Monday, 14 April 2014

'Oliver Twist' by Charles Dickens (1838)

Synopsis: A penniless young woman stumbles into a workhouse, gives birth to a baby boy, and then dies soon after. The parish beadle, Mr Bumble, gives the child the name of Oliver Twist. The next ten years of Oliver's life are spent in the squalor of the workhouse. When Oliver then dares to ask for some more food, Mr Bumble sells Oliver to an undertaker called Mr Sowerberry. Oliver's life isn't any better there and he soon decides to run away and seek his fortune in the great city of London. Upon his arrival, Oliver meets a cunning pickpocket called the Artful Dodger. The Dodger introduces Oliver to a man called Fagin who is the leader of a criminal gang that consists of pickpockets, prostitutes and burglars. Oliver is unaware of this. Fagin offers Oliver work but when Oliver goes out on his "first job" he finds himself being arrested. Fortunately, a kind man called Mr Brownlow takes pity on Oliver. He takes the boy into his home and cares for him. Oliver becomes very fond of Mr Brownlow and his housekeeper Mrs Bedwin but this happiness is short-lived. Fagin fears that Oliver will inform on him so he arranges for Bill Sikes, one of his criminal associates, to kidnap the boy. The only person with the power to save Oliver from the clutches of Fagin's gang is Bill's abused girlfriend Nancy.

Oliver Twist is probably Charles Dickens' most famous work - after A Christmas Carol - and it has numerous adaptations. Back in 2012 I was fortunate enough to see a touring production of Oliver! The Musical which I absolutely loved :) Now that I've finally got round to reading Charles Dickens' novel I realise that my love for that particular stage production was more to do with the Lionel Bart songs and Samantha Barks' performance as Nancy than its story. Oliver Twist is my fifth Dickens novel and it's my definitely my least favourite.

Dickens famously wrote Oliver Twist because he wanted to show the middle and upper-classes of British society the plight of exploited children and the appalling living conditions of the poor. You could very easily imagine that Oliver Twist would have real compassion for the outcasts of society. Well, in some ways the book displays that compassion (more on that later). But in a lot of other ways it doesn't. Fagin is a much more evil and sinister character in this book than he is in the musical (where he provides comic relief). He has no redeeming features whatsoever and is constantly referred to as "The Jew". Fagin isn't a villain who just so happens to be Jewish either. His villainy and Jewishness always seem to be linked. I know that prejudice towards Jews was rife in Dickens' time but I still found the racism in this book upsetting and hypocritical. Another issue that I had with this book was Oliver Twist himself. Dickens doesn't even seem to be terribly interested in him. Considering that Oliver Twist is supposed to be about Oliver's struggles and his mysterious parentage he doesn't get as much page time as you might think. Not that I'm complaining about Oliver's lack of page time though. Oliver is a very bland and boring character. He always says and does the right thing. He doesn't appear to have any flaws. He's completely pure and innocent. He even talks in a more refined way than the other child characters do in this book. Oliver is just too... good!

My third and final issue with Oliver Twist was its massive coincidences. Not only does Mr Brownlow turn out to be the best friend of Oliver's father, Rose Maylie turns out to be the younger sister of Oliver's mother! And Monks turns out to be Oliver's evil half-brother! I know that London was a lot smaller back in Dickens' time but how many long-lost relatives can Oliver keep bumping into?! I could have accepted Oliver meeting just one long-lost relative but three! No, no, no!

I had a lot of issues with Oliver Twist but I didn't hate this book. There were still things that I enjoyed about it. The writing lacks the polish and maturity of the other Dickens novels I've read but I still enjoyed the visual imagery and atmosphere in this book. I could vividly see every dark, filthy and dangerous alley that Dickens described. There's also some scathing satire and sarcasm in the narration that I also appreciated. My favourite thing about this book though was Nancy. Her character initially seems like a very unlikely heroine. She's a 17 year old heavy-drinking prostitute. But Dickens still portrays her with compassion. Nancy is the most well-rounded, interesting and complex character in the entire book. She has an inner kindness, compassion and strength that sets her apart from Fagin and the other members of his gang. I consider Nancy to be the female equivalent of Sydney Carton. She's the best thing about the book for me.

Rating: 2.5/5

Saturday, 5 April 2014

Game of Thrones (Season Three)

Season three of Game of Thrones is based on the first half of A Storm of Swords (the third book of George R. R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire). It was filmed on location in Northern Ireland, Iceland, Croatia and Morocco. The Seven Kingdoms of Westeros are still in the midst of a civil war this season. The Lannister family have been able to hold onto the Iron Throne after the defeat of Stannis Baratheon's army at the Battle of Blackwater Bay. Robb Stark (Richard Madden) is still waging war against the Lannisters but his efforts have become much more difficult. Because of Theon Greyjoy's betrayal he's lost his own kingdom, Winterfell lies in ruins, and his two younger brothers are missing. Robb has also lost the support of Lord Walder Frey (David Bradley) because of his marriage to Talisa Maegyr (Oona Chaplin) over one of Walder's daughters.

In King's Landing, Tywin Lannister (Charles Dance) has taken over the position of the Hand and his grandson King Joffrey (Jack Gleeson) has broken off his engagement to Sansa Stark (Sophie Turner). Joffrey has now agreed to marry Margaery Tyrell (Natalie Dormer) which is much to the vexation of his mother. Cersei (Lena Headey) hates Margaery and is fuming over her son's new engagement and her father's meddling in her affairs. Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage) is also unhappy. He's resentful about the loss of his position, his family's lack of appreciation for his role in saving King's Landing, and the attempt on his life by one of Joffrey's men. Sansa Stark is still being held captive in King's Landing but her situation looks brighter than before. Both Margaery Tyrell and Littlefinger (Aidan Gillan) are offering her their help and assistance. Jaime Lannister (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau), who was previously being held as a prisoner by Robb Stark, has been freed by Catelyn (Michelle Fairley) so that he might be exchanged for Sansa and Arya Stark. He's now being escorted back to King's Landing by the female knight Brienne of Tarth (Gwendoline Christie). The pair's relationship is initially antagonistic but along the way they begin to form an unexpectedly close bond.

Arya Stark's family still believe that she's in King's Landing and have no idea that she's been on the run ever since the end of season one. Arya (Maisie Williams) has now escaped from the fortress of Harrenhal with her companions Gendry (Joe Dempsie) and Hot Pie (Ben Hawkey). They then find themselves meeting a band of outlaws known as the Brotherhood but can Arya trust them?

Arya's brothers Bran and Rickon are also on the run. They've managed to escape from Winterfell and are now travelling with Hodor (Kristian Nairn), Osha the Wildling (Natalia Tena) and their direwolves. They're going to the Wall in search of Jon Snow (Kit Harington). Along the way they meet a mysterious pair of siblings called the Reeds. Jojen Reed (Thomas Sangster) is able to explain to Bran (Isaac Hempstead-Wright) the significance of his dreams and visions. Bran then begins to realise the extent of his powers.

Jon Snow has fallen in with the Wildlings beyond-the-wall and is now working undercover for the Night's Watch. He then finds his vows to the Night's Watch being sorely tested when he falls in love with Ygritte (Rose Leslie). Jon knows that he will have to choose between her and the Night's Watch. He won't be able to have both. Meanwhile, the rest of the Night's Watch scouting mission have been decimated by an attack from the White Walkers. The few survivors are now trying to get back to the Wall and Jon's friend Samwell Tarly (John Bradley-Walsh) finds his life in danger.

Theon Greyjoy (Alfie Allen) wakes up to find himself in captivity after getting knocked unconscious at the end of season two. He is then tortured by an unknown person's command. After making his way back to Dragonstone, Ser Davos Seaworth (Liam Cunningham) attempts to kill Melisandre (Carice Van Houten). Davos is convinced that Melisandre is evil and that it's she who is to blame for the defeat at Blackwater. He is then swiftly imprisoned by Stannis Baratheon (Stephen Dillane). Davos then attempts to regain Stannis's favour.

Finally, Daenerys Targaryren (Emilia Clarke) is still continuing in her mission to take the Iron Throne of Westeros. Having been able to secure gold and a ship in the city of Qarth, Dany travels to the city of Astapor. She then considers whether to buy a vast and highly elite slave army called the Unsullied. Dany also gains a new companion called Ser Barristan Selmy (Ian McElhinny) who is a famous ex-knight from the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros.

Daenerys Targaryen

Jaime Lannister

Bran Stark and Jojen Reed

Jon Snow and Ygritte

Margaery and Olenna Tyrell

MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD
As A Storm of Swords is such an immense book the GoT producers decided to adapt that book over the course of two seasons. That's probably why the pacing of season three is slower than in the previous two seasons, especially during the early episodes. The pacing starts to pick up at around three or four episodes in though and in many ways this season is my favourite of the show to date. The production values and acting are as fantastic as ever. The storylines are as fantastic as ever. The sex scenes and nudity are handled in a way that's better than ever. They're still a part of the show but they felt less gratuitous this time around, and tellingly season three is the only season of the show not to receive an 18 certificate.

In season two I enjoyed Tyrion and Arya's storylines the most but with this season I loved Daenerys and Jaime's storylines best. Dany's was my absolute favourite. It was so much fun to watch her go about conquering the slave cities of Astapor and Yunkai! Her liberation of the Unsullied is an especially amazing moment and quite possibly my favourite moment in the entire show to date. Jaime Lannister's character development this season was wonderful and I loved his relationship with Brienne. Jaime is well on his way to becoming one of my favourite characters in the show now. I never ever thought I'd say that back when I was watching season one! Yes, Jaime is very good-looking and has always had funny one-liners but he had an affair with his own sister and pushed Bran out of a window! But in this season Jaime changes due to Brienne's influence and we see a different side of him. I had a huge smile on my face during the Bear scene and that wasn't solely because it reminded me of Anchorman either! I love redemption storylines and I really hope that Jaime's character development continues for the duration of the series. I also really loved Jon and Bran's storylines this season. The only storyline that I really wasn't fond of in season three was Theon Greyjoy's because his torture scenes went on for far too long and were horribly uncomfortable to watch. Iwan Rheon is brilliant as Theon's torturer Ramsay Snow though. He's terrifying and scarily convincing in the role! His character is so evil that I was honestly starting to think "You know what, Joffrey doesn't seem to be quite so bad now!" That's how evil Ramsay Snow is!

Of the new characters my favourites were Margaery and Olenna Tyrell (Dame Diana Rigg). Margaery Tyrell was introduced in season two but she gets more screentime this season. I loved her character and Natalie Dormer's portrayal. Margaery might be manipulative and cunning but she really does seem like a genuinely sweet and caring person. I loved her efforts to befriend Sansa because that poor girl really deserves a friend! Also, Cersei hates Margaery so that really helped me to like Margaery. I really wanted some of Margaery's dresses. Her grandmother Olenna is pretty badass as well! Her character is very similar to Violet Grantham from Downton Abbey. I loved Olenna's scene with Tywin Lannister.

I suppose I really can't wrap up this review without mentioning The Rains of Castamere. Game of Thrones fans have come to realise that Episode 9 of any season will always be the one where the s*** goes down. Episode 9 of season one featured the execution of Ned Stark. Episode 9 of season two was focused solely on the Battle of Blackwater Bay. Episode 9 of season three features the brutal murder of Robb Stark, his pregnant wife, his mother Catelyn and even his direwolf Grey Wind! It's one of the most tragic and heartbreaking things I have ever seen on television! Even though I already knew it was going to happen it still left me feeling empty inside! Even though he made some bad decisions I really loved Robb and I was very sad at what happened to him and his family :( In many ways season three is my favourite of the show's run to date but the Red Wedding... that was tough. It was also quite alarming because it reminded me that my dream ending for both the books and the TV show is probably much happier and soppier than the ending that George R.R. Martin has in mind.

This will be my last Game of Thrones review for a good long while. I've caught up with the show now and I'm going to be focusing on reading and reviewing the rest of the ASoIaF books this year. I'm seriously excited about season four though! I'm really hoping that we'll see more of Littlefinger this season - he's a fascinating character - and I'm looking forward to seeing Mark Gatiss in the show. The trailer below has made me even more for the season. It's awesome and the song choice is inspired!


Rating: 5/5
Film Certificate: 15

Monday, 31 March 2014

'Allegiant' by Veronica Roth (2013)

Synopsis: Allegiant is the third and final book of the Divergent series. The faction-based society that Tris grew up with has been overthrown and it's now the factionless that are in control of Chicago. The self-appointed factionless leader, Evelyn Eaton, soon begins to act like a dictator and the tension between the factionless and the former factions begins to escalate. Tris and Tobias then decide to team up with a group of rebels called the Allegiant, who are on a mission to escape into the outside world and ultimately restore Chicago to the way it was. Once they manage to leave the city Tris finally finds out what lies beyond the city walls and learns some shocking discoveries. She then finds herself having to make a difficult decision.


I'm not a fan of the Divergent series and I can't ever see myself reading these books again. I don't even hate this series. I just feel completely apathetic towards these books. In hindsight I think I was being far too generous in giving Divergent a 4/5 rating. Yes, it was quite thrilling and entertaining in places but even that book had more than its fair share of flaws! Then I read Insurgent and found that book to be extremely boring and uneventful. The only reason why I felt I had to read Allegiant is because I hate to leave a series unfinished.

I'm not going to write an in-depth review of this book because I really don't think there's very much I can say. I don't even hate this book enough to write a scathing rant. You might think that with Tris and Tobias escaping from Chicago and going off into the outside world that this book would be the most exciting and suspenseful book of the series but no. There is some action every now and again but apart from that the plot is incredibly boring and repetitive. I was highly tempted to give up on Allegiant and I only managed to persevere with it by skim-reading. I lost all interest in its story and the characters.

Another problem that I have with Allegiant is its narrative mode. It's the only book in the series to be told from both the perspectives of Tris and Tobias but their narrative voices sound exactly the same! Veronica Roth doesn't even seem to be making any attempt to make their voices sound different. Tris and Tobias's narrative voices are completely indistinguishable from each other and there were quite a few times when I lost track of who was supposed to be narrating.

The only thing that I liked about Allegiant was its controversial ending. MAJOR SPOILER (highlight to read): I find Roth's decision to kill off Tris impressively brave and gutsy. If I'd been a bigger fan of Tris I'm sure I would have been quite moved by it. As I'm not really a fan of her character though her death didn't really leave any kind of an impact on me. However, because of its ending I do think that Allegiant is a teeny tiny bit better than Insurgent.  

Rating: 2/5

P.S. Despite my extreme apathy towards the Divergent series I'm still planning to see the Divergent film. I don't think Kate Winslet is capable of giving a bad performance and I'm really keen to see Shailene Woodley and Ansel Elgort act on screen together because they're both starring in the adaptation of The Fault in Our Stars.

Thursday, 27 March 2014

'A Game of Thrones' by George R.R. Martin (1996)

Synopsis: A Game of Thrones is the first book in George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire. The series is set in a world where summers and winters span decades. Winter is coming and the struggle for the Iron Throne is about to begin. Eddard "Ned" Stark is the Lord of Winterfell and the warden of the north. He's deeply troubled when his friend King Robert Baratheon bestows on him the office of the Hand. He discovers that the royal court is full of corruption and treachery - and that his keen sense of honour and duty has no place there. Meanwhile, Eddard's oldest son Jon Snow discovers that sinister, supernatural forces are massing behind the great Wall of the north. Finally Viserys Targaryren, the exiled prince of the deposed former king, has grown to maturity on the continent of Essos. He's now eager to invade his father's former kingdom in Westeros and to reclaim the Iron Throne.

Although I had heard of the A Song of Ice and Fire books it wasn't until I saw the HBO adaptation Game of Thrones that I finally got the urge to read them. I usually try very hard to read books before I see their adaptations but this is one of those occasions when I experienced the adaptation first - and I'm actually glad about that. Despite the fact that I'd already seen Game of Thrones I still found this book to be incredibly absorbing and compelling. I loved that I got to know the world of Westeros better. I loved that I got to find out more about its history and its different Houses. I loved getting more of an insight into the characters by finding out what they were actually thinking. I even loved to look at the maps. Overall I think I prefer this book to season one of Game of Thrones. This book is just so big and epic that even a 10 hour television season can't match its depth. There's less sexual content in this book. Nudity and sex scenes do crop up but they occur a lot less and don't feel as forced or gratuitous. Oh, and Tyrion Lannister makes a far cooler entrance in this book than he does in Game of Thrones! He somersaults out of a window and lands in a handstand! And I love that Jaime Lannister actually says the line "The things I do for love" loathingly in this book.

Having said that, season one of Game of Thrones is mostly quite a faithful adaptation of this book and I now love its cast even more. The actors do such an amazing job at bringing their characters to life and they all look like their book counterparts. It's just that some of the characters have been aged up. In this book Jon Snow and Robb Stark are only 14 and Daenerys Targaryren is only 13! Sansa, Arya and Bran are all aged up by a few years in GoT as well. The ageing up of these characters is one of the things that I do actually prefer about GoT. It made their roles more believable. Also, on a purely shallow note, Richard Madden and Kit Harrington are quite attractive! :D There are a couple of other things that I prefer about GoT as well. Robb Stark is a much more interesting character in the TV show than he is in this book. Robb is one of my favourite characters in GoT and I do wish that George R.R. Martin could have given him some POV chapters in this book. I would have loved to have found out why Robb is so fond of Theon Greyjoy given that two of his brothers (Jon and Bran) can't stand him. I'd have loved to have known Robb's thoughts on adapting to his new position as the Lord of Winterfell. We never get to "see" Robb's reaction to his father's death either and that scene is one of my favourites in season one. Viserys Targaryren is a much more interesting character in GoT than he is in this book as well. I love Harry Lloyd's portrayal of his character in the TV show. His Viserys is cruel, mad and emotionally abusive to his sister but Lloyd also brought a lot of humour and vulnerability to the role. I was highly entertained by his portrayal and was actually really disappointed when Viserys got killed off about halfway through the season. But in this book Viserys just seems so one-dimensionally unpleasant that I didn't find him entertaining at all and I was pleased when he died.

A Game of Thrones really is a brilliant book and I loved it. I love big, epic novels that I can become completely immersed in and this book definitely delivered on that. I feel that "epic" has become a very overused word these days but with this book that word truly fits. In terms of its scope and ambition this book is massive. After Tolkien's Middle-earth it features the most impressive world-building that I've ever read in a fantasy novel. This book is very different to Tolkien's works though. It's much darker and grittier and it's more of a political thriller that just so happens to be set in a fantasy world. Dragons, monsters and magic exist in this world but only in the background.

A Game of Thrones is intricately-plotted but it's still a very character-focused read. The characters are so engaging and vividly described. I love Ned, Jon, Arya, Bran, Tyrion, Daenerys Targaryen. Some of George R.R. Martin's descriptions and battle scenes went on too long for my tastes but I did really enjoy his writing. I particularly enjoyed his descriptions of the Others in the prologue. I found them far more evil and scary than in GoT! Also, Martin has written quite a lot for television in the past and I could tell. The chapters are short and often end in cliffhangers. The book has quite an episodic feel.

I'm really looking forward to reading the rest of the ASoIaF series and the future seasons of GoT. I'd really love a prequel to the series as well actually. I loved finding out more about Robert's Rebellion in this book and I'd love for there to be a prequel novel that would go into this even more. It would be fascinating to find out more about the Mad King's reign, the relationship between Rhaegar Targaryen and Lyanna Stark, Littlefinger's relationship with Catelyn and his duel with Brandon Stark, the deaths of Brandon and Rickard Stark, Jaime's life as a young knight and his murder of the king, Dany's birth... I think it would be awesome.

Rating: 5/5

Wednesday, 19 March 2014

Game of Thrones (Season Two)

Season two of Game of Thrones is based on the book A Clash of Kings (the second book of George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire). It was filmed on location in Northern Ireland, Iceland and Croatia. Season two picks up almost immediately after season one. The psychopathic teenager Joffrey Baratheon (Jack Gleeson) is now the king of the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros. However rumours are beginning to spread that Joffrey isn't really a Baratheon at all - and that he's really the child of an incestuous relationship between Queen Cersei Lannister (Lena Headey) and her twin brother Jaime (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau). As a result the kingdom is now in the midst of a civil war. Both of the late Robert Baratheon's brothers are determined to take the Iron Throne from Joffrey and are preparing to wage war against the Lannisters. Stannis Baratheon (Stephen Dillane) has enlisted the aid of a mysterious priestess called Melisandre (Carice Van Houten) who promises Stannis the throne in exchange of certain favours. This greatly concerns Stannis's loyal friend Ser Davos Seaworth (Liam Cunningham). Renly Baratheon (Gethin Anthony) is also seeking the Iron Throne despite his older brother Stannis having the better claim. Renly has a much larger army and believes that he would make a better king than his brother.

Robb Stark (Richard Madden), the newly crowned King of the North, is still waging war against the Lannisters and has left his enemies shocked at his military skills. Robb and his army have won every single battle that they've fought against the Lannisters and have even been able to capture Jaime Lannister. They are continuing to fight their way down to King's Landing in order to rescue Robb's sisters Sansa and Arya, avenge the execution of Ned Stark, and assert the independence of the north. Robb is considering the possibility of a Stark-Baratheon alliance against their mutual enemy and is also interested in securing ships from Balon Greyjoy, Lord of the Iron Islands (Patrick Malahide). He sends his close friend Theon Greyjoy (Alfie Allen) to the Iron Islands so that Theon can negotiate with his family. Unfortunately Theon is desperate to impress his family and he decides to betray Robb. Theon decides to take part in his father's plot to capture Winterfell and conquer the north whilst Robb is occupied with fighting the Lannisters.

Robb's younger siblings are having problems of their own. Arya (Maisie Williams) has been successfully smuggled out of King's Landing and is disguising herself as a boy. She's now desperately trying to get back to Winterfell. Bran (Isaac Hempstead-Wright) is now in command of Winterfell and is being troubled by visions and the appearance of a red comet in the sky. Sansa (Sophie Turner) is now being kept as a hostage in King's Landing and Joffrey is making her life miserable. Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage) is also in King's Landing and has taken over the position of the King's Hand. And finally there are the storylines that are taking place outside of the Seven Kingdoms. Jon Snow (Kit Harrington) goes beyond the Wall to go on a reconnaissance mission. There he learns that the Wildlings, the people beyond the Wall, have united behind a man called Mance Rayder. Daenerys Targayren (Emilia Clarke) is now travelling across the deserts of Essos along with her advisor Ser Jorah Mormont (Iain Glen), a few loyal Dothraki followers, and her three baby dragons. She then finds herself in the great city of Qarth. Daenerys and her dragons attract quite a bit of attention from the city's wealthy merchants and Daenerys tries to secure the merchant's aid in claiming the Iron Throne of Westeros.

Melisandre and Stannis Baratheon

Robb Stark

Tyrion Lannister

Arya Stark

Bran Stark

I've read that season two isn't as faithful to its source material as season one was and I know that not all of the book fans are happy with the changes that were made. I can't really rate season two as an adaptation though because I've only read the first book in A Song of Ice and Fire. But what I can say is that I loved season two of this show just as much as season one. The production values in this show are incredible. There's an increase in CGI this season - with Dany's dragons and the larger direwolves looking absolutely amazing. The producers also managed to convince HBO into increasing the budget of their show by 15% in order to stage the Battle of Blackwater Bay and it looks truly spectacular. With the story expanding and new characters being introduced we get breathtaking new locations as well. I really want to visit Iceland and Croatia now!

The acting in this show is just as fantastic as ever. The cast is just so brilliant that it feels wrong to single people out but I especially loved Peter Dinklage this season. He's absolutely hilarious in the role of Tyrion and many of my favourite moments in the season involved his character - like the gem below! :D I don't even care that Peter Dinklage can never quite get his English accent right. He's brilliant in the role and captures Tyrion's character perfectly. I especially love Jack Gleeson's acting in the show as well. No matter how much I might hate Joffrey, Gleeson is doing a phenomenal job playing him and I don't think he gets the recognition he deserves.



I enjoyed all of the various storylines this season but I think the one that I enjoyed best was Arya's. I loved all of her scenes with Gendry (Joe Dempsie), Jaquen H'ghar (Tom Wlaschiha) and Tywin Lannister (Charles Dance). Apparently Arya and Tywin don't interact at all in A Clash of Kings but presumably the producers just couldn't resist the thought of getting Maisie Williams and Charles Dance on screen together. I give them kudos for that :)  We also get quite a few interesting new characters this season such as Melisandre, Brienne of Tarth (Gwendoline Christie), Margaery Tyrell (Natalie Dormer) and Ygritte (Rose Leslie). I'm really looking forward to seeing more of them in season three.

I still think that there's too much gratuitous sexual content in the show and I don't like the fact that the Wildlings have northern accents. Surely the Wildlings shouldn't have the same accents as the Starks?! I've always really liked the fact that the show has given the characters from the south of Westeros southern English accents whilst giving the characters from the north of Westeros northern English accents. Given that the Wall seems to be based on Hadrian's Wall, shouldn't the Wildlings have been given Scottish accents? I know this might seem really nitpicky but it bothered me. Apart from that there's very little that I can criticise about this season.

Rating: 5/5
Film Certificate: 18

Monday, 17 March 2014

The Book Thief (2013)

I first read Markus Zusak's The Book Thief back in 2009. I re-read the book a couple of months ago because I wanted to re-familiarise myself with the story before I saw its film adaptation. The Book Thief is a much beloved novel and has affected many people but sadly I'm not one of them. That doesn't mean that I dislike the book. I enjoy it. I think it's really well-written. It has likeable characters. It has important and meaningful themes. I enjoy Death's narration. And yet there's something about the book that feels off to me, something I can't put my finger on. Nevertheless I've still been looking forward to this film adaptation. Its director is Brian Percival who has a great deal of experience in filming period dramas. He's directed several episodes of Downton Abbey and he also directed North and South (2004). The latter is my favourite BBC miniseries and one of my all-time favourite literary adaptations so I knew that this film would be in good hands :)

The Book Thief is visually beautiful. It was actually filmed in Germany and it has brilliant production values. I loved the acting in this film. Everyone is extremely well-cast and they bring their characters to life brilliantly. Liesel Meminger is played by the young French-Canadian actress Sophie NĂ©lisse who deserves to become a big star after this. She gives a fantastic performance. I loved Geoffrey Rush and Emily Watson's performances as Hans and Rosa Hubermann, and Ben Schnetzer and Nico Liersch's performances as Max Vandenburg and Rudy Steiner. Roger Allam provides the voiceover for Death and he does a great job too. Another thing that I loved about this film was the decision to have all of its actors, apart from Allam, speak in German accents. All of their accents sounded convincing to my ears and it made the story seem more authentic and real. I was watching The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas once when my brother walked in the room. He was really confused about all of the Nazis having English accents!

The film also boasts a truly gorgeous soundtrack from the legendary John Williams. The music in this film hit me right from the start and I especially love this song.



As an adaptation of the book I'd say that this film is fairly faithful although, as you'd expect from a 550 page novel, quite a few scenes from it are cut for time and there's significantly less of Death's narration. I didn't mind these things though. Film is a different medium to literature and I don't think this film would have worked at all if they'd used Death's narration as much as the book does! Also all of the major events and themes from the book are still kept in and I thought all of the actors in this film were great. I wouldn't call either the book or this adaptation "life-changing" but I do enjoy them both and I think that most of the die-hard fans of the book will really love this film. I can't think of anything else to add really.

Rating: 4/5
Film Certificate: 12

Thursday, 13 March 2014

The 'Ask My Bookshelf' Tag

Mizzie-Me tagged me on her blog a month ago and now I've finally got round to completing it. Basically, the aim is to answer each of the following 16 questions with the title of a book from your bookshelf. Some of the questions were really easy to answer and others were really hard but it was pretty good fun to do. :)

1. Are you a man or a woman?

Little Women (Louisa May Alcott)

2. Describe yourself

Sense and Sensibility (Jane Austen)

3. What does life mean to you?

The Return of the King (J.R.R. Tolkien)

4. How are you doing?

The Great Gatsby (F. Scott Fitzgerald)

5. Describe your current home.

Far from the Madding Crowd (Thomas Hardy)

6. Where would you like to travel?

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (Douglas Adams)

7. Describe your best friend.

Stardust (Neil Gaiman)

8. What is your favourite colour?

The Woman in White (Wilkie Collins)

9. What is the weather like now?

The Wind in the Willows (Kenneth Grahame)

10. What is the best season in your opinion?

The Winter's Tale (Shakespeare)

11. If your life was a tv series, what would it be called?

War and Peace (Tolstoy)

12. What is your (romantic) relationship like?

Much Ado About Nothing (Shakespeare)

13. What are you afraid of?

Crime and Punishment (Dostoevsky)

14. Aphorism for the day.

Weird Things Customers Say in Bookshops (Jen Campbell)

15. What advice would you like to give?

Carry On, Jeeves (P.G. Wodehouse)

16. How would you prefer to die?

Surprised by Joy (C.S. Lewis)

And now I tag:

Samara over at Wait + Hope
Bookwormans over at Complete and Unabridged

But anyone is free to do this :)

Monday, 10 March 2014

The Sunshine Award


Monica over at Spilled Ink has nominated me for The Sunshine Award which is great so thank you Monica :) As you should be able to see it's a tag and now I'm just going to cut to the chase.

Have you ever faked an accent for an entire day,  just to see what people would do? If so, which one?
No but as a friend of mine once pointed out to me "Er, Hannah, your Irish and Jamaican accents sound exactly the same. I don't think that doing accents is really your forte". 

Pixar or Disney?
Disney, Disney, Disney, Disney, Disney! Don't get me wrong I do love Pixar as well but for me there's just no contest.

If you could hang out with Anne Shirley or Gandalf, which one would you pick, and why?
This is another very easy question for me to answer. Gandalf :) But the only reason why this question is so easy is because (whispers) I haven't read Anne of Green Gables

What is the most awesome-bone-shatteringly-cool song you've ever heard?
Now this really is a hard question! Of all time?! Ever?! This is just impossible for me to answer so I'm going to go with one of the most awesome-bone-shatteringly cool songs that I've ever heard.

Fleetwood Mac - The Chain (That bassline!)

On the other hand, what's the most skin-peelingly bad song you've ever had the misfortune to hear?
I don't know if it's the most skin-peelingly bad song I've ever had the misfortune to hear but I DESPISE Blurred Lines. 

Are you good with dates, or do you usually need to keep a schedule?
Erm... sometimes I'll remember dates, especially if they're really important, but usually I have to write them down. I'd be lost without my diary.

And now for my questions:

1. Is there anything you love that no-one would expect you to?
2. What are three of your favourite TV shows?
3.  Narnia, Hogwarts, Middle-earth, Westeros. If you could visit only one of these fictional places which would you pick and why?
4. If you're into musical theatre name some of your favourite West End/Broadway stars. You can name up to 10.
5. What is your favourite accent?

And now I nominate:
Mizzie-Me of Music and My Mind
Bookwomans of Complete and Unabridged
Samara at Wait + Hope

Friday, 7 March 2014

Sherlock (Series Three)

Sherlock series three picks up two years after the events of series two. In the first episode The Empty Hearse we discover that Sherlock and Mycroft Holmes have been quietly taking down Moriarty's criminal network during this time. We also learn that John Watson has finally found a girlfriend that he wants to marry. Her name is Mary Morstan (Amanda Abbington). However, just as John is about to propose to Mary, Sherlock Holmes shows up and reveals to John that he faked his death. John is understandably furious with Sherlock but he soon finds himself being involved in a new case: London is on the brink of a terrorist attack. A sinister villain is also trying to detect Sherlock's "pressure point" in the background. This comes into play in the third episode His Last Vow. The in-between episode is The Sign of Three. This episode features John and Mary's marriage, Sherlock's best man speech, and an attempted murder at the wedding.

I absolutely adore this show and I love that Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss keep surprising me. Just when I think that their show can't possibly get any better they prove me wrong. Series three is my favourite of the show's run so far. In some respects series three is quite different to the previous two series of the show though. Series three of Sherlock is far more focused on character development rather than the crimes (although the crimes are still very good). Sherlock's character development in this series is especially wonderful. He'll clearly never pass for an ordinary human being and there were still be moments when he'll be unintentionally rude and insensitive I'm sure. However he's still quite clearly becoming a warmer person due to the influence of his friends. Sherlock has always been likeable in spite of his faults but in this series he's even more so. He's changing for the better and it makes sense. Sherlock hasn't seen his friends for the two years in-between series two and three so it makes perfect sense that he'd have a new-found appreciation for Lestrade, Molly, Mrs Hudson and John in particular. Even Sherlock's relationship with Mycroft appears to have greatly improved. Although I think I'd like series four to be more crime-focused I loved the heavy focus on the character development for series three. Just because Sherlock has a detective as its main character does that mean that the crimes always have to be the main focus of a series? Yes, the Arthur Conan Doyle stories are more crime-focused than these series three episodes are but there was still a very heavy focus on Holmes and Watson's friendship in them. I really respect Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss for wanting to explore this in a lot of depth for this series. Also, let's not forget that TV shows that aren't willing to mix things up a bit with each series/season become boring and predictable and inevitably get cancelled.

Another aspect of series three that I really loved was the addition of Mary Morstan. I was very excited to see Mary in the build-up to series three. I was a fan of Sherlock Holmes even before this TV show so I was of course very keen to see what she'd be like - and I loved her straight away. Mary is extremely likeable. She's funny, kind, clever, supportive and really well-written. She never ever gets jealous or put out about John and Sherlock spending time together. Quite the opposite, she encourages them to spend time together. She's seen how much John was affected by Sherlock's absence and is obviously thrilled that he's back in John's life. She knows that John and Sherlock need each other and she's perfectly fine with that. I think the very best compliment that I can give to Mary is that I really hope that she never gets killed off in the show like she does in the canon. Amanda Abbington's acting as Mary is also superb and her real-life chemistry with Martin Freeman shines through (the pair have been partners for over 12 years). It goes without saying that all of the original cast members in this show are as wonderful as ever too.

I try not to go into too much depth when I talk about the individual episodes of Sherlock because I want to save that for a future post some day. I'll try to give some brief opinions on the episodes though.

The Empty Hearse
The Empty Hearse is based on The Adventure of the Empty House and was written by Mark Gatiss. It's a thrilling and hilariously entertaining episode! It made me laugh hard! 
Especially during the Operation scene and the two fake theories about how Sherlock survived his fall. I especially loved the Holmes brothers scenes in this episode too. Sherlock and Mycroft's relationship fascinates me and the two of them get some great scenes together. The Empty Hearse is only loosely based on The Adventure of the Empty House but I'm fine with that because that story doesn't really have enough of a plot for a 90 minute episode. There's quite a bit of planning and waiting in that story. There are still lots of references to ACD's original story in The Empty Hearse though and the real explanation for how Sherlock survived the fall is perfect. Yes, some fans will be disappointed because it isn't the most exciting and clever explanation that Gatiss and Moffat could have come up with. Anderson's reaction shows that the two of them recognise that. However the explanation is really the only one that they could have gotten away with: a simple and plausible one. The only vaguely negative thing that I have to say about The Empty Hearse is that I kind of wish that Sebastian Moran could have been more developed. Sebastian Moran is basically an evil John Watson in the ACD story. He's Moriarty's military sidekick. This doesn't come across in The Empty Hearse though and I'm really surprised that Gatiss didn't want to explore this. But honestly this episode is so fantastic that it feels churlish to complain!

The Sign of Three
Steven Moffat, Mark Gatiss and Steve Thompson are all credited with writing The Sign of Three although I've read that it was mostly written by Steve Thompson, with Gatiss and Moffat only co-writing its final scene. This episode isn't really based on any particular Arthur Conan Doyle story although it does make some references to The Sign of Four. I'll just address one of my biggest pet peeves here: so many Sherlock fans moan and complain about the show having only three episodes a series and it really annoys me because each episode is movie-length. The fact that Sherlock's episodes are movie-length adds to their quality. There's absolutely no way that The Sign of Three's story could have been compressed into a standard 45 minute or 60 minute length episode! The script is beautifully intricate. Steve Thompson uses Sherlock's Best Man speech to weave together flashbacks, comedy, character development, and a few mysteries. Apparently The Sign of Three is quite a divisive episode but I just can't understand why. Yes it's far from traditional but it's also hilarious, moving, silly (in a good way) and just plain wonderful! It's so warm. It has so much heart. I just can't understand how anyone couldn't love it. Oh, and John's stag night is hilarious and exactly as you'd expect! Firstly, Sherlock invites only himself and John. He then tries to get them to both drink a scientifically perfect amount of alcohol so that they can have fun without losing control. John of course sabotages this. I think I could probably spend an entire episode watching Sherlock and John play the Post-It game! The pair then end up having to solve a case whilst drunk which is also hilarious ("Egg? Chair? Sitty thing?") :D I really can't decide which episode I love the most out of series three. I love both The Empty Hearse and The Sign of Three so, so much.

His Last Vow
His Last Vow is based on The Adventure of Charles Augustus Milverton
(my favourite of the Sherlock Holmes short stories) and was written by Steven Moffat. This episode is easily my least favourite out of series three but that's not really a bad thing considering how much I loved the previous two episodes. And I still really enjoyed His Last Vow for the most part. The reason why the episode is my least favourite is due to its non-linear storytelling. The Sign of Three uses non-linear storytelling as well but in that episode it works far better because it adds to the humour and makes sense for the wedding speech context. But in this episode the non-linear storytelling isn't at all necessary and I think it breaks up the flow of the episode. But as I say I still really enjoyed the episode for the most part and it has many great moments. I especially love John's reaction to Sherlock's girlfriend, the Mind Palace scenes, and John and Mary's truly moving reconciliation (beautifully acted by Martin Freeman and Amanda Abbington). Louis Moffat (Steven Moffat's son) does an excellent job as Young Sherlock. I also got what I'd been desperately hoping for: a Smaug reference! :D I thought Lars Mikkelsen did a brilliant job as Charles Augustus Magnussen in this episode too. Lars Mikkelsen is a Danish actor and the older brother of Hannibal actor Mads Mikkelsen. *Off-topic: Hannibal is so popular on Tumblr that I think the website would have blown up if they'd cast Mads in Sherlock!* Magnussen is a very different sort of villain to Moriarty. He's much quieter and so odious and repulsive that he made my skin crawl. I actually wanted him to die. Lars Mikkelsen is brilliant in the role but I'm very glad that we won't be seeing Magnussen again! This leads me very nicely to reflect on what series four might have in store...

Series Four Speculation
  • So judging by His Last Vow's cliffhanger ending it looks like we might be seeing the return of Moriarty in series four! To be honest I'm feeling very conflicted about this. On the one hand I love Moriarty. He's such an entertaining villain and I have so much fun watching him. I love Andrew Scott's acting in the role. But on the other hand, having both Sherlock and Moriarty surviving The Reichenbach Fall would lessen that episode's power and impact. Also the fact that Moriarty actually finds the idea of death peaceful and comforting is quite a fascinating end for a villain. So I've decided that I want Moriarty to be genuinely dead and that he simply arranged for a number of elaborate crimes for Sherlock to solve in the wild chance that he survived his fall. 
  • Was I the only one who was ridiculously excited at the Sherrinford Holmes hint in His Last Vow?! To anyone who's not familiar with Sherrinford Holmes I'll explain. He's a non-canonical character who was first suggested by a man called William S. Baring Gould, a notable Sherlock Holmes scholar. Baring Gould pointed out that since Sherlock comes from a family of country squires that that would mean that Sherlock had another older brother. This brother would have inherited the family estate and would have stayed at home to manage it. Mycroft couldn't be the oldest brother in the Holmes family because he's living in London and is working as a civil servant (which was a common profession for younger sons in Arthur Conan Doyle's time). Baring-Gould named his oldest Holmes brother "Sherrinford" which was a name that Arthur Conan Doyle considered giving to Sherlock. Now I know I shouldn't be getting excited at the thought of Sherrinford Holmes eventually showing up in Sherlock. More than likely this is simply nothing more than a throwaway hint to tease us. But when I think of the possibilities! If Sherrinford Holmes does eventually show up in Sherlock I'd prefer it if he was actually the youngest Holmes brother rather than the oldest. Mark Gatiss plays Mycroft as a bossy older brother so brilliantly that I think it would be weird if he then turned out to be a middle child. I also have a few Sherrinford Holmes casting suggestions :D 




  • I'd love for Sherlock to adapt The Adventure of the Red-Headed League, not necessarily in series four but at some point I'd love to see it! That story is definitely one of my favourites and it could be so much fun to see in the modern-day. The villain is a bank robber! I also want a completely original story where Sherlock's parents get kidnapped and he and Mycroft then have to team up in order to rescue them. I absolutely loved Mycroft and Sherlock's back-and-forth deducting in The Empty Hearse and I think I could quite happily watch an entire episode of this!
  • I want The Empty Hearse fanclub to return. That could be lots of fun!
  • I want Mary to get more backstory and to see more of her special skills. 
  • I want Sherlock's boxing and fencing skills to be showcased at some point. This would be hot stuff!
  • I want more involvement for Lestrade and Anderson in series four and for Molstrade/Lestrolly to eventually happen.
  • I want Tobias Gregson to be introduced.
Series Three rating: 5/5
Film Certificate: 12

Sunday, 2 March 2014

My Week with Marilyn (2011)

My Week with Marilyn is a BBC Films production and is based on the memoirs of the film-maker and writer Colin Clark. He claims that he came very close to having an affair with Marilyn Monroe during one of the most difficult film productions of her career. The film begins in 1956 where we see a young Colin Clark (Eddie Redmayne) being hired as a 3rd assistant director to Sir Laurence Olivier (Kenneth Branagh). The world-renowned actor is preparing to direct and star in the film The Prince and the Showgirl and has hired Marilyn Monroe (Michelle Williams) to act alongside him. Olivier has no idea of what he's let himself in for. Marilyn turns out to be extremely needy and insecure, is frequently late to the set, and has great difficulty in remembering her lines. Olivier and the crew soon become exasperated with her but Colin feels sorry for Marilyn. He suspects that despite her huge success and recent marriage to Arthur Miller (Dougray Scott) that she's deeply unhappy. Over the course of one particular week Colin finds himself spending a lot of time with Marilyn. He ends up falling for her and this interferes with his budding romance with a costume girl called Lucy (Emma Watson).

As a biopic My Week with Marilyn didn't really work for me. There wasn't a single moment in this entire film where Williams and Branagh managed to convince me that I was watching Marilyn Monroe and Laurence Olivier. It was the same with Julia Ormond's performance as Vivien Leigh. None of these actors bear the slightest resemblance to the real-life characters that they're playing and they didn't even alter their voices very much. Having said that My Week with Marilyn is still quite a charming film. It has some funny lines and it's very watchable. I really enjoyed Eddie Redmayne's performance. Emma Watson and Judi Dench are both very good in their minor roles. There will be quite a few familiar faces in this film for period drama fans actually. Dominic Cooper, Toby Jones, Jim Carter and Sir Derek Jacobi all make appearances in this film. My Week with Marilyn isn't a great film but it's worth a watch.

Rating: 3/5
Film Certificate Rating: 15