Friday, 20 September 2013

Friday Night is Film Night!

Put the popcorn on and get comfy because tonight is film night here at The Kissed Mouth!  I asked you good people (well, those on The Stunner's Boudoir on Facebook) to suggest films that have the feel of Pre-Raphaelite art or are wonderfully, romantically Victorian.  Here is a list (in no particular order) suggested by you, together with a few suggestions of my own...

1. Possession (2002)

Loved and loathed in equal measure, this film is worth a watch if only for the historic side of the movie.  I love the idea that you can chase down a Victorian mystery while researching (come on, obviously a fantasy of mine) but I find the modern side of the film a bit awful (apart from Tom Hollander, he's wonderful).  The sections with Jeremy Northam and Jennifer Ehle are utterly delicious, and feature a nice bit of mock-Pre-Raphaelite art on the part of Jennifer's girlfriend.

Not Christina Rossetti and Alfred, Lord Tennyson.  Honest.
I loved the book and find the film eminently watchable.  The costumes are beautiful and the end is heartbreaking but oddly uplifting.  The section when they go to Whitby is just beautiful.  Romance in Whitby.  That's the Victorians for you.

2. Topsy Turvy (1999)

This is splendid!  You can hear me singing along with gusto every time I watch it.  It tells the story of how Gilbert and Sullivan came to write The Mikado, their 1885 operetta.  It is also about the difficulty in working in a collaboration with someone who is the absolute opposite of you.  It's about ego, inspiration, addiction, why hotels have bathrooms (even though frogs don't stay there), the rudest name for a prostitute (snigger) and genius.  It is filled with stars who act their socks off.  It is stuffed with magnificent costumes both on and off stage.

Chinese, Japanese, Everybody Wash Your Knees!
The genius of the film is that you not only want to know about The Mikado but you are left wanting to know more about the actors and actresses.  I want to know more about Leonora Braham, Jessie Bond and Sybil Grey (left) who played the original three little maids because the little hints of their lives make you curious and sympathetic.

It's a beautiful film and very funny.  I miss my kimono from when I was on stage with this back in 1991.  It was lovely, one of the nicest G&S costumes I ever wore.  The wig was very itchy, but one must suffer for art, darling.

3. The French Lieutenant's Woman (1981)

I preferred the book but the film has the brilliancy of Meryl Streep bringing the character of Sarah to life.  She is a sort of mingle of Pre-Raphaelite women, silent, tragic, wronged and sexually charged.  Again, like with Possession, I'm not fussed about the modern bits, although they do have some relevance to the morality imposed on Sarah in the 19th century.

Jez Irons and Meryl get swoony in giant night attire
Meryl is quite the Pre-Raphaelite stunner in this and is a modern, unconventional woman, which would have appealed to Rossetti (in whose house she ends up, it is implied).  Mind you, most women appealed to Rossetti.  Talking of unconventional women....

4. Howard's End (1992)

It's easy to pick all the Merchant Ivory films as they are all beautiful, but Howard's End has a very special place in my heart.  Not only does it give you two very unconventional sisters, Helen and Margaret Schlegel, but a wonderful Fanny Cornforth character, Mrs Jacky Bast (although it seems somewhat unlikely that she is married to Mr Bast).  Margaret attempts to find respectability with a husband whom she tries to love but cannot ultimately connect with, but Helen tries to find freedom in love and life only to come a bit of a cropper with a baby on the way.  The end is both tragic and optimistic (again!) and every time I watch it I find something new in it.

Lovely Jacky Bast
Poor old Jacky.  She is 'Mrs Bast' but who knows exactly what her status is and she does love the erstwhile Leonard, despite his social climbing and bad luck.  Her endless, voluptuous loveliness is his comfort in a rather cruel world, and she gets rather drunk at the posh wedding, which is a marvellously cringe-worthy scene.  Good on you, Fanny would be proud.

5. An Ideal Husband (1999)

There are a few versions of this, but this is my favourite, not least because Rupert Everett is perfect in it and I want every dress Minnie Driver wears.  There were a few votes for 'Wilde' to go on the list, and again I do love it, but this gets my final vote because it is funny and sad, plus gives you a lovely glimpse of the artistic scene in the 1890s.

Nice frocks ahoy!  Plus lovely Rupert.
If you told me I had to watch a film on political scandal I might not be enthused but that is what this is essentially.  It contrasts the triviality of Arthur Goring's playboy lifestyle with the rather nasty background of his otherwise steadfast and splendid friend, Robert Chiltern's rise to political brilliance.  Three women hold the fate of the men in their gloved hands and they swan about in gorgeous frocks tipping the balance back and forth.  Will Robert survive the hideous political machinations of Mrs Cheveley?  Will Mabel ever get a date to an art gallery?  Will Arthur actually have to get married?  You'll have to watch and see.

6. Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975)

Swoon!  Possibly the most beautiful 'white' film ever, this mysterious piece is as puzzling as it is seductive.  The white dressed girls languidly vanish one Valentine's Day leaving people devastated and guilty.  Definitely not based on any real event (despite countless web pages dedicated to how true it is), it is about sex, growing up, discovery, curiosity, alienation and possibly anything else you care to mention.  That is the beauty of Picnic, it is all things to all people.

You can take it as a literal tale of a party of school girls who disappear on a school trip to Hanging Rock, or you can take it as a tale of girls vanishing and women taking their place, of burgeoning sexuality and the moral strictures of Victorian society.  Or something.  Anyway, it's possibly the only film I have a Pinterest board for due to it's stunning visuals which bring to mind Whistler, Klimt and all things aesthetic and symbolic.  Enjoy.

7. Tess (1979)

Again, it would be easy to pick any number of Thomas Hardy adaptations for my list.  Before settling on Tennyson as the subject of my Master's thesis, I studied Hardy with great pleasure and much love.  I adore his novels and I am torn between three books as my favourite: Tess of the D'Urbervilles, Far from the Madding Crowd and Jude.  When it comes to this list, I had to pick Tess because of a rather odd Pre-Raphaelite connection...

When Tess meets her dastardly cousin, Alec, he begins his caddish seduction of her by feeding her strawberries.  This act is a foreshadowing of him 'seducing' her in the forest later (I have no truck with the statement that he simply rapes her, it's not that clear cut, as the strawberry scene shows) and is very disturbing.  I once used a slide of it at a lecture I gave on Hardy and film, and it got more comment than the naked Kate Winslet slide. Allegedly, the scene in the book had its inspiration in the story of how Rossetti fed Jane Morris strawberries at a party and what a strange spectacle it was.   Sometimes it is hard to envisage how weird and rude something is until you see it.  After seeing the strawberry bit in Tess, you are left with no illusions.

8. Gentleman's Relish (2001)

Gosh, here I go, descending into sauciness!  This is a hilarious tale of a painter who is forced to abandon his paintbrush after his rather traditional, figurative way of painting becomes unfashionable.  On the persuasion of his housekeeper, Violet, he takes up the camera to pursue his muse with rather naughty results.

Kingdom Swann and Cromwell Marsh get some rather surprising requests
It's jolly, very rude and has some hilarious dialogue.  I particularly love the character of the model whose behind is 'the biggest thing Germany has seen in years'.  It is sweet and optimistic and filthy.  Who could ask for more?  Plus it features Sarah Lancashire who should play Fanny Cornforth, especially after seeing her in The Paradise.

9. Mrs Brown (1997) and The Young Victoria (2009)

A double whammy of Queen Victoria goodness and I couldn't choose between them so here they both are.

At either end of her reign, Queen Victoria is a fascinating woman.  Placed on an uncertain throne with an untrustworthy mother and frankly appalling father-figure, it's a miracle she became Queen at all.  The weirdness of the over-protective environment from which she frees herself, coupled with the pressure to marry the right man is such a rollercoaster of a story, filled with happiness and grim misery.  Natasha Richardson makes a fabulous baddy, as always.

My second Billy Connolly choice of the evening is one of the most gorgeous love-stories I've ever seen.  I've a real soft spot for romantic drama where the protagonists aren't exactly in their first flush of youth, especially when it is filled with so much gentle humour and feeling.  His unswaying belief in her and her realisation that she needs someone in her life that will tell her the truth is a joy to watch.  He loves her so much and knows that he will never get more than moments of her time in which to share her life.  The scene where they dance gets me every time.

10. The Village (2004)

I'll finish on a possibly controversial choice.  The Village is one of my favourite films, not least because of its astonishing visuals and use of colour.  The beauty of the women's clothes and the simple exquisiteness of the houses is an absolute treat.

'I saw something nasty in the woodshed...'
For those people who have seen it, no spoilers in the comments please, but I shall try and give a sense of the story.  A small village lives peacefully in the middle of a forest.  The people of the village know that they should never enter the forest or wear 'the bad colour' (red) or else they will anger the things that live in the forest.  All trundles on peacefully until the child-like son of a Village elder unwittingly breaks the rules and all hell breaks loose.  Add to that one of the funniest romantic declarations I have ever seen and the most touching moment of love between two awkward young adults and it adds up to a corking couple of hours.  The moment that Lucius takes Ivy's hand in the darkness still makes me squeal, no matter how many times I see it.  Brilliant, terrifying, moving and funny.

If you get through all that lot, I also recommend:  The Mirror Crack'd (Agatha Christie with Lady of Shalott references), From Hell (atrocious acting but oh! the colour of Heather Graham's hair!), The Prestige (I still go cold at the end, no matter how many times I watch it), Sleepy Hollow (The dress!), Hysteria (rude and gigglesome), Wilde (Stephen Fry was obviously meant to play Wilde), Dorian Grey (dear me! What a naughty boy!) and Albert Nobbs (brilliant and touching).

Coincidentally, M'Lady Stephanie Pina over at the Pre-Raphaelite Sisterhood website reposted her brilliant page of Pre-Raphaelite sightings in film and television as I was writing this.  You can find it here.

Actually, I will just recommend one more film before I leave you.  This one has no relevance to Pre-Raphaelitism or Victorian Society but I believe it should be compulsory viewing for all people who spend time online.  If you use Facebook, or write a blog or live any part of your life on the web, please watch the documentary Catfish (2010).  It is a sobering tale of how your relationships online may not be all you think they are and how you should never assume you know a person from how they present themselves via the internet.

Stay safe online, my lovelies and enjoy the films!


  1. Wow, I love all of these except The French Lieutenant's Woman which I just couldn't get on with really when I watched it recently.

    So funny that I've been talking about Possession this week. It's obviously a sign I need to watch it again...

  2. Excellent list! I will have to look for Catfish...

  3. Thanks for the recommendations. I've only seen a few and those were decades ago. This will help me maximize my Netflix trial subscription!

  4. I love you for including The Village. Not that I didn't love you anyway, but now there's an extra layer to it. :-) I've had more frustrating conversations about why the "twist" is beside the point. Yes, even in a Shyamalan film...

  5. My choice would rather be something like this :

  6. Thank you everyone for your comments.

    Valerie, I love The Village and I think it's the best of Shyamalan films. I agree the 'twist' isn't the point, plus there are a good few surprises which is why I think it works so well. It's almost as if he he wants to undermine how smug you feel about guessing things. I was trying to think of my favourite bit and I think when they pan above Ivy (who is blind) and she is stood in the middle of the red flowers. That makes me shiver every time. The wedding is just so beautiful. The motif of touching hands and the power of it. Oh, I need to watch it again now!

    Stephanie: Catfish is brilliant (as is the tv show that followed) and is necessary viewing in case you become complacent. It's okay though, I'm who I say I am. Honest....

  7. Dear Kirsty
    Fabulous choices of films. Some I know well (Topsy Turvy - just love it!, Howard's End, Possession, Young Victoria, Mrs Brown) and some that I know of but have never watched. I particularly loved the 'woodshed' caption which made me laugh out loud! Cold Comfort Farm is one of my favourites too (even if it's not Victorian).
    Thank you for the recommendations.
    Best wishes

    1. Mention of 'Cold Comfort Farm' (the BBC dramatisation with Sara Badel as Flora and Alastair Sim as Cousin Amos was best, I think) reminds me of Mary Webb, whose novels it satirised so beautifully. Maybe Powell and Pressburger's 'Gone to Earth' (from a novel by Webb) ought to be on your list, too. It's splendidly bonkers.

  8. Reading 'Possession' tipped me over into becoming a Victorianist and a researcher. I've never watched the film in case it spoiled it. 'The Children's Book' is a better novel, I think, but 'Possession' is a sacred text. Suzanne Fagence Cooper told me that just the same thing was true of her. There must be lots of us, I expect. One film I'd add to your excellent list is Michael Palin's 'American Friends', set mostly in that most Pre-Raphaelite city, Oxford (plus a delightful sequence in the Alps). You'd love it, I think.

  9. Love the reference to Cold Comfort Farm. That book is so funny to me because some of the characters are my relatives. :D This list is awesome, there are some films on there I have not seen that look great.

  10. Okay, I'll add Cold Comfort Farm onto the list, even though it's not Victorian. Elfine is definitely a Stunner though :) I didn't get on with The Children's Book, I prefer Possession and yes, the book is better than the film.

    Thanks for the comments.

  11. I love Simon Poe's description above...Possession is a sacred text. I like the movie, I love Jennifer Ehle's performance. I think it must be hard to adapt Byatt's work for the screen, there are so many characters and so much detail that it is hard to fit all that into a two hour film.

  12. Also, I completely understand why someone who loves a book passionately would avoid the movie version. It's why I've never been able to bring myself to watch the Robert Downey Jr. / Sherlock movies or the current U.S series Elementary. I like Robert Downey Jr, but my love for Sherlock Holmes has been a constant in my life since I was 10 and I just feel too nervous to watch it.

  13. Would The Company of Wolves (1984) count? First one that came to mind. The visuals and dreamlike quality are straight out of paintings like John Anster Fitzgerald.

  14. I am glad you loathed part of Possession. I so wanted to throw something at the screen during the modern story line. Just terrible. It put me off ever reading the book.

  15. I do love The Company of Wolves, the visuals are stunning.
    Thomas at My Porch: Do try the book, the modern bits aren't half as irritating as the film version!

  16. The Company of Wolves is terrific, but once again the book is better. Angela Carter is one of the Immortals, against whom nothing can be said. And as if genius was not enough, she was a stunner too, herself (I'm uncomfortable saying this about such a great feminist, but it's true nevertheless).


Many thanks for your comment. I shall post it up shortly! Kx