Chauvet Cave is located near the natural limestone bridge over the Ardèche River, the Pont d’Arc, which has been noted to be half a million years old:


The acclaimed documentary filmmaker Werner Herzog was granted special permission endorsed by the French Ministry of Culture to go into the Chauvet Cave to film the rock paintings in situ. The result is this mesmerizing documentary.

Following a restricted 2-foot wide pathway, and limited only to a film crew of four, with no heat-emitting lights and only hand-held camera, Herzog made a spellbinding document of epic historical significance. A team of archeologist, paleontologist, art historian and geologist formed the quiet, unobtrusive entourage into this pristine trove of treasures.

Surrounded by pink calcite columns like icicles with glittering crystals, the rock paintings depict a myriad of animals including cave bears, ibexes, deers, owls, mammoths…

Action-packed panels of bisons, horses, and rhinos locking horns:


Lions hunting bisons:

A panther and hyenna surprisingly in friendly mood:


From the film, archeologists and an art historian inform us that a single artist created most of these works. He had a crooked little finger, and his palm prints could be seen from crouching position to a height of 6 ft.  They are now the oldest human handprints:



There are animal fossils but no human remains in the cave, suggesting that it was not used for human dwelling but maybe just for painting. A prehistoric art studio? The artist had utilized the curvatures and ridges of the rocks to create fascinating renderings of animals charged with life and energy.

This is where I’d wholeheartedly endorse the 3D technology. Director Herzog, after some hesitations, decided to use a 3D camera to capture the vivid renderings. With the 3D advantage, we can see how the artist utilized the contours of the rocks to depict the animals in a most realistic way.

In the film, we also see multi-legged bisons, like those in cartoon strips or frames in animated films, suggesting movements.

Many of the animals are depicted in perspectives:



and in layered renderings like this showing lions without manes:



A few of the paintings are dated to some 5,000 years later, about 27,000 to 25,000 ago, indicating another period of artistic activities there. But since that newer date, no human traces were left. The cave had remained untouched until the recent discovery in 1994.

In the vicinity of the cave, remnants of musical instruments are found, evidence of another form of artistic pursuit. In the film, we hear one of the researcher playing the “Star-Spangled Banner” on what looks like a tiny twig with equally-spaced holes. It would be another extraordinary find if we could discover the pop tunes of the day.

Now, a note about watching this film in 3D. I admit as someone with an acute built-in motion sensor, I had to leave the theatre half way through the film when I first saw it in 3D. The roving camera plus the 3D effects had proven to be worse than being tossed at sea.

But I’m fortunate to be given a second chance. The film is now screened in another theatre without the 3D technology. I knew I must see the rest of it, so I returned for a second viewing. And this time, I stayed till the end.

A must-see documentary for all.

~ ~ ~ 1/2 Ripples


Paris: The Latin Quarter

Solution to Arti’s Cryptic Challenge #3: Paris

It was pure serendipity that I’d picked a hotel right in The Latin Quarter.  At the time of my booking I wasn’t aware of so culturally rich a Parisian sector I’d be staying, and with many attractions on my list within walking distance.   The Latin Quarter derived its name from the fact that Latin was widely spoken in the area during Medieval time.  This has been the academic and literary part of Paris, and remains so today. Bookstores are everywhere, almost all in French though, many specializing in philosophy.

Our hotel is situated right across from the Sorbonne, Universite de Paris.  Unfortunately it was closed during the summer months, the guard at the gate making sure people stay out, so I did not get a chance to go inside or browse in their bookstore.


The Panthéon is also located in The Latin Quarter, about a 15 minutes walk from where we stayed.  It is the burial site of several renowned intellectual and literary figures of France, including Voltaire, Rousseau, Hugo, Zola, Pierre and Marie Curie:


Not just as a memorial ground, the Latin Quarter is a vibrant sector where writers, intellectuals and academics congregate, meet each other to engage in discourses over coffee or a glass of wine. Here is a restaurant where Camus and Sartre were among its prominent patrons, now a tourist point of interest on the map, Le Brasserie Balzar:


Heading down rue St. Jacques from Balzar, I walked towards the River Seine.  I could see from afar the Notre Dame:



But I wasn’t going to make my way across just yet, for I’ve found the number one item on my must-see list situated on this side of the Seine, the Left Bank, and that was the legendary bookstore-library, Shakespeare and Company:



On November 17, 1919, American expatriate Sylvia Beach opened the English language bookstore-library in Paris, and turned the page in literary history.  Beach was not merely a bookseller, but a multi-faceted literary personality, a writer and a subject for other writers, the publisher of James Joyce’s Ulysses in 1922, the proprietor of a literary hub that welcomed expatriate writers to mingle, read, write and stay.  In one of her many literary parties she introduced F. Scott Fitzgerald to James Joyce, the former was too intimidated to approach Joyce himself.   Many icons of the ‘Lost Generation’ had been affiliated with the literary hang-out, including Hemingway, Gertrude Stein, Ezra Pound, to name a few.  Click here for a historic photo of Beach and Joyce in front of Shakespeare and Company.

Hemingway and some of the ‘Lost Generation’ found on the walls of the bookstore:



Closed down during WWII, the new owner George Whitman, another American expat and a friend of Beach’s,  re-opened its doors in 1951 in the present location on the Left Bank of the Seine.   Now in his 90’s, Whitman has stood by his commitment not to sell his little bookstore to developers, and kept the tradition alive: a sanctuary for writers.  For almost 60 years now, Whitman, himself a writer and a poet, has offered lodging and writing opportunities to countless aspiring souls.  The bookstore is now run by daughter Sylvia Beach Whitman.  According to its website, Shakespeare and Company has served more than 50,000 heads on the pillows of its 13 bed facilities for free, accommodating such literary figures as Henry Miller, Anais Nin, Lawrence Durrell, and Alan Ginsberg.  Click here for a personal account of what it’s like staying at Shakespeare and Company, and some house rules.

A mementos from Lawrence Durrell:


Upholding the spirit of hospitality:

Typewriter for use, tradition alive and well:

Some impromptu music-making:


Just last week, even the editor of the New York Times has declared the inevitable, that the print version of the New York Times will end some time in the future. Under the sweeping torrents of eBooks and ePublishing, seems like independent bookstores are fighting an uphill, if not a losing, battle.  I wish the Whitman family well in standing strong against the tide.  From a little bookshop-library, it has stayed true to its tradition, and by so doing, gained a spot on the historic map of Paris.  In 2006, Whitman was honoured by the French Minister of Culture with the Order of Arts and Letters. More than just a point of interest for tourists, Shakespeare and Company has now become a cultural institution that just, hopefully, might not be so easily demolished to make way for new development along the Seine.

Click here to read an interesting article and personal interview with George Whitman from Bloomberg, yes, Bloomberg.


All Photos Taken By Arti of Ripple Effects, August 2010.  ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

Bath’s Persuasion

Solution to Arti’s Cryptic Challenge #2:  Bath

From London’s Paddington Station we took the 90 minute train ride to Bath Spa, saving us half the time than with the bus.  The City of Bath is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  Its magnificent Roman Baths and stylish Georgian streets and architecture make this a wonderful gem for tourists.  The first time I visited there was in December, 2007. For a more general overview of the beauty of Bath you can find my two previous posts here and here.

In this revisit, I was a more intentional traveller.  I let Austen’s Persuasion be my guide.  With a detailed street map of Bath in my hand, I went exploring the places mentioned in the novel, coincidentally, many of them I missed in my last visit.

“I was not so much changed…” was Anne Elliot’s words to Captain Wentworth upon seeing him eight years after turning him down.  The termination of their relationship was not her own intention, but duty had driven her to yield to Lady Russell’s persuasion.  It would have been a “throw-away” for Anne at 19 to engage with “a young man who had nothing but himself to recommend him, and no hopes of attaining affluence, … uncertain profession, and no connections.” (p. 20)

But the star-crossed lovers are granted the bliss of a second chance, and rightly grab it this time.  Austen’s setting of Bath in the book is no coincidence.  The Georgian City was the centre of fashion and the epitome of genteel society, a hotbed of social phenom for the critic and satirist in Austen.  Jane had lived in Bath herself for four years, 1801 – 1805, with her sister Cassandra and their parents.  Ironically, she was unpersuaded by its attractions according to her biographer Claire Tomalin.

Austen aptly uses Bath’s addresses for the purpose of her characterization.  Geographical location is everything in a class-conscious society, as Keiko Parker’s excellent article Jane Austen’s Use of Bath in Persuasion points out.

First off,  there’s the Pump Room, where in Jane Austen’s days people socialized and met one another, gathered to drink the therapeutic water, catch the latest fashion, simply to see and be seen.  The magnificent structure and decor makes The Pump Room a fine restaurant now:

Despite its grand decor, the areas around the baths are residences for the common folks in Austen’s time.  Mrs. Smith, the poor, infirmed widow with whom Anne maintains a loyal friendship, lives in the Westgate Buildings close to the Baths.  Anne becomes a laughing stock for the snobbish Sir Walter when he hears of her least favourite daughter is determined to visit Mrs. Smith instead of accepting an invitation to Lady Dalrymple’s, someone belonging to the upper echelon of society:

“Miss Anne Elliot, you have the most extraordinary taste! Everything that revolts other people, low company, paltry rooms, foul air, disgusting associations, are inviting to you.” (p. 113)

Today, the open area outside the Pump Room by the Roman Baths is perhaps the most popular tourist gathering place. Tour buses stop at the Bath Abbey for pick up and drop off, buskers perform in the open space outside the Roman Baths and Pump Room:


Nearby is Sally Lunn’s Bun, originated in 1680 by a young French refugee, in the oldest house of Bath, ca. 1482.  Now a restaurant on top with the cellar a museum that houses the original kitchen and cookwares, Sally Lunn’s serves this traditional creation: a large, soft, round bun that can go with just about anything.  But probably best like this, simply with garlic butter:


The beautiful street corner outside Sally Lunn’s:


Further up the town, there’s Milsom Street, a vibrant commercial area of shops and businesses.  The first time Anne saw Captain Wentworth again in Bath was on Milsom Street.  Here’s a present day view of the same site:



As for Sir Walter himself, despite having to rent out his country mansion Kellynch Hall to avoid financial ruins, he has no intention that his retreat to Bath should compromise his status and comfort.  It’s only natural that others are curious: “What part of Bath do you think they’ll settle in?”  The answer is quite obvious:  the part that is befitting their social standing.  According to Keiko Parker’s insightful article, physical elevation in Bath directly corresponds to social standing.  The highest point at that time would have to be Camden Place, which is today’s Camden Crescent.  While I was looking for it,  the ‘Ye Old Farmhouse Pub’ was mentioned to me as the marker.  I was glad to find it while walking up Landsdown Road, for it was indeed quite an uphill walk.



“Sir Walter had taken a very good house in Camden Place, a lofty, dignified situation, such as becomes a man of consequence; and both he and Elizabeth were settled there, much to their satisfaction.

Anne entered it with a sinking heart, anticipating an imprisonment of many months…” (p. 98)

Just typical Austen, the overt contrast of characters using something indirect, here, the sense of place.

The houses on Camden Crescent has unobstructive view of lower Bath.  They are not grand mansions, but then again, location is everything.  The following are some of the houses found on this road across from the escarpment:


And where do Sir Walter’s tenants Admiral and Mrs. Croft lodge during their short stay in Bath?  On Gay Street, not too high, not too low: “… perfectly to Sir Walter’s satisfaction.  He was not at all ashamed of the acquaintance, and did, in fact, think and talk a great deal more about the Admiral than the Admiral ever thought or talked about him.” (p. 121)

Elizabeth is not even half as kind as her vain and snobbish father.  Regarding the Crofts’ arrival in Bath, she suggests to Sir Walter that “We had better leave the Crofts to find their own level.” (p. 120)

In contrast, Anne has a good impression of the Admiral and his dear wife, the kind and down-to-earth couple, Mrs. Croft being the sister of Captain Wentworth having minimal bearing on Anne’s fondness of them. During their sojourn in Bath to mend a gouty Admiral Croft, Anne enjoys watching them strolling together, “it was a most attractive picture of happiness to her.” (p. 121)

So I’m just not a bit surprised to see their temporary lodging in Bath being on Gay Street.  Who else had lived there?  Jane Austen herself: #25 to be exact:


As for a suitable place for socializing, Sir Walter and his favourite daughter Elizabeth choose the Upper Assembly Rooms, a much newer development closer to their upper, more fashionable side of town, although he would prefer entertaining in private which is even more prestigious.

The Assembly Rooms are a magnificent architectural legacy in their own rights.  Designed by John Wood the Younger, who raised the £20,000 needed for the venture, the ground-breaking project began in 1769 and opened for public use in 1771.  It was the biggest investment in a single building in 18th Century Bath. Four public rooms made up the suite:  The Octagon, Ball Room, Card Room, and Tea Room.

“Sir Walter, his two daughters, and Mrs, Clay, were the earliest of all their party at the rooms in the evening; and as Lady Dalrymple must be waited for, they took their station by one of the fires in the Octagon Room (p. 131).

Here’s the exquisite Octagon Room:

Regarding the chandelier, there’s this interesting account in The Authorised Guide (p.7):

“On 15 August 1771 Jonathan Collett quoted £400 for supplying five cut-glass chandeliers for the Ball Room.  They were up in time for the opening of the Rooms in September, but the following month disaster struck when ‘one of the arms of the chandilers in the Ballroom fell down during the time the company was dancing, narrowly missing  Gainsborough.  What could be salvaged from the set was made up into a single chandelier, which now hangs in the Octagon.”

I was just simply amazed at how long these chandeliers had lasted, well over 300 years, and in excellent shape.  Their brilliance had not faded, evolving first from candlelight, then to gas, and now electric:


Anne and her party attend a music program in the Concert Hall.  That’s a function in the Tea Room.  Despite the name which seems to convey a small and cozy setting, the Tea Room is a gorgeous room of 60 ft. by 43 ft. dimension.  On one end is a magnificent colonnade of the Ionic order.  Subscription concerts are regular events held in the Tea Room. Mozart and Haydn had written compositions to be performed there, with Haydn himself having graced the magnificent venue.



But what does Anne Elliot think about all the grandeur?  After earlier in the Octagon Room talking with Captain Wentworth, who has openly expressed his long-held passion for her, Anne, overwhelmed by a great flood of euphoria, now walks into the Concert Room (Tea Room):

“Anne saw nothing, thought nothing of the brilliancy of the room.  Her happiness was from within.  Her eyes were bright, and her cheeks glowed; but she knew nothing about it.  She was thinking only of the last half hour…” (p. 134)

As a visitor to the historic venue, I was captivated by the well-maintained interior and its elegance, and presently amused and surprised to find this display in between two columns: The Chair, which is mentioned several times in Persuasion. The Bath Chair was invented right here in the Georgian City to transport the rich and the sick.  It could be steered by the passenger:



Jane might have noticed the frivolity and seen through the façade of high society of her time, and sharply depicted her observations in her brilliant novels, but as a modern day tourist and Janeite, I’m just amazed at how well history has been preserved, and that all these locations and life had been experienced by Jane herself. She might have the burden of society on her, which ironically had inspired and unleashed her talents, but for me, a present day tourist and reader of her works, I am totally persuaded that Bath is a place I will definitely revisit some more in the future.


All photos taken by Arti of Ripple Effects, August 2010.  All Rights Reserved.


1. Jane Austen: A Life by Claire Tomalin, Penguin Books, 2000.

2.  Persuasion by Jane Austen, The Modern Library Classics, Introduction by Amy Bloom, Modern Library Paperback Edition, 2001.

3. The Authorised Guide: The Assembly Rooms, Bath. Published by the Heritage Services division of Bath and North East Somerset Council in association with the National Trust.  Written by Oliver Garnett and Patricia Dunlop.

4. “What Part of Bath Do You Think They Will Settle In?”: Jane Austen’s Use of Bath in Persuasion by Keiko Parker.  Retrieved Online

CBC Disbands Radio Orchestra

Update April 1:  Reader Tom has alerted me to the site for online petition to save the CBC Radio Orchestra.  Please sign the petition and spread the word. 

Another shocking news:  The CBC Radio executives have just decreed that The CBC Radio Orchestra is to be dismantled as of November, 2008, on the heels of Cutting Classical Music Programs on Radio 2. 

What a swift one-two punch!

Formed in 1938, mandated “to make engaging musical radio programs, commission and perform works by Canadian composers, showcase Canadian performers and conductors, and discover and expose Canadian excellence”, the orchestra has been a Canadian cultural and musical tradition for 70 years.

 Click here for the news coverage in the Globe and Mail of March 27, 2008.

Click here for the Vancouver Sun article on CBC Kills Radio Orchestra

Click here for the article:  The Day The Music Died in The McGill Daily.

Does the CBC management even have the right to do that?  I thought this is a publicly-owned national radio station.  A cultural and arts institution with 70 years of history can be chopped off the Canadian landscape by a few executives like a branch off an old tree in the backyard? 

With this executive order, the CBC has finished off a piece of North American history, disbanding the last radio orchestra in the continent.

Again, I was alerted to this piece of appalling news by my teenaged son…talking about axing classical music to attract younger audiences.  CBC has gravely miscalculated the musicality of our youth and done an utter disservice to them, depriving them of knowing and appreciating a heritage dating back to hundreds of years of human civilization.

To save Classical Music from being axed off the cultural tree, Click here for the Online Petition.

BTW, the Facebook Group ‘Save Classical Music on the CBC’ now has over 8,000 members…I’m not trying to stereotype, but would these not be some of the ‘younger audiences’ CBC is trying to woo?