Mumble, mumble…

RA at work. Image from Section of Randomness, click for link

Perhaps someone wonders why I have not written anything yet about Mr. Francis Dolarhyde. Frankly speaking, I have nothing to say about him. Well, that’s not absolutely true: Richard Armitage makes an amazing work, his commitment to the role is evident in every single frame, from the movements in his body to the swallowing up of a Blake’s drawing. The problem is that I don’t connect with the story; I have not seen the series from the beginning because it’s not my cup of tea. It’s very well done, there’re many and admired actors working in it, but it’s not my genre.

In the meantime I’ve read the book to understand better Dolarhyde. I bow once more to RA craftsmanship, he’s nailed it. But I don’t get touched by the story, I’m sure that, wouldn’t it be for the series I’ll forget the book in about a week (I definitely prefer Mr. Harris when writing Roman novels as Pompeii or Imperium). When I watch each episode I don’t scream, I don’t jump on my chair and it doesn’t ignite in me the usual FRRA (fan related recreational activities) such as editing, fanvids, etc. etc.

Is it something bad? Not at all. Richard Armitage is always, in my opinion, the best actor of his generation, has made an amazing work and I sincerely hope he will be granted some award for his Francis Dolarhyde. But, to come back to “my romans”

De gustibus non disputandum est

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Lucas-John and London beauty

lastI was to write another word after “London”, but google would bring quite a few people devoted to some recreational activities that have very little to do with this blog.

I bought the DVD’s of Spooks season 9… Last year. In December 2014, more precisely. The DVDs lingered for months without even opening the plastic wrap; I preferred to watch other things, hear radio dramas and audiobooks, watch the last Hobbit film twice, read a little… Every time I found a good excuse not to see it. I’ve needed about a month to watch it, but finally I did it.

I am glad that Richard Armitage’s career made an incredible quality jump after this, with the exception of something dealing with water, that I have seen… a complete waste of time, never of money (I never consider it when I purchase original dvds, even in that case). As talking of the faults of Spooks season 9 is something quite easy (can we talk about the bullet that kills Maya? The most improbable trajectory in the history of tv and cinema), let’s focus on the positive ones: Richard Armitage’s interpretation (a typical example of what being above the script means) and London, the guest star of the series.

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Going back to my roots

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Palacio del Marqués de Dos Aguas – Valencia

Leaving again tomorrow, back to my hometown, for a small holiday. I’ll be back next Tuesday, just in time to take a deep breath and get mad at work on the first of July. My office work have a peak at the beginning of the month and, god knows why, festivities in Italy have a certain tendency to be at the very end or the very beginning of the month. Therefore, relaxed as I can be when I come back, the day after I will be once more exhausted.

It’s funny the use of the word “coming back” when referring to Italy. Even if I live here since 1998 and I’ve married an Italian, Spain will always be “home”. I have never made the application for the double passport, even if I could have an Italian one. I’ve always lived in rented flats, even if I could have bought one (well, owing the money to the bank until the end of my days for a 60 square mtrs apartment); for me home is elsewhere, on the other side of the Mediterranean Sea.

Regarding the recreational activities, more or less fandomly related, after a long British winter I’m facing a hot American summer. Starting with the object of my distRAction, that will attend tonight in LA the Saturn Awards in a Ophelian-Millais mode on, flower crown included, apparently.

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Ophelia, by John Everett Millais. My pic – Tate Britain

I just can imagine how the many and devoted Hannibal fans feel. For me it would be like if after three chapters of the next Rectify season (before you roll your eyes and think oh, no, there she is again, from today on every reference to that show will be accidental as I have opened another blog another just to write about it) Sundance TV would announce that they cancel the show. I guess that if any of the Hannibal fans have a relation that suffered in their time the cancellation of the first Star Trek Classical  series after the third season, that family will be dealing with some really serious trauma.

As a soundtrack for this hot (honestly not very much, for the time being) American summer I can use this song that I have discovered listening to an spotify playlist called the Pulse of Americana. I really like it; Dorothy shouting “why did love put a gun in my hand”, the sound of the harmonica, that guitar… So Thelma & Louise.

We happy few

Happy times for us tv series aficionados as many good things are being broadcasted these months. Tonight I will discover why the average Game of Thrones fan has been shocked by the season finale and I will study the timetable of my cable tv to find a compatible re-run of True Detective season two. As far as the pirate bay is concerned, I’m ready to assault two luxurious entertainment galleons: Rectify season 3 and Hannibal. I know that the last one is already on the sea, but I’m longing for a very special six feet tall cargo. I’m like Captain Blood waiting for Arabella Bishop to be on board. Moreover, all those who have seen Mr. Armitage’s performance talk about it with praise and admiration.

Such a pity William Blake’s works I saw in Tate Museum were not painted in this canvass. Click for source

Rectify, recently awarded with a Peabody, is defined by critics “the best tv show you have not seen”. I have watched since I wrote the previous post on it also season 2 (several times) bought the DVDs of the first, created a playlist with the audios to listen when I walk to and from work, made a couple of fan vids… The average fan/fanartistic collateral activities, including the reading of books mentioned in the show. I would like to think that Ray McKinnon made the protagonist, Daniel Holden, advise his neighbour prisoner Kerwin Whitman to read Somerset Maugham’s “On Human Bondage” because he (Mr. McKinnon) had in mind its protagonist as an alter ego of Daniel. Most probably he just needed a title that would make Kerwin said why had he to read, being black, a book about slavery. Whatever the truth is, the fact is that I had not read anything of Somerset Maugham before, and now I have. Thank you very much, Mr. McKinnon, I have enjoyed the reading a lot and my twitter followers have suffered more than a dozen of quotations of the book. Flannery O’Connor is another writer I didn’t heard at all of before; in the show she is mentioned as the favourite author of the prison chaplain. I have read one of her short stories, “A good man is hard to find”, without searching any information about her, I only knew that she wrote in the 1940’s and 1950’s. Such a surprise, I thought that I’d have read another Harper Lee and instead she was as harsh as James Ellroy. Indeed once you meet the chaplain in season two you understand that he’s not a conventional one. It’s interpreted by Matthew Posey, check out the beginning of my fanvid.

Rectify – Season 1

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My edit of two screencaps of chapter 6

I don’t know if Ray McKinnon has this in mind when writing Rectify, but the story of its main character, Daniel Holden, is already written in his name. Holden as the protagonist of J.D.Salinger’s “The Catcher in the Rye”, icon of the rebel teenager for generations, and Daniel, the prophet who was held prisoner in Babylon, interpreter of dreams and wise judge.

Daniel Holden was accused when he was eighteen of the rape and murder of a girl. After twenty years in the death row, and five postponements of his execution, he’s set free following the re-examination of the DNA traces in the victim’s body. When Daniel leaves the prison, he’s a teenager locked in the body of an adult man. Twenty years of his life have been stolen from him; during all those years kept in that white limbo of the death-row, he could do little, but reading. Books are very important both for Daniel and also in the show. Deprived as he’s been of any experience, he can rely only on books when the time come to live again outside the prison; he talks little, and when he does, to the eyes of the others he is a kind of freak.

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Daniel (Aden Young) reading in prison

During Daniel’s journey back to be human again, two women play a very important part. His sister, and his sister-in-law, Tawney. To thank her for his support, he couldn’t but compare her with something that he has read in a book.

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This show has had an emotional effect on me; I felt completely attracted to the story and the characters from the very beginning. It is written in a superb way, mixing the return of Daniel to real life with flashbacks of his years in prision. We learn also more about what could have happened that night, there’s a sense oppression and foretelling of upcoming disaster, as Daniel does not leave his small town in Georgia. We learn in every chapter who’s with him and who’s against.

In my opinion Americans have an unequalled talent to tell stories that deal with human relationships in small communities, as in Olive Kitteridge or August: Osage County, following a great writing tradition, Tennessee Williams, William Faulkner, Arthur Miller.

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Australian actor Aden Young makes a sublime work. He renders to perfection Daniel’s anguish, the complicated process of reconstructing his self outside the prison, offering the viewers a glimpse the hell that that man has lived for 20 years deprived of his life and his humanity.

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Abigail Spencer plays Amantha, Daniel’s sister.

Rectify is a rollercoaster of emotions. Every chapter is full of surprises and dramatic turnovers. A show that makes the viewer cry, but also laugh. The series is broadcasted by Sundance TV channel, and the third season will be aired next July.

War and Peace

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War and Peace is more than a novel, a 1.400 pages long tale about Humankind, Man, their miseries and glories. A treaty in psychology, history, religion, philosophy. But also, a novel: action, drama, love, jealousy and characters that won’t let you indifferent.

I have just read it for the third time, drawn by the memories that the last bbc radio 4 audiodrama has awoken in me. A nine and a half hours production, broadcasted for the first time on January 1st, and with an extraordinary cast, of the kind that just the Brits can afford: John Hurt as old prince Bolkonsky, Roger Allam as Kutuzov, Simon Russell-Beale as Napoleon, the absolute marvellous Leslie Manville as countess Rostova… Check here  complete cast list.

There are several curious and funny videos available on line about the production: Andrei and Natasha’s dance, Dolokhov and Pierre’s duel, the death of count BesukhovDolokohv and Denisov ride. The radio drama was recorded on location, as if it was a movie, as John Hurt in this  interview. It is also very interesting this post by producer Celia de Wolf revealing more insights of the huge amount of work behind the radio drama.

This post (a rather long one) will be mainly about my favourite character of the novel, prince Andrei Bolkonsky, and his relationship with my second-favourite, Dolokhov. I will try it to be not excessively boring, including screenshots of, if not the most entertaining of all the filmed versions, at least the one more faithful to the original: 1966 soviet colossal “War and Peace”, directed by Sergei Bondarchuk. The screenshots relative to the character of Dolokhov are from 2007 European tv series.

Although the prince Andrei that I imagine when reading the novel has not a definite face (even if I think he’s quite close to Vyacheslav Tikhonov’s), he will for sure have Stephen Campbell Moore voice. I have made this video as a tribute to his work, using some clips of the Russian film with the audio of the radio drama. He is cold and deeply cruel when returning Natasha’s letter, a little bit haughty and aloof when advises Pierre never to marry, moving when repenting of his behaviour towards Natasha, soft, caressing and tender when he sees her again. The music used for mixing the clips is the Variation Nr. 10 of Beethoven’s Kreutzer Sonata, one of Lev Tolstoy’s favourite pieces of music. He even wrote a novel entitled The Kreutzer Sonata , that I strongly suggest you to read. For those afraid of long readings, the book is only about 150 pages long.

War and Peace from Barsine on Vimeo.

ANDREI BOLKONSKY

My favourite character in War and Peace is Andrei Bolkonsky, who proudly forms part of the sacred triad of male literature characters together with  Mr. Darcy and Edmond Dantes.

What makes Andrei Bolkonsky attractive? “He was a very handsome young man, of medium height, with firm, clear cut features”. He has been portrayed in the screen by very beautiful men, far more than the Andrei described by Tolstoy: the dashing Mel Ferrer, the handsome Alessio Boni, the elegant Vyacheslav Tikhonov, and in this year’s BBC production, James Norton.

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Alessio Boni and Vyacheslav Tikhonov (my edit from screencaps)
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James Norton will play Andrei Bolkonsky in BBC tv series currently in production. As you see, he’s already familiar with neckclothes (my screencap from “Death comes to Pemberley”)

Although he has something that I usually find in men repulsive, small feminine hands, what makes prince Bolkonsky unique is his rich, deep psyche. He is one of those men that “keeps it all within him”; some people of the good society can’t stand him because he’s considered aloof and proud. His never-to-be brother in law, Nicolas Rostov, although not liking “that small and frail but proud man” at all the first time he sees him, “felt with surprise that of all the men he knew there was none he would so much like to have for a friend”.

Andrei’s character evolves during the novel; at the end of it the resulting Andrei is far more attractive and interesting than the one we meet at the very beginning, in Anna Scherer’s party.

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Andrei (Vyacheslav Tychonov) in Anna Scherer’s party showing what he thinks about Petersburg’s society

The transformation is gradual, marked by several events in his life. The first crucible appears when he is wounded during the battle of Austerlitz and he returns just to see his wife die of childbirth. Something started to change in him when he lied on the battlefield grasping the banner of the regiment, a sight defined by Napoleon himself a beautiful death, while he was watching “that infinite sky”. His friend Pierre visits him in his estates after he’s left the army and the conversations they will have will act as an agent of change in his spiritual transformation. Andrei is intelligent, witty and ironic. When he’s being told of the supposed miracle of a star appearing in one icon of the Virgin Mary, he can’t help asking “And was the Holy Mother promoted to the rank of general?”. In his discussions with Pierre, who in those moment is an enthusiast freemason, he has a more down-to-earth and practical view of matters opposed to the idealistic and rather unpractical projects of his friend. Whereas Pierre ideas will result in nothing, cheated by his overseers, Andrei improvements in his estates will be more practical. Nevertheless, the man who only knew “two very real evils in life: remorse and illness” after those days with Pierre “though outwardly continued to live in the same old way, inwardly began a new life”.

A second injury after Austerlitz, Andrei wtinesses the death of his wife, Lise.
A second injury after Austerlitz, Andrei witnesses the death of his wife, Lise.

The third movement of his transformation starts after he meets Natascha. Andrei had business with her father and visits one of the country estates. While lost on his thoughts without hearing what the talkative count Rostov says in the carriage “nearer to him ran a dark-haired, remarkably slim, pretty girl in a yellow chintz dress, with a white handkerchief on her head from under which loose locks of hair escaped”.

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The beautiful Lyudmila Saveleva as Natasha

The effect that Natasha produces in his tormented soul is immediate. “Suddenly, he did not know why, he felt a pang”. That night he hears her from the window of his bedroom. She can’t sleep of pure happiness, she feels so light that she’d want to fly away. The next day he leaves the Rostovs’ estate early in the morning, and when passing by an old oak he saw on arriving three weeks before he realises that some green leaves have grown from the apparently dead tree. Andrei feels like that old tree, something that he thought was dead, is coming back to life, as his own soul is. This is one of the most beautiful and lyric moments of the novel:

“all the best moments of his life suddenly rose to his memory. Austerlitz with the lofty heavens, his wife’s dead reproachful face, Pierre at the ferry, that girl thrilled by the beauty of the night, and that night itself and the moon, and… all this rushed suddenly to his mind.

‘No, life is not over at thirty-one!’ prince Andrei suddenly decided finally and decisively. ‘It is not enough for me to know what I have in me–everyone must now it: Pierre, and that young girl who wanted to fly away into the sky, everyone must know me, so that my life may not be lived for myself alone while others live so apart from it, but so that it nay be reflected in them all, and they and I may live in harmony!”

The new Andrei resulting from this transformation strikes Petersburg society: “he had greatly improved during these last five years, having softened and grown more manly, lost his former affectation, pride, and contemptuous irony, and acquired the serenity that comes with the years”.

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The pose is the same that the one in Scherer’s party, the expression isn’t

The iconic scene of the ball is not as decisive for Andrei and Natascha as the film versions  show; Natasha is so excited by her first ball that she has not the time to think about Andrei. On his side, even if thinking the famous sentence (if after dancing with me she talks with her cousin she will be my wife) Andrei rejects that idea immediately as something stupid and will think again of her seriously the day after a meeting at Sveransky’s house. He feels very disappointed with the hypocrsy of Sveransky’s society circle and he calls the day after drawn by curiosity, searching in Natasha that truthfulness that he has guessed she has. When she plays the piano and sings, the moment arrive in which prince Andrei falls definitely in love with her. Tolstoy writes another paragraph of incredible beauty:

“he felt happy and at the same time sad. He has absolutely nothing to weep about yet he was ready to weep. What about? His former love? The little princess? His disillusionments? His hopes for the future? Yes and no. The chief reason was a sudden, vivid sense of the terrible contrast between something infinitely great and illimitable within him and that limited and material something that he, and even she, was. This contrast weighed on and yet cheered him while she sang.”

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2007 version of War & Peace made many debatable changes in the plot and structure of the novel, but it gave us the chance to see prince Bolkonsky moved to tears. (Alessio Boni – screenshot)

Andrei is a deep, complex and sensible man, a man of a great moral sense, someone capable of seeing and understanding beyond the surface and with a keen capacity of analysis. He knows that everything may happen during the year that he will be apart from Natasha and he foresees that Pierre would be the only one there capable of helping her as he knows that his pride won’t allow him to forgive her should she fall. Why has he followed so strictly his father’s wishes? Most probably, even if she would have not betrayed him, old prince Bolkonsky wouldn’t have allowed the marriage and Andrej would’ve married her anyway without his father’s consent. He has followed his orders as a dutiful son, even if that will probably end with his happiness, but that’s what he had to do, according to his principles. And when Natasha tries to elope with Kuragin and their engagement is broken, he feels himself hurt, disappointed and misunderstood; because he was the only one capable to see inside Natasha, because “it was that soul that I loved in her… loved so strongly and happily”. Not Kuragin who “only saw in her a pretty and fresh young girl, with whom he did not deign to unite his fate”.

Vasiliy Lanovoy played the part of the beautiful and shallow Anatole Kuragin
Vasiliy Lanovoy played the part of the beautiful and shallow Anatole Kuragin

She has failed him not only for the betrayal act itself, but also, and most of all, because of the subject she’s chosen to betray him with. Andrei, alone in his tent before the battle of Borodino, fails also in understanding her; that’s his biggest defeat, the fact that he could have been happy and his pride avoided him to realise it.

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He will when it will be too late, dying on a bed a few meters again from her. Then he would understand her soul, her shame, her remorse, and would realise how cruel he was when he rejected her.

Andrei understands it all... too late
Andrei understands it all… too late

Another representative scene of Andrej’s persona, usually ignored by the adaptations of the novel, is when the army is retreating from Smolensk, near his estate of Bald Hills. His family has already retired to another country house (he thinks instead to Moscow) and he rides alone to see it. The place is almost abandoned, part of the retiring troops has sacked the garden. He sees an old peasant sat on a green garden seat, plaiting a bast shoe. Goes to the house, talks of the situation of the estate with the overseerer, and when he returns the old peasant is still there, “like a fly impassive on the face of a loved one who is dead”. When he joins his men in the road, many of them are bathing in a small pond of muddled water, trying to refresh from the summer heat and clean up the dust. He’s loved by his men because he is kind to them, as they don’t remind him his old life, but “as soon as he came across a former acquaintance or anyone from the staff, he bristled up immediately and grew spiteful, ironical and contemptuous”.

Gazing those naked men refreshing in the dirty water: “flesh, bodies, cannon fodder!” he thought, and he looked at his own naked body and shuddered, not from cold but from a sense of disgust and horror he did not himself understand, aroused by the sight of that immense number of bodies splashing around the dirty pond”. The abandoned estate of Bold Hills is a metaphor of his own being; he feels abandoned, useless, squandered; the sight of his naked men is an anticipation of death, everything is meaningless.

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“Flesh, bodies, cannon fodder!”

 

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Unfortunately, he will in the end lose his last battle against death. Tolstoy has written the most beautiful and touching pages I have ever read about death; although it is not an easy reading, because it touches deeply and leaves you shocked, I suggest you to read “The death of Ivan Iliç”, a short novel. Ivan illiç, as Andrei Bolkonsky experience a dettachment of life before being physically dead.

Andrei falls asleep and he dreams about death while he’s trying desperately and unsuccessfully, to keep it away from his room. Once that it “suddenly happened”, the battle against death lost, Andrej, as Ivan Illiç surrender detaching themselves from the living, even if they still breath. Andrei’s sister, Marja, who finally succeeds in visiting her brother, remains shocked about what she sees, the way he behaves and speaks: insensible, cold, detached. “Had he screemed in agony, that scream would not have struck such horror into Princess Marja’s heart as the tone of his voice”.

He is no longer with them, he has already left, as Natasha will repeat over and over later “Where has he gone? Where is he now?”

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 BOLKONSKY AND DOLOKHOV

My second favourite character among the around six hundred and thirty present in the novel is Dolokhov. Although he belongs to the group of the “negative characters” (the Kuragins [Anatole and Heléne], Boris Dubretskoy, Natasha’s elder sister Vera or her husband Berg, who measured time not in years but in promotions), he is undoubtedly the most interesting of this group and even of some of the “good” characters as Nikolaj Rostov towards who, I must admit, I feel a very cordial but profound dislike.

My favourite on-screen Dolokohv: Benjamin Sadler. Beautiful Violante Placido as Helène Kuragin
My favourite on-screen Dolokohv: Benjamin Sadler. Beautiful Violante Placido as Helène Kuragin

Dolokhov is a good-looking, courageous and ruthless infantry officer. “A notorious duellist and a rake” (for further reading about this figure in XVIIIth and XIXth century literature, check out this linnet’s post that offers precious and detailed information on the subject) as demonstrates his first appearance in the novel, when he bets with an English officer that he can drink a whole bottle of rum while keeping his balance on the ledge of a window. Needless to say, he wins. “Dolokhov always wins his bets”, as will recall later Nikolaj Rostov.

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Dolokhov’s great achievement in the window

That very night, together with Pierre and Anatole Kuragin, they finish their amusement tying a bear to the back of a police officer, plunging both of them in the river. As a result of that cocky behaviour he will be reduced to the ranks, but promises to win back his position distinguishing himself in battle. As usual, Dolokhov keeps his promises and, after the battle of Austerlitz, he’s an official again.

As I wrote before, although Dolokhov is a villain, he is far away from the archetype represented by Anatole Kuragin and, in some sense, he is more similar to Andrei than any other character in the novel, at least the Andrei before his transformation that will begin in that battle in which both of them coincide, ignoring their existence.

Anatole Kuragin is a vain (“he regarded his own life as a continual round of amusement which someone for some reason had to provide him”), stupid (“in general he thought very little”) even if beautiful piece of flesh, as his sister Helene is. Dolokhov, at least, has a set of non-values of his own, some of them awful as the canonically misogynistic all females are whores except my mother and my sister.

Ken Duken as Anatole Kuragin and Benjamin Sadler as Dolokhov
Ken Duken as Anatole Kuragin and Benjamin Sadler as Dolokhov

Dolokhov feels a deep resentment; of humble origins, without any family money to rely on, he has to work hard for his position while others have everything they want without an apparent effort. Furthermore, his frustration grows when he suffers two humiliating defeats although he is better than his opposers. He is a cold, professional duellist but he is almost killed by Pierre, someone who held a pistol for the first time. He reputes himself far better than the weak and spoilt Nikolaj (I cannot agree more) but nevertheless Sonia rejects him to keep faith to her love (who will end up marrying prince Bolkonsky’s sister, Marja).

To go back to the Bolkonsky-Dolokhov duo, both make heroic actions in battle, driven, nevertheless, by opposed reasons: Andrei out of honour, Dolokhov from pure selfishness. When wanting to wash his name as promised to general Kutuzov he captures an enemy, and the salvation of a group of comrades is an incident coming from his wish to get away as soon as possible from Austerlitz. Bold as Dolokhov is, he finds out that the way out to salvation crosses an iced mat.

Dolokhov, compared with Andrei, is like a fallen angel in front of an archangel, two beings made of the same mould, but that from a certain point take different paths. Prince Andrei starts his own, as we have seen before, when is laying hurt in the battlefield of Austerlitz. Dolokhov is not purely evil, he has the capacity of doing good, his “angelical side” is hidden: “Dolokhov the brawler, Dolokhov the bully, lived in Moscow with an old mother and a hunchback sister, and was the most affectionate of sons and brothers”. It is only from the mouth of his mother that we learn his name, Fedya. This weird, almost bipolar personality is described also by a comrade in the army “One day he is sensible, well educated and good-natured, and the next he’s a wild beast… in Poland he nearly killed a Jew”. Maybe without Austerlitz Andrei would have become Dolokhov, and the latter with Sonia could have become Andrei. Dolokhov’s love for Sonia was his way of salvation; he hopes to find virtue in women as the only way to be redeemed and once he’s rejected by Sonja, his last hope, he embraces voluntarily and completely evil, being cruel and cold as ice with Rostov in the card game.

” ‘So you are not afraid to play with  me?’ repeated Dolokhov, and as if about to tell a good story he put down the cards, leaned back in his chair, and began deliberately with a smile: ‘Yes, gentlemen, I’ve been told there’s a rumour going about Moscow that I’m a sharper, so I advise you to be careful.’ “

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Dolokhov had the winning hand

Dolokhov and Andrei are so similar being at the same time so different, that they almost say the same to their friends, Rostov and Pierre. Dolokhov says: “I don’t  care a straw about anyone but those I love; but those I love, I love do that I would give my life for them, and the others I’d throttle if they stood on my way […] as for the rest I only care about them in so far as they are harmful or useful. And most of them are harmful, especially the women. “ And Andrei: “they [referring to his father, son and sister] are not others. The others, one’s neighbours, le prochain as you and Princess Mary call it, are the chief source of all error and evil.

But after Austerlitz and Sonja’s refusal, their roads diverge completely. We have already seen Andrei’s path. We will find again Dolokhov many chapters afterwards, the very night that Natasha falls for Anatole Kuragin. Dolokhov has become a romantic Byron-like figure; he reappears in society after several adventures in the East, it is said that he acted as minister of “some ruling prince in Persia, where he killed the Shah’s brother”. This is the description of what Natasha saw when looking at the faces at the stalls of a theatre: “In the front, in the very center, leaning back against the orchestra rail, stood Dolokhov in a Persian dress, his curly hair brushed up into a huge shock. He stood in full view of the audience, well aware that he was attracting everyone’s attention, yet as much at ease as though he were in his own room.”

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Dolokhov down there in his persian dress leaning back the orchestra rail.

He plays an active part in the future Rostov family pains and troubles. It is he who organises in detail the elopement of Anatole with Natasha while advising him very mildly to wait until she is married. But most of all afterwards; during the retreat of the French army from Russia and the guerrilla warfare that followed he commands a group of cavalry hussars to which joins the young Petya Rostov who will be killed by a bullet in his head trying to imitate Dolokhov, of whom “had heard many stories of his extraordinary bravery and of his cruelty to the French”.

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Tom Burke in “The Musketeers”

Tom Burke will play Dolokhov in this year’s BBC mini series. Undoubtedly one of the most interesting cast choices of the project (together with Stephen Rea as prince Kuragin) in a cast that, on the paper, awakes in me more doubts than certainties.

Ten steps above

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Richard Armitage as John Porter – Strike Back “Zimbabwe”

In a previous post I wrote about the awkward way I was watching “Strike Back” chapters, starting from the last two of the series, Afghanistan. I’ve watched already the previous four, this time in chronological order and, I can’t help having a sour sweet sensation in my mouth (figuratively speaking, of course). No doubt about which is one of the components of the sweet part, you just have to watch the above screencap. The sour one has to do with the same awkward sensation I had watching Spooks 8: Richard is several steps above those scripts.

I have updated my list of RA TV works to watch, and, as I scroll the “done” roles, in my opinion only John Stranding, John Thornton and Claude Monet can look Richard straight in the eyes (Peter MacDuff also, but if you put all his scenes in Macbeth togehter we are talking of no more than a ten minutes’ performance).

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Fortunately not everything is lost in Strike Back; there are some scenes in which Richard offers us his best acting skills. In the “Irak” chapter his scenes with Katie together in the cells and during the torture, in the “Zimbabwe” one the heartbreaking webcam conversation with his daughter, and in “Afghanistan” the final scene with Collinson.

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Wallpaper made with screencaps of the “Irak” chapter
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John talks with his daughter…
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… and cries

I have read in several interviews that Richard prepares consciously every single role, and that even writes a sort of biographies of the character. I guess he wrote a big deal about John Porter; as I watched the last chapters first, I thought that in the previous ones I would have learned more about the years of hell after being discharged from the army, beyond an absurd haircut (I guess that together with Javier Bardem Richard has the record of awful haircuts on screen) and a dirty jumpsuit. Instead there are just hints, family troubles, an obsession with what happened in Irak. Fortunately Richard did his homework well and we can understand what John Porter suffered when he tells Collinson:

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Everyone blaming me, the regiment, the families… seven years… […] This will come out. Disgrace to the uniform. Criminal trial. Wrath of the victims’ families. The sick feeling in your stomach when you realise that your own family have lost all respect for you.

Richard delivers these lines almost without moving a muscle in his face, rendering Porter’s feelings through his eyes and soft tone of his voice, that cracks a little when referring to the family.

After Collinson’s reply, his anger rises and, driven by wrath and hate, almost chokes him with his arm.

Wrath

After the fury, Porter just wants to know why happened that night, pleading for an answer.

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On hearing Collinson, the wrath and the plea fades into a mix of feelings: contempt, disgust, but also pity.

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That is one of those scenes that can be watched twenty times over, discovering every time something new. It would be unfair not to mention Andrew Lincoln, it takes two to make scenes like this work.

And now? What will be my next subject in RA studies? I think that, for the moment, I will wait very very anxiously for John Proctor. I’m sure Richard has succeeded in  the difficult task of watching him straight in the eyes.

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Johns at home

The McKenzie enigma (it’s your turn, Mr. McTavish)

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I am extremely glad not to have read Outlander books for a reason: I don’t know what to expect when I watch the series. Especially, I don’t know what to expect of my favourite character, Dougal McKenzie.

Dougal is, what I call, a white character with infinite shades of grey. I feel attracted also by the purely evil characters, but the white-greyish ones are absolutely those more appealing. When they appear within the lines of the book you’re reading or in the film or tv movie you’re watching, to quote over-quoted line of Forrest Gump, you never know what you’re gonna get. 

Dougal McKenzie is a leader, it is clear since the first frame: respected by his men, intelligent, decision-maker. But, despite all his qualities, he’s not the laird, but his elder brother who, in Claire’s words, lives borrowed years, as he suffers a very serious sickness. Nevertheless, Colum (I knew I saw Gary Lewis elsewhere… he was Billy Elliot’s father!!!!), like Dougal, is also a leader, and the clash within the brothers is evident to the cunning Claire since she arrives (or rather, returns) to their castle.

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Dougal listens carefully to his brother

During those first days in their castle Dougal clashes not only with his brother, but also with Claire. He’s trapped between two feelings: he knows, as Black Jack Randall does, that Claire is lying regarding her sudden appearance in his lands, but, on the other hand, he feels attracted to her.

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In a first moment the leader overcomes the man: Dougal thinks that Claire is an English spy and gives orders to his men not to leave her alone for a moment, and, when Colum decides not to let her go back to Inverness (most probably on Dougal’s advice) she perceives him as a jailer.

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Deep thinking under that majestical brow

As I mentioned in my previous post on this series, if chapter six is the one of Captain Randall’s “revelation”, chapter four is the one of Dougal’s. He has to swear fidelity to the lair, his brother. And, once more, there’s a fierce battle inside his heart: he is sure that he could be a better lair than his brother, even a better father, but the blood, the family ties and his honour forbids him to oppose his brother in a direct way. That ceremony is not a sweet draught at all for Dougal, and he drinks hard, trying to forget or at least, to make that ceremony hurt a little bit less.

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a sour draught
The oath is a soar draught for Dougal

Right after the oath, Dougal finds some men trying to rape Claire when she is escaping from the castle. Of course, the laird’s brother cannot admit a clan’s guest to be molested and Dougal rightfully kicks their asses off. But once they go this time is the man, weakened by the alcohol, who overcome the leader, and when she wants to go away, he grasps her. Dougal is not attacking her as those men wanted to do, he just surrenders to Claire, embraces her, bending his head, hiding himself behind her, and saying, with all his body I just can’t stand it.

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Dougal surrenders

But after she refuses him he lets her go. He could force her if he wanted to but that’s not the way he would want a woman that not only desires, but that after the hunt of the following he also admires. One of his men is seriously hurt by the wild boar. In a heartbreaking scene, Dougal cuddles with tenderness the dying man in his arms, while Claire, who has seen during the war many men die and knows how to ease their passing, asks the wounded, Geordie, to describe his home.

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After Geordie’s death they return to the castle, defeated and frustrated. Dougal gives vent to his frustration playing with the other men of the clan, including his nephew Jamie, a hard-blows-allowed version of grass hockey. During that game, with the excuse of hitting the ball, Dougal has the chance to shake a little Jamie, who is his nephew, but also an obstacle.

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The day after Dougal feels the need of thanking Claire for what she did for Geordie, and makes her the proposal, or rather, a veiled order, to accompany him and other kinsmen to a tax collecting tour in the clan’s lands.

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During the course of that trip Claire sees Dougal first like a mobster cashing bribes, to realise afterwards that the money was needed to gather an army to fight the English during the Jacobite rebellion. Afterwards, the unplesant meeting with Captain Randall takes place and when finally Dougal and Claire manage to leave he makes her a proposal: according to the laws she can’t be summoned again by Randall the following day if she’s not longer an English subject, but Scottish, and the only way of becoming such is marrying one. When Claire asks Dougal if she would have to marry him, Dougal says a sentence that has passed already to the story of tv:

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Well, I must admit, that the idea of grinding your corn does tickle me, but it’s not myself whom I’ve nominated for the position

And here is where the McKenzie enigma reaches its peak. Most probably Claire would have accepted him in the end (although it would have taken her a little longer… silly lass) but instead Dougal proposes his nephew. And, moreover, in the “wedding chapter” Dougal insists on a sometimes apparently reluctant Jamie to accept the deal. Why? Not having read the books, I can only guess… Loyalty to the family.. to protect not only Claire but also Jamie? I hope to have the answer to the many questions raised by the Mc Kenzie enigma next April.

After all this talk about the character, what about the performance? I have defined Mr. McTavish’s work with these adjectives in a comment to the previous post:

 Majestical. Posed. Elegant. Efficient. Credible.

And also, incredibly attractive. I wouldn’t mind Mr. McTavish grinding my corn. Metaphorically, of course…

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… or not?

PS… Thank you!

Another post in queue…

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… one about “True Detective”. The first season is being aired now in Italy but fortunately the DVDs of the first season were already on sale in Spain. They are rather expensive (about 40 €) but they are a real good investment. I’ve seen three chapters so far and I feel like when I first watched “Twin Peaks”. More to follow… one of this days.

A quick memo…

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One of these days I will be able to write the half a dozen posts I have in mind… In the meantime, my series dealer has sent me the third chapter of Strike Back and, breaking all the laws of logic and common sense, I have it in a small window in my pc while I work in other things. I can say in my defense that:

  1. It is dubbed in Spanish therefore “it does not count” as I miss the best part of Mr. A (although the other parts are visible in all their glory in a HQ file)
  2. I will watch SB with all my senses when I buy the DVDs (next year Richard, I’ve offered you enough capuccinos in 2014 and I still have to buy TC play and see The Hobbit BOFA in the cinema).
  3. When I will watch it, I will surely have forgotten so many details that it would be as watching it for the first time.

By the way… how was Toby Stephens’ American accent?