CurtainUp
The Internet Theater Magazine of Reviews, Features, Annotated Listings


CurtainUp on Film,TV & DVD
By Elyse Sommer

New:
February Screen Watch

A Place to Call Home, A Retrospective on 5 seasons of Australia's addictive melodrama
Good Karma Hospital
The Road to 1984

Archived Film, TV,DVD Features

February Screen Watch
acorn
Zoe Wannamaker, Phyllis Logan and Miranda Richardson, in Acorn's Girl Friends
February has been a great month for theater fans watch actors they've seen on and off Broadway do virtuoso work on screen. Most notable for this theater and big/small screen enthusiast was the unfailingly riveting Frances McDormand, who last won accolades on Broadway as the star of
Good People . She is mesmerizing as the Ebbing, Missouri mother determined to not have the rape and murder of her daughter go unsolved. Though she can hardly afford it, she rents three billboards outside the town to shame local law enforcement to not allow the case to go cold. While 3 Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri is very much McDormand's show, it also brings us a breakthrough performance by Sam Rockwell (last seen on Broadway in a revival of Fool For Love). It's also a welcome chance to see Woodie Harrelson in the sort of close-up possible only via on screen viewings.

While none of these actors can currently be seen in a live theater, the film's author, Martin McDonagh, has found time to also pen a script for the stage where he first made his name. And so, as 3 Billboards. . . nabbed a Golden Globe award for best screenplay, Hangmen (his first play since A Behanding At Spokane in which Sam Rockwell had a small part) is enjoying great success at the Atlantic Theater — enough so that it may well move to Broadway in time to be eligible for a Best New Play Tony Award.

With the figure skating competitions very much part of the news reports about the current Olympics in South Korea, I, Tanya is another very timely new film. Teater goers as well as all who followed the West Wing series will find Allison Janey's portrayal of Tonya Harding's mother a revelation — certainly nothing like the glamorous Ouisa of last year's Broadway revival of John Guare's Six Degrees of Separation. .

February also saw Acorn TV continue to expand its presentations of original content, much of it featuring well known stage as well as movie and TV actors — the latest and very watchable example being Girl Friends. This is not about a trendy trio of 20-somethings but three women of a certain age who are experiencing all manner of traumatic issues. The actresses who make even the over-the-top plot developments fun and believable are Phyllis Logan — looking and acting nothing like Downton Abbey's calm and very dignified Mrs. Hughes— Zoe Wannamaker and Miranda Richardson. They create a group portrait of three very different women who are nevertheless tightly and touchingly bonded. Actually, my favorite of these Acorn originals is Love Lies & Records also written by Kay Mellor. introduced me to Mellor, gave me an understanding of how the British Registry offices work. Not the least of the pleasures of that series was its star, the charming Ashley Jensen.

A Place to Call Home
Acorn
With four season osf A Place to Call Home bundled into one DVD by Acorn TV, it looked as if this addictive Australian melodrama was finally finished. The show's creator Bevan Lee and the writers who eventually took over the scriptwriting certainly fulfilled Lee's mission to once again give the old-fashioned melodrama its due as a worthy entertainment full of flavour and surprises. The interactions and issues that were part of post World War II Australian life did indeed add up to Mr. Lee's vision of a good melodrama as "a big plum pudding of a show."

Sure, things at times went way over the top, with the villains veering into larger-than-life territory and an over abundance of plot strands to keep sorted out. But all those plot strands were carefully woven into an authentic beautifully photographed and detailed portrait of a society dealing with a painful past and inevitably changing future, especially pertaining to issues of class and religion. What kept us glued to the Blighs and their circle of relatives, friends, enemies and neighbors was that all the characters — even the minor ones — were fully developed.

Apparently the reason for the initial plan to "kill" A Place to Call Home after the second season was that its fans tended to be older than the age 24 to 35 demographic producers are most eager to reach. But hurrah for the power of those more mature audiences to make themselves heard. Their pleas for the show's survival led to two more eventful seasons, which along with the first two are reviewed below.

The final episode of the fourth season tied up the multiple plot strands of the doings in and around the Bligh mansion pretty neatly. However, the inventive writers managed to continue their exploration of existing issues, and add some provocative new ones for a fifth season and as I write this, Acorn TV has now almost finished streaming all twelve episodes of this fifth season.

If you need to refresh your memory of what went on before or are a newcomer to the series, no worries. All episodes of the first four seasons are still available. What a binge feast!

Events have moved forward four years without losing our connection to the characters, existing issues have been deepened and several new ones added, and with them, we have a few new likeable, well-developed characters; for example, an Aboriginal man who adds to the already dramatized sexual and religious intolerance, a defiant young Jewish girl in love with a local boy, and the arrival of a romantic partner for the homosexual James Bligh's ex-wife Olivia.

I'm not going to be a spoiler and tell you whether the arch-villaines Regina is still insanely awful or somehow redeemed. But she IS back, and the way the script writers deal with her role exemplifies their ability to . make even a wildly improbable character like Regina into a real person instead of a cartoony madwoman.

If the illness of Noni Hazelhurst's beloved Douglas (the excellent Robert Coleby), takes up a little too much p. time, it's also smartly tied in to the opposing views of doctors Jack Duncan (Craig Hall) and Henry Fox (Tim Drexl). The current Me-Too movement puts a timely edge on Mark Lee's predatory publisher and political manipulator Sir Richard Bennett. And Sir Richard's continued nastiness and inevitable comeuppance brings us once more to this question: Now that most of the key characters have been led to discover that love rather than a physical location is the place to call and Bevan Lee has fulfilled his mission of restoring melodrama as a worthy genre, is it finally time to mark this show as complete?

According to some reports I've had , a Season 6 has been commissioned. So, why not? Who knows if Israel which we see Dusseldorp's Sarah and Climo['s George visit toward the end of the series will be the place they'll call home instead of Ash House. And it would be nice to see what Abby Earl's Anna will write about when she trades her typewriter for a computer and know that Sir Goeorge really has played his last dirty trick. In the meantime, enjoy Season 5 (and any previous ones you missed).


Season 1-4 Reviewed
Australia's own Downton Abbey was supposed to dig d with Season 2 but the fans it won prevailed. Season 5 of A Place to Call Home is back. Like Season 4, Acorn TV began streaming it for fans to revisit its key players during the Thanksgiving weekend. Of course, Nurse Sarah Adams (Marta Dusseldorp), George Bligh (Brett Climo) and his mom Elizabeth Bligh the now lovable doyenne of Ash House (Noni Hazelhurst) are aboard and,as in the past, Acorn TV is again streaming the series two episodes at a time, each new pair to be added each Monday.

As evident from the first episode, you'll know that Sarah, George and Elizabeth, as well as Dr. Jack and Carolyn will grapple with plenty of problems — the most likely to be traumatic involving the anti-semitic, crazed Regina's reappearance. You can also expect some new characters, including an Aboriginal man and a defiant young Jewish girl.

Below is my own take on the series so far:

While there's an abundance of issues and plot developments, the essential heart of the saga revolves around Nurse Sarah Adams (Marta Dusseldorp) and the aristocratic Bligh family. It all starts with Sarah's first meeting with the Blighs while she's working as a nurse on a luxury ship carrying them home from a wedding. That sets things up for the soon to unfold central events, the main one seeing George Bligh (Brett Climo), the attractive, widowed head of the Bligh sheep farm's business, smitten with Sarah —and so will you be with the terrific Marta Dusseldorp playing this woman who has her own past to contend with.

Though the autocratic Bligh matriarch was pretty much a dominating bitch in the early series, she was so fully dimensioned that there was plenty of room for the superb Noni Hazlehurst to make her a decidedly human villain.

The show's reprieve from its scheduled conclusion at the end of Season 2 required a new finale. That new ending saw George Bligh shot. How that happened and how he survived laid the groundwork for more melodramatic complications in the Bligh family's life and that of Nurse Sarah Adams and her seriously shell-shocked ex-war prisoner husband René Nordman (Benjamin Winspear).

Season 3 moved forward and again concluded with a cliff hanger. That finale left things looking pretty bad for Nurse Sarah, courtesy of rat poison sent her way by dragon lady Regina (Jenni Baird). Things were no better for Elizabeth Bligh, Ash Park's manipulator in chief. Just as she was morphing into a near saintly persona, her bad heart threatened to do her in.

Given that Sarah and Elizabeth are the two most crucial to the plot characters, it didn't take a super optimist to assume that they would survive for Season 4. But the devil being in the details, what was once again harder to know was just how this would happen and how George would react when he found out just how nasty a piece of work Regina, his former sister-in-law and now wife, was.

And sure enough, Sarah and Elizabeth are alive in Season 4, the first two episodes of which arrived in time to enjoy the continuing saga of the Blighs and Nurse Sara and assorted others along with our Thanksgiving leftovers. The talented writers who've taken over for Bevan Lee, the show's creator, have added new plot lines with the same appreciation of the rewards of the melodramatic genre which Lee explained in an interview as follows: "I want to fight the rise of melodrama being viewed as a somehow lesser form. To me a good melodrama is a big plum pudding of a show, full of fruit, flavour and the odd surprise threepence." Elizabeth Bligh, the initially nominal villainess has become more and more likeable; actually, lovable. But that doesn't leave the saga without the vital ingredient of a villain. Regina, the anti-Semitic schemer, has morphed into an Über-villain. She's like ten of Rebecca's Mrs. Danvers rolled into one poisonous package. As a runner up in the bad guys making trouble for everyone, there's also Sir Richard (a deliciously odious Mark Lee). That's the full of dirty tricks publisher who got George to go into politics and almost destroyed the rekindled love of his sister Carolyn Bligh (Sara Wiseman) and Dr. Jack Duncan (Craig Hall).

The marriage of the homosexual James Bligh (David Berry), his wife Olivia (Arianwen Parkes-Lockwood) was still very much front and center, as was that of Anna Bligh (Abby Earl) and Gino Poletti (Aldo Mignone) who overcame the cultural clashes of Italian farmers and landed Aussie gentry.

Since the complete series is archived at Acorn, readers who are new to it can do a marathon binge, starting with Sarah's first meeting with the Blighs while she's working as a nurse on a luxury ship carrying them home from a wedding. That sets things up for the soon to unfold central events, the main one seeing George Bligh, the attractive, widowed head of the Bligh sheep farm's business, smitten with Sarah —and so will you be with the terrific Marta Dusseldorp playing this woman who has her own past to contend with.

Though the autocratic Bligh matriarch was pretty much a dominating bitch in the early series, she was so fully dimensioned that there was plenty of room for the superb Noni Hazlehurst to make her a decidedly human villain.

ash house
The Bligh estate is actually a heritage-listed property called Camelot located at Kirkham, on the outskirts of Camden. It was built in 1888 and was used as a setting for the 2008 Baz Luhrmann film Australia.

While most of the gradually revealed surprises were — and still are — fairly predictable, I stayed hooked, as was the growing audience. It all adds up to a pungently atmospheric, thematically potent depiction of 1950s Australia still dealing with the aftermath of the painful World War II years, lingering Anti-semitism and mistreatment of homosexuals. Even when some of the action goes over the top, there's the top to bottom wonderful cast to make it all work.

I'll leave it to you to decide if the end of episode end is really the end. After seeing the 4 sets of 12 episodes, I felt that, A Pla;ce to Call Home, like Downton Abbey, may have had it's day. Still, moving forward with these characters is not without its melodramatic possibilities. And so, why not another season?n



The Good Karma Hospital
karma
Amanda Redford & Amrita Acharia as 2 committed doctors in a South Inda cottage hospital
Take the setting of the Exotic Marigold Hotl films, mix it with the ever popular genre of hospital drama and what you've got is The Good Karma Hospital. So instead of retirees you have a group dedicated doctors busy saving lives and also working out their personal problems and romances.

Granted it's derivative and predictable but it's deliciously watchable thanks to it's two leading doctors: The wonderful Amanda Redman (if you're a New Tricks fan, she alone makes this a must watch) as the hospital's heas, the been there, done that, feisty Doctor Lydia Fonseca . . . and Amrita Acharia (Game of Thrones), as the Anglo-Indian Doctor Ruby Walker, who who left England after an unhappy love affair for a hospital in India; but instead of the modern facility she signed up for finds herself assigned to Dr. Fonseca's ramshackle hospital. The story unfolds with the expected medical emergencies and a sort of mother-mentor relationship between the two doctors. There's also the handsome and caring Doctor Gabriel Varma (James Floyd) to become a special friend for Ruby— and Phyllis Logan as Maggie(Downton Abbey's Mrs Hughes), as an India smitten Brit with a tragic reason for extending her visit.

Karma is hardly a groundbreaker or loaded with provocative themes. Don't apply any credibility tests to the way these doctors manage to spend time with individual patients when the hospital's waiting room is filled with looks like hundreds of patiens needing their attenion. But if you're looking for a lovely to look at escape entertainment, this visit to India (by way of Siri Lanka where it was filmed) is your ticket.

The Road to 1984
orwell
James Fox as George Orwell in The Road to 1984
One thing that hasn't led to an angry presidential tweet or outraged comment by President Trump's press secretary is the boom in sales of George Orwell's horror novel Nineteen Eighty-Four. While the book has remained in print since its publication in 1949, sales have recently boomed as if it had just been written. And while the book has seeded a movie and several stage adaptations, the Broadway production coming to the newly re-opened Hudson Theater in June is definitely a ripple effect of the Trump administration.

For many Americans the use of "alternative facts" by Mr. Trump and his colleagues brings shivery memories of the book's "two plus two equals five" ("2 + 2 = 5"). That title described a mantra of novel's dystopian world. Orwell used that slogan to chilling effect to strike a contrast between this example of an obviously false dogma that one may be required to believe with the phrase "two plus two makes four" as the obvious—but politically inexpedient—truth.

I'll be reporting on the Broadway production when it opens next June (actually, you can preview the Headland adaptation which will be used in the States
here . But you might also want to see an excellent film released in 1984 to coincide with the predicted prophesy about the triumph over the forces of evil over good, truth and mind control— and recently released for its viewers by Acorn.

As someone who's read Orwell's early novel Burma Days (inspired by his days as a policeman there), as well as Nineteen Eighty-Four and Animal Farm, I found this film an absorbing and very smartly directed and well-acted biography. I was particularly impressed with the way the dialogue was astutely taken right from Orwell's writings by screen scripter Willis Hall. Not having read Orwell for a while the precision and yet richness of Orwell's language had me resolve to make time read some of his published essays, especially his Politics and the English Language.

James Fox, a busy British film and TV thespian looks reasonably enough like Orwell. He captures the intensity of the man's desperate struggle to complete Nineteen Eighty-Four even has he waged his long and painful battle with tuberculosis, to which he succumbed at age 46.

Director Wllis Hall has vividly dramatized the cruelties that Orwell wrote about in Burma Days as a recurring nightmarish leitmotif in the film. The bucolic retreat beautifully evokes a little known side of him —as a forlorn lonely widower's tender relationship with his young adopted son. Of course, anyone who's read Animal Farm, will recognize the dialogue of the outdoor scenes on his farm from that memorable satire.

Mr. Fox is ably supported by the various women in Orwell's life, notably Janet Dale and Julia Goodman as his first and second wives.

I doubt anyone in President Trump's inner circle will want to see The Road to 1984; nor are they likely to turn up at the stage adaptation of Nineteen Eighty-Four when it comes to the Hudson Theater (unless they come heavily disguised). But everyone else will appreciate this fine film. To see it, go to https://acorn.tv/






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A Place to Call Home,Season 5
Acorn









Good Karma Hospital
karma
Amanda Redford & Amrita Acharia as 2 committed doctors in a South Inda cottage hospital











The Road to 1984
orwell
James Fox as George Orwell in The Road to 1984










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