Sunday 31 December 2023

‘Vandalism’: outcry over plans to replace Notre Dame Cathedral’s chapel windows / VIDEO: Notre-Dame de Paris : la polémique autour des futurs vitraux modernes co...

‘Vandalism’: outcry over plans to replace Notre Dame Cathedral’s chapel windows


Thousands sign petition challenging Macron-backed restoration that would add contemporary design to building


Kim Willsher

Tue 26 Dec 2023 14.26 CET


A plan backed by the French president, Emmanuel Macron, to replace stained-glass windows in Notre Dame Cathedral’s side chapels with contemporary creations has been criticised as “vandalism”.


A petition has been signed by more than 120,000 people to retain the original windows. Critics say the change would destroy the architectural harmony of the historical building that was ravaged by fire in April 2019.


During a visit to the 13th-century cathedral this month, Macron announced the windows in six of the seven chapels in the south aisle would be removed and replaced by contemporary stained-glass windows that would be chosen in a competition.


The idea is reported to have originated from the archbishop of Paris, Laurent Ulrich, who wrote to the Élysée saying he would like to see the state commission a series of six new windows.


Macron responded that the idea had his full approval. The windows identified for replacement, designed by the architect Eugène Viollet-le-Duc, who also added the spire in the mid-19th century, were not touched by the fire and would be put on display in a newly created Notre Dame Museum, the president said.


Now, more than 122,000 people have signed a petition launched just over a fortnight ago calling for the original windows to remain.


“The stained glass windows in Notre Dame designed by Viollet-le-Duc were created as a coherent whole. It is a genuine creation that the architect wanted to be faithful to the cathedral’s gothic origins,” it reads.



Didier Rykner, the founder and editor of the online magazine La Tribune de l’Art who created the petition, said a far better contemporary gesture would be to commission new windows for the cathedral’s north tower, where the battle by firefighters to save the edifice was most fierce.


“As you can see from some of the videos, the cathedral has bays without stained glass windows, closed only by white skylights. Installing stained-glass windows in these would not detract from the harmony intended by Viollet-le-Duc, and would enhance the cathedral,” wrote Rykner, who is a high-profile commentator on France’s architectural heritage.


“It would also have a magnificent symbolic role: it was in the north tower, when they fought the fire that threatened to bring down the bells and, in turn, the cathedral, that the firefighters risked their lives to save the monument. Paying tribute to the firefighters, bringing new stained-glass windows to Notre Dame without vandalising Viollet-le-Duc’s work, giving future visitors more to see: this commonsense solution could suit everyone.”


Hours after the blaze, Macron had suggested he was in favour of a “contemporary gesture” in the rebuilding of the cathedral that would open next December, suggesting a new spire could be “inventive”.


After vehement public opposition, the president abandoned the idea. The new 96-metre (315ft) spire, installed in November, looks identical to the one destroyed by flames.


The cathedral is due to reopen on 8 December 2024.

Saturday 30 December 2023

Inside Dominic West's Castle Home | Open Door | Architectural Digest

Catherine FitzGerald and Dominic West's home in Ireland


Catherine FitzGerald and her husband Dominic West have rescued her family home, Glin Castle in Ireland, from being sold, and made it into a viable commercial concern.


By Emily Tobin

17 March 2022


Irish folklore is rich with tremendous stories of mythical creatures, brave warriors and celebrated heroes. There is the monster that swims in the depths of the River Shannon – with its horse’s mane, gleaming eyes, nails of iron and whale’s tail. There is the sixteenth-century Black Knight of Glin, whose distraught mother – according to legend – drank the blood from his severed head after his execution in Limerick. More recently, there is the Hollywood actor who married the heiress to a handsome castle.


For more than 700 years the Knights of Glin have lived near the Shannon. Theirs is a tale of tenacity – the FitzGerald family survived the Desmond rebellions of the sixteenth century, the Cromwellian and Jacobite wars, famine and the Penal Laws. Later there was debt, debauchery and bankruptcy, but they hung on. In 1601, British troops besieged the old castle, kidnapped the Knight’s son and tied him to the mouth of a cannon. He would be blown to smithereens if his father did not surrender. The Knight shouted back in Gaelic, ‘I am virile, my wife is fertile and there are plenty more where he came from!’ Luckily, the boy managed to escape.


By the late seventeenth century, the old castle had been abandoned and the FitzGeralds moved into a thatched longhouse overlooking the Shannon. In the 1780s, John Bateman Fitzgerald, the 23rd Knight of Glin, married Margaretta Maria Fraunceis Gwyn, a wealthy heiress whose father owned Forde Abbey in Somerset. This provided temporary respite from the family’s declining fortunes. The couple planned and built the present castle, a splendid neoclassical building, with the longhouse forming the west wing. The new house boasted delicate plasterwork ceilings, Corinthian columns, and an elegant flying staircase lit by a beautiful Venetian window. By all accounts, the end of the eighteenth century was a golden moment for Glin. The FitzGeralds threw magnificent dances both at the house and on their yacht moored on the Shannon, where the family bard narrated lengthy tales in praise of his patrons. But before long they were bankrupt and it fell to their son John Fraunceis to replenish the family coffers.


Nicknamed the ‘Knight of the Women’, for reasons that will soon become apparent, John Fraunceis added castellations, false arrow slits and mullioned windows in the 1820s, in keeping with the Gothic Revival that was sweeping the country. He landscaped the park and oversaw the building of several follies and grottos, designed specifically for liaisons with his mistresses, with whom he allegedly fathered at least 15 illegitimate children – much to the disapproval of the parish priest. He was described in local verse as ‘this hoary old sinner, this profligate rare’.


And so the story continues, with stretches of financial struggle interspersed with spells of affluence. In 1923, a mob of Sinn Fein men was given short shrift by the 27th Knight. Confined to a wheelchair after a stroke, he refused to leave the castle, bellowing at the rebels, ‘Well, you will have to burn me in it, boys.’ His wife, Lady Rachel Wyndham Quin, did much to develop the garden – planting a cornucopia of exciting new species from South America, which still flourish in the west coast’s mild climate.

Desmond John Villiers FitzGerald, the 29th and final Knight of Glin, inherited the title when he was just 12 years old. In 1975, he and his wife, Olda, moved back to Glin from London and spent decades scouring auction houses for the pictures, drawings and china that had been sold in leaner times. A connoisseur of the decorative arts, a curator at the V&A, the Ireland representative for Christie’s and the president of the Irish Georgian Society, Desmond worked tirelessly to save his own inheritance and also did the same for architectural treasures across Ireland. In the age of Bungalow Bliss – the 1970 book by Irish architect Jack Fitzsimons, which became synonymous with the suburbanisation of the Irish countryside – Desmond’s work was vital. His daughter, Catherine, the current chatelaine of Glin Castle, describes him as ‘an enthusiast, an encourager and an aesthete’.


Under Olda and Desmond, the castle played host to a glittering cast of rock stars, poets, writers, artists and Anglo-Irish aristocracy. Church of Ireland clerics dined with Mick Jagger, Marianne Faithfull, Talitha Getty and the poet Seamus Heaney. Paddy Moloney, of The Chieftains, played his tin whistle in the Grand Hall and Ronnie Wood was a guest at one of Catherine’s birthday parties.


In 1993, the decision was made to turn the house into a hotel.

The family converted the attic rooms into a further six bedrooms, making a total of 15 for the guests to use. Olda revived the walled kitchen garden. But, with the impact of the financial crash reverberating across Ireland and Americans no longer visiting, Olda and Desmond were forced to close the business in 2008. Three years later, the 29th Knight died and, without a male heir to inherit the title, the hereditary knighthood was extinguished.

In 2015, Olda and her three daughters made the painful decision to sell the house and lands that had been in their family for seven centuries. An auction, held at Christie’s, of furniture and art from Desmond’s collection raised a large sum, but the house was no longer financially viable. There was interest from buyers abroad and at home, but none was deemed quite right. For two years, Glin’s fate hung in the balance, until the decision was made to take the house off the market. Catherine and her husband, actor Dominic West, committed to making the castle a going concern. ‘The house has its own spirit, which won’t let us out of its grasp,’ says Catherine.


‘The story of this place is so romantic and so melancholy,’ adds Dominic. ‘With the sale of the house, I realised I was asking Catherine to give up her soul. She has devoted 20 years to the garden. It’s at the core of her being.’ Catherine has carved out a career as a successful landscape designer and is currently reviving the gardens at Hillsborough Castle. She says of Glin, ‘Growing up, my sisters and I roamed the place, making dens in the rhododendron bushes, climbing the Monterey pine and wading in the rushing, stony stream. The garden got under my skin – and for years it’s filled my dreams.’


Dominic first visited Glin for Catherine’s 21st birthday party, an experience he describes as ‘romantically full of turmoil’. Having hitched a ride from Limerick, he was swiftly introduced to several of Catherine’s other boyfriends. The pair fell in love at Trinity College, Dublin. Their paths crossed again many years later and they were married at Glin in 2010. ‘The wedding was a real hoolie,’ Dominic says. ‘The whole village was involved, with Thomas Coolahan, the publican, postman and funeral director, running the bar with gusto.’


The longstanding relationship between the village and the castle is central to this story. Glin is a beacon of culture and employment in the local economy. The house is now open for private lettings and events, with regular literature and cooking retreats by local foodies, Imen McDonnell and Cliodhna Prendergast, who founded Lens & Larder. Their recipes can be seen in ‘Castle Kitchen’ later in this issue. The castle is once again flourishing, with an array of guests filling its rooms. In May next year it will host the Rare and Special Plant Fair organised by Bord Bia (the Irish Food Board) and there are also plans to run gardening weekend retreats.


Molly Keane, the caustic chronicler of the lost Anglo-Irish world, and a frequent guest at Glin, noted the differences between English and Irish country houses. She is quoted in The Irish Home by Ianthe Ruthven as saying that English houses ‘have an air of blessed permanence. They sit low in their wooded valleys, comfortable as cups in saucers.’ While their Irish counterparts ‘are ethereal in their uselessness… their designers yielded to one object only – beauty’.


Glin is certainly beautiful, but to call it useless is to ignore the impact it has had on the FitzGerald family. ‘Glin enriches my life and my kids’ lives in terms of identity and continuum,’ explains Dominic. ‘My children are surrounded by Irish wit and humanity. They have a far broader existence than they would anywhere else in the world.’ Generation after generation of the FitzGerald family has added to Glin, each in its own way – preserving and contributing to the castle’s beauty and never striking a wrong note.

Wednesday 27 December 2023

Murder Is Easy reviews.


Murder Is Easy review: BBC’s Christmas Agatha Christie adaptation is bland and incoherent


‘Rye Lane’ star David Jonsson tries to assert his authority, but is forced to navigate his way around a convoluted plot


Nick Hilton

8 hours ago


“How can someone murder three people in an English village without it being noticed?” This simple question is at the heart of what has made Agatha Christie the world’s most popular novelist. How is it that England’s green and pleasant land can be so riddled with people willing to poison, stab and bludgeon their neighbours? It is a premise that has become a core part – ho ho ho! – of the BBC’s festive programming, which returns this year with a 1950s spin on Christie’s 1939 novel, Murder Is Easy.


On the train to London, Luke Fitzwilliam (Rye Lane’s David Jonsson), freshly arrived from Nigeria, encounters a curious old lady, Lavinia Pinkerton (Penelope Wilton). “I have to report,” she tells the young civil servant, ominously, “murder.” Miss Pinkerton has, she believes, witnessed two – maybe three – murders, but before she can arrive at Scotland Yard she’s mowed down by a rogue motorist. Coincidence? Not in the mind of Fitzwilliam, who immediately heads to Miss Pinkerton’s village, Wychwood, to investigate the crimes. There, he teams up with Bridget Conway (The Rings of Power’s Morfydd Clark), a former secretary who is now engaged to the obnoxious Lord Whitfield (Tom Riley). As they nose around the village’s business, their mutual attraction grows, just as the body count rises.


On his jaunt in the country, Fitzwilliam encounters a bevy of British TV character actors: Tamzin Outhwaite, Mark Bonnar, Mathew Baynton, and Douglas Henshall (among others). It may not quite match the wattage of the 1974 Murder on the Orient Express (Sean Connery, Lauren Bacall, Ingrid Bergman, John Gielgud, Vanessa Redgrave) or the 1978 Death on the Nile (Mia Farrow, David Niven, Jane Birkin, not to mention Maggie Smith and Bette Davis), but it’s a decent lineup. The sort of decent lineup we’ve grown accustomed to in recent festive Christie adaptations. With Kenneth Branagh doing his big screen best (which is not very good) tackling the Poirot novels, the BBC has chosen to adapt a series of Christie’s less celebrated standalone works: The Pale Horse, Ordeal by Innocence, Witness for the Prosecution, and now Murder is Easy. It is a decision that gives them the freedom to experiment, without fear of being held in contrast to the great adaptations of the past.


That freedom here is best expressed by a new interest in late-colonialism and middle England’s racism. Jonsson’s Fitzwilliam represents the first time a Christie protagonist has been played by a Black actor, and the narrative embraces that new development. “Behold the imperial African,” Fitzwilliam’s friend at the West Africa Club announces. “Self-colonised, collaborating with his oppressors.” As with all creative decisions that promote a more diverse and inclusive agenda, it will provoke both the tabloid media and easily offended viewers, but many of Christie’s works are thoroughly engaged with the consequences of empire. Bringing the action forward by a couple of decades allows the creators to gerrymander some more progressive ideals into the story. While Christie’s views might not have been expressed in quite such bluntly liberal terms (“Gordon likes to collect nice things,” Bridget observes, of her fiance’s treasury of African artifacts; “Not really his nice things though, are they?” Fitzwilliam responds), there has always been a sufficiently distinguishable native thread of interest in these matters for it to be extrapolated out to a broader canvas.


This is something the show does well enough, but it is one of the few things to achieve even basic competence. Where Sarah Phelps’s adaptations for the BBC (And Then There Were None, for example, or her reimagining of The ABC Murders) were shrouded in a very modern darkness, Sian Ejiwunmi-Le Berre’s adaptation of Murder is Easy falls between two stools. Too bland to excite the violent impulses of the Line of Duty generation, yet insufficiently zippy or playful to stir Christie aficionados. The script is only part of the problem: more striking, perhaps, is the cheapness of the design. Rather than shooting for the murkiness of Scandinoir, Murder is Easy manages to be both over-saturated and over-exposed, while the costumes, locations and cars all have that counter-intuitively anachronistic air of being “vintage”. It is striking that, in the 34 years since David Suchet’s Poirot first aired on ITV, the aesthetic quality of Christie adaptations seems to have regressed.


Against this unsatisfying backdrop, Jonsson tries hard to assert his authority. It is never easy playing a disposable dick – neither Poirot nor Marple; never going to spark a franchise – but Jonsson is not aided by what the kids are calling CRF (chronic rizz face). “Bridget, why are you marrying that man?” he purrs at Clark’s vivacious temptress. Both are in the Tommy and Tuppence mould – spunky and selfless – yet, like most things with this adaptation, more washed out than intended. They navigate their way around a convoluted plot like Theseus delicately, clumsily, returning to Ariadne.


If British television wishes to continue adapting Christie’s novels – which doubtless it does, given there are many that are yet to receive a primetime airing – then they’d be advised to remember what makes them so popular. Propulsive, compulsive plots, a distinctive vision of Britain in the first half of the 20th century, and a radical, by the standards of modern mysteries, coherence. Murder might be easy, but a good murder mystery is far less straightforward.

Murder is Easy on BBC One review: give this silly, self-important take on Christie a miss this Christmas


Murder may be easy, but watching this is hard





On the Third Day of Christmas the BBC gives us … one of the least congenial Agatha Christie adaptations I can think of.


I have nothing, obviously, against murder at Christmas, though in Murder is Easy there is something of an embarrassment of riches. It’s the way, yet again, that contemporary preoccupations are foisted onto a period piece where they are simply not at home.


It’s not that the novel is good enough to get worked up about. It’s not, frankly, one of the great lady’s best, though she does prove, yet again, that spinster ladies are a force to be reckoned with.


And even for those of us who are up for festive homicide, there are rather too many in this story – I lost count after four – for us to care especially about the victims. Personally I stopped caring after the maid who swallowed hat paint instead of cough linctus.


Still, the beginning is promising. It would take a hard heart not to be entertained by an elderly lady called Miss Pinkerton – here, a daffy Penelope Wilton – unburdening herself on a train to a sympathetic young retired policeman, Luke Fitzwilliam, just back from India, about the number of murders in her little village. She’s off to Scotland Yard to tell them. Except, you know what? She doesn’t get there.


But before we even get to that point, this production, adapted from the novel by Siân Ejiwunmi-Le Berre goes off-piste with a very odd (for Agatha Christie) prelude showing a young black man – David Jonsson as a very comely Luke Fitzwilliam – running through a forest, pursued by unseen forces. And whereas the original detective is former Indian service, this Luke is Nigerian and is taking himself off to London to work for a bigwig baronet in Whitehall.


But you don’t think the production is going to leave it at that, do you? Oh no. No sooner does Luke find his cousin at a West African Education Centre, he’s in for a roasting from his cousin’s wife for working for a Colonial Butcher and, for good measure she declares Luke is self-colonised and collaborating with the oppressors.


No wonder the poor man takes himself off to Miss Pinkerton’s village in deepest shiredom to investigate her serial killer theory. And if it seems far fetched for him to try to pass himself off as a cultural anthropologist investigating links between death practice in the shires and Nigeria, you can blame Agatha Christie.


Inevitably, Luke encounters all the petty prejudices you might have expected from the locals – not least Lord Whitfield (Tom Riley hamming it up for all he’s worth), a boy from the village made good through war profiteering.


It's not just colonialism that Ejiwunmi-Le Berre is gunning for with this adaptation. Nope. It’s the wicked lord, who’s out to grind the faces of the poor by using his ill gotten gains to set up a new model town.


The rustics resent it, and so does the tiresome vicar, Humbleby (Mark Bonnar) who lambasts Lord Whitfield over dinner for not spending the money on affordable housing, thereby ventriloquising Angela Rayner.


The trouble with this village – and the fault is the author’s – is that there are just too many potential serial killers in it. One is Mathew Baynton (Horrible Histories) as Dr Thomas who signals his horrible nature by showing Fitzwilliam his little volume on Racial Selection; the quest for the Master Race.


It's hard to take the novel seriously, and it’s impossible to take this silly, self-aggrandising, preposterous adaptation at its own estimation. Give it a miss. Look, at this time of year, there are charades to be played, pudding to eat up, relations to entertain; don’t shun any opportunity not to watch this. Murder may be Easy; watching it is the hard part.



Murder Is Easy review – shines a whole new light on this Agatha Christie classic


This inventive take on a vintage crime tale replaces an English police officer with a Nigerian attaché. It tackles race, feminism and class, while still being quintessentially English


Rebecca Nicholson

Wed 27 Dec 2023 23.00 CET


Iwonder if the best call an actor can get from their agent is the offer of a part in an Agatha Christie adaptation. The opening credits for Murder Is Easy offer a tantalising roll call of big TV names, including Penelope Wilton, Mark Bonnar, Mathew Baynton and Jon Pointing, but the thing about a murder mystery in which the murderer has a rather long hitlist is that most of them appear for only a scene or two. It seems as if it could be one of the easiest gigs in town.


The busiest of the lot, though, is Industry’s David Jonsson, who stars as Luke Fitzwilliam, refashioned from the retired English police officer of the original novel into a Nigerian attache, who has travelled to the UK to take up a position at Whitehall. The action, of which there is plenty, has been moved forward a couple of decades, to 1953, and there are reworkings of certain characters and plot points. Screenwriter Siân Ejiwunmi-Le Berre’s tweaking of the story suggests an inventive and imaginative new take on the 1939 original. The first half takes the most liberties with its source material and is by far the strongest, hinting at Fitzwilliam’s divided loyalties as a member of the ruling elite and a colonised subject of a nation close to independence. His conversations with his Nigerian friends in London, about pride, duty and obligation, make the prospect of him being dropped into a mostly white country village in the mid-20th century even more tantalising a dramatic prospect.


Yet this early promise soon fades into the background as Murder Is Easy settles in as a quintessentially BBC Christie adaptation. Fitzwilliam meets a woman named Lavinia Pinkerton (Wilton) on a train. Pinky, as she is known to her friends, tells him she is on her way to report murder – note the vagueness as to how many murders she is planning to report – and ropes him into a guessing game that casts him in the role of lead detective, though for the sake of this version, it is in an amateur capacity only. Pinky’s previously sleepy village has seen the deaths of too many residents for it not to be suspicious, and she is on the verge of joining the dots and exposing the responsible party.


Intrigued by the bait Pinkerton has left for him, Fitzwilliam travels to the village to investigate, meeting a classic murder-mystery cast that includes the vicar, the doctor and the lord of the manor. But there is an element of class war here, too, as the neighbouring village, where the poor people live, begins to boil over with resentment at how the rich are treating them, not least in the planning of a new town, which appears to be upsetting everyone within a 20-mile radius.


It throws a touch of feminism on to the fire, as the self-proclaimed “averagely observant secretary” Bridget Conway (Morfydd Clark) teams up with Fitzwilliam to add her better-than-average observation skills to the hunt for the killer; she notices details about hat colour and heels, for example, that only a woman might notice. And Fitzwilliam himself becomes a curious new presence in the village, accepted, in that he is part of the establishment, and also reminded that he is an outsider, covertly and overtly, when one of the villagers turns out to have a small private library of books on eugenics. It even touches on the ethics of the collection of historical objects from colonial nations, though in the end, it observes more than pushes the point.


Murder Is Easy begins to struggle under the weight of all it is trying to do and, by the second episode, the focus starts to fade, and its light touch is lost, as it both overexplains and underexplains what is going on, depending on the scene. Fitzwilliam talks about who has power and why it matters; other characters explain that women are often undervalued. It drifts towards the end as if it has run out of steam, and it feels strange for the festive Christie to be set at the height of summer – a tennis-whites Christmas, perhaps.


The cast of Murder is Easy standing ensemble in the midst of a forest, David Jonsson's Luke in the foreground, holding an umbrella. Other cast members are Dr Thomas (Mathew Baynton), Mrs Humbleby (Nimra Bucha), Rev Humbleby (Mark Bonnar), Lord Whitfield (Tom Riley), Bridget (Morfydd Clark), Miss Pinkerton (Penelope Wilton), Major Horton (Douglas Henshall), Rivers (Jon Pointing), Honoria Wayneflete (Sinéad Matthews) and Mrs Pierce (Tamzin Outhwaite).


Adaptations of old novels should be free to do whatever they want to the source material. In this case, the choices made shine a different light on the story, and these choices don’t force it into a new shape, but instead suggest taking another look at it, from an angle that might not have seemed obvious until now. It works perfectly well, though in the end, this becomes more of a routine whodunnit than it first suggests.

Murder Is Easy review: This finger-wagging lecture on colonialism treats nostalgia for Agatha Christie's Britain as a thought crime, writes CHRISTOPHER STEVENS



PUBLISHED: 22:01 GMT, 27 December 2023 | UPDATED: 07:22 GMT, 28 December 2023


Christmas presents come in two varieties: the ones we want and the ones a disapproving relative feels we ought to get, such as socks, underpants and... Murder Is Easy (BBC1).


Our Auntie Beeb can't stand the way we enjoy murder in a 1950s village. All those spinsters cycling through the morning mist to church, ruddy-cheeked blacksmiths and lads playing cricket on the green – it's so very English, it must be wrong.


So instead of giving us the Agatha Christie adaptation we'd like, Auntie devises something different that will be 'better for us'. That is the equivalent of serving a tofu turkey and insisting: 'It tastes just as good, and it's saving the world.'


This means taking a pre-war tale from the Golden Age of British detective fiction and turning it into what director Meenu Gaur calls 'a great allegorical story about colonialism'.


The sleuth is a young black man newly arrived from Nigeria, who claims to be researching local folklore while really investigating a string of murders.


Instead of giving us the Agatha Christie adaptation we'd like, Auntie Beeb devises something different that will be 'better for us'


In Wychwood under Ashe, it's 1954 and locals are being killed off so fast the coroner can't keep up. Death certificates are being handed out in pairs.


Spoiler alert if you haven't seen it yet, but the publican drowns, a flighty maid swallows poison, the window cleaner falls from a parapet and the dear little old lady investigating these deaths (Penelope Wilton) is run down by a car.


So far, so good. But it feels there are worse crimes than murder in the eyes of writer Sian Ejiwunmi-Le Berre.


The village is a seething hotbed of racism. Our detective, Luke Fitzwilliam (David Jonsson), has only to walk into a pub for the whole place to fall silent. The lord of the manor makes sneering remarks about 'mud huts' and the doctor is handing out tracts on purifying the white master race.


'Now do you see?' mutters Auntie Beeb. 'That's what your precious English village was really like. Fascists, the lot of them.'


This is a 21st-centurL Left-wing lecture, drumming in the conviction that Britain after the war was a truly terrible place and we should all be ashamed of it. Nostalgia is a thought crime.


The opening scenes of this two-parter are inspired not by Agatha Christie but by the West African legend of a man who makes himself invisible to go hunting.


'Becoming part of another culture, which is what empire and colonialism is,' says Gaur, 'means part of us as people becomes invisible.'


In a dream sequence, Fitzwilliam is seen clutching an ebony artefact called an ikenga, a double-horned figurine, which he drops as he is chased through a forest.


The sleuth is a young black man newly arrived from Nigeria, who claims to be researching local folklore while really investigating a string of murders


This is a left-wing lecture, drumming in the conviction that Britain after the war was a truly terrible place and we should all be ashamed of it


In tonight's second episode, he reveals that the ikenga represents a man's sense of self and destiny. He also slips surreptitiously into his lordship's study, where he is horrified to discover a collection of African masks, fetishes and carvings – cultural treasures that are plainly the plunder of empire.


This is hardly the first time the BBC's loathing of Christie has been apparent. The 2015 version of And Then There Were None was sexed-up with nudity, while in Witness For The Prosecution the following Christmas, David Haig played a senior barrister who unleashed a barrage of four-letter words in the Old Bailey courtroom.


In 2020, the plot of The Pale Horse, admittedly not one of Dame Agatha's finest, was comprehensively rewritten – with the result that it was even worse than the book.


But no rewrite has gone as far as this reinvention of Murder Is Easy, and numerous details ring false. Some are comical: Fitzwilliam is grudgingly accepted by the locals when he dons a bow tie and dinner jacket, as though this was the definitive mark of a gentleman.


Some are contradictory: village GP Dr Thomas (Mathew Baynton) is a toadie who refuses to give proper treatment to those who can't pay. This might have been plausible in 1939, when Christie wrote Murder Is Easy, but the adaptation has been shunted forward to the NHS era. The doctor's prejudice now makes no sense.


Some are lazy: Morfydd Clark as flirtatious Bridget calls herself a 'seckerterry', which was certainly not the 1950s pronunciation of 'secretary', and Fitzwilliam addresses her as Ms Conway, not Miss. And some are just bizarre: Fitzwilliam is attacked by a bird of prey, a red kite, when he arrives at the manor house. Red kites were extinct in England in the 1950s – perhaps the writer was thinking of herring gulls?


Being a Christmas Christie, it does at least have a good cast. Douglas Henshall is particularly fun as an old buffer who served in Africa, and Mark Bonnar made the most of his role as Reverend Humbleby by dropping dead at a dinner party, making a recovery, and dropping dead again on the tennis court.


Whether he's permanently dead this time, we shall find out tonight.

TV tonight Agatha Christie’s Murder Is Easy 9pm, BBC One / VIDEO: Murder Is Easy | Trailer - BBC Trailers

TV tonight: another juicy Agatha Christie whodunnit needs solving

Agatha Christie’s Murder Is Easy

9pm, BBC One

A sleepy village is terrorised by a killer on the loose. Plus, French and Saunders get the Imagine treatment. Here’s what to watch this evening


Hollie Richardson, Alexi Duggins, Jack Seale, Phil Harrison, Graeme Virtue and Stuart Heritage

Wed 27 Dec 2023 07.20 CET


Agatha Christie’s Murder Is Easy

9pm, BBC One

The latest snazzy Agatha Christie adaptation is a two-parter that boasts an impressive cast, with David Jonsson taking the lead as Luke Fitzwilliam – a young man forging a career in Whitehall, who gets sucked into a whodunnit when he learns a killer is on the loose in a sleepy English village. Mark Bonnar, Tamzin Outhwaite and Douglas Henshall also star. Hollie Richardson

The Original JEEVES ( António Sérgio Rosa de Carvalho ) and the painting ...

 My Friend Menno Aardewijn, painted me again ... Thank you Menno.


Tuesday 26 December 2023

Dec. 12, 2023 : After 60 Episodes, Peter Morgan Says Goodbye to ‘The Crown’


After 60 Episodes, Peter Morgan Says Goodbye to ‘The Crown’


Morgan’s opulent Netflix show about the British royal family set new standards for prestige TV. With the final season ending, he’s amazed he’s pulled it off.


“I am really surprised that I’ve sustained it,” Peter Morgan said of creating “The Crown” over the last decade.


By Roslyn Sulcas

Reporting from London

Published Dec. 12, 2023

Updated Dec. 13, 2023


On a chilly day in December 2016, Peter Morgan stood on a London street, watching the filming of a scene from his new television series about the British royal family.


Half an hour later, he flopped into a chair, running his hands through his hair. As both the show’s writer and showrunner, he was already working on Season 2 while keeping an eye on every detail of Season 1. “I love doing this, but it’s overwhelming to a degree that isn’t sustainable over a long time,” he said.


“This” was the “The Crown,” Morgan’s ambitious six-part series that would span most of the reign of Queen Elizabeth II, exploring national and international politics, personalities and social change through the prism of an intergenerational — and royal — family. After 60 episodes, all written or co-written by Morgan, he has seen it through.


On Thursday, Netflix will release the last six episodes of the sixth season, marking the end of a show that has been one of the most watched, argued over and influential creations in recent television history.


Reminded, in a recent interview, of those early doubts, Morgan, 60, nodded emphatically. “I am really surprised that I’ve sustained it,” he said. “I do feel” — he paused for a while — “astonished, and grateful, and quite emotional that we got to the end.”


Morgan, center, with Matt Smith (who played Prince Philip for the first two seasons) and Claire Foy (who played Queen Elizabeth in the same period) during filming of “The Crown.”Credit...Alex Bailey/Netflix


When Morgan, along with the director Stephen Daldry and the producer Andy Harries, first pitched “The Crown” to broadcasters in 2014, it was with “low expectations,” Daldry wrote in an email. Netflix was only just beginning to create original content, and streaming was in its infancy.


The BBC would have been a natural home for “The Crown,” but “Peter wanted to do something pioneering and different,” said Suzanne Mackie, who has been an executive producer on the show from the start. “I remember feeling that the TV landscape was going to change and we were going to be part of it.”


“The Crown” was not just part of a shifting landscape, but an agent of change. The show’s blend of scrupulously researched fact and dramatic fiction, its cinematic production values and the changing of its principal cast every two seasons, all set new parameters for prestige long-form television.


“What an extraordinary thing to have invented: the story of a family using three different sets of actors. I don’t think it’s ever been done before,” said Imelda Staunton, who played Queen Elizabeth over the last two seasons.


The final season, which opens in 1997 with the run-up to the death of Diana, has been the hardest of all for Morgan to create, he said, not just because the events and images feel familiar to much of the audience. He also covered some of the same terrain period in his 2006 film, “The Queen,” which focused on the queen (played by Helen Mirren) confronting the emotional public response to the death of Princess Diana.


“I’ve been dreading this moment,” he said frankly. “How do I repeat myself without repeating myself?” He decided that if he couldn’t find a convincing Diana, he would tell the story of the end of her life through Dodi Fayed, Diana’s boyfriend who died with her in the crash, and his mourning father, the Egyptian billionaire Mohamed al-Fayed, who yearned for acceptance from the royals and died this year.


“But once we had Elizabeth Debicki as Diana, I could enjoy writing her, the life she had, the mischief,” and her extraordinary ability to connect with people, Morgan said.


The queen’s death last year, and watching her funeral, also shifted Morgan’s approach to the final season, he said, which ends in 2005 with the wedding of Prince Charles and Camilla Parker-Bowles. Elizabeth’s story now concludes with the monarch celebrating and coming to terms with that union, but also contemplating her own death and legacy.


“What about the life I put aside, the woman I put aside, when I became queen?” the monarch asks herself, in a rare moment of vulnerability.


Daldry, who directed the final episode, said that in filming it, Staunton “went on an amazing journey with me in reflecting the queen’s mortality and reign.” For Staunton, “it was an extraordinary thing to try to inhabit a person who was completely dutiful all her life,” she said. “You will never see that again.”


By the end of the show, the queen, Morgan said, “is wrestling with the illogicality of the system” that required such duty of her. “It’s like religion,” he added. “Why lead such a powerful institution along irrational lines? But then maybe the irrationality is the romance. I’ve got no closer to an answer.”


Morgan, 60, grew up in London, the son of two refugees: his Jewish father had fled Nazi Germany; his Catholic mother escaped communist Poland. “If I weren’t the son of immigrants, I wouldn’t have dared write about the British royal family,” he said. “You have to have to feel one foot outside, one foot inside, to understand it.”


While studying fine art at Leeds University, he decided he wanted to work in theater and came to writing “through a series of accidents.” Now, he said, he can’t imagine doing anything else.


Morgan wrote television scripts for much of the 1990s, before gaining wider attention in 2003 with “The Deal,” a film for British television about the rivalry between Gordon Brown and Tony Blair. Then came his 2006 breakthrough with “The Queen,” directed by Stephen Frears.


In 2013 he premiered “The Audience,” a play about the weekly meetings between the queen, again played by Mirren, and her prime ministers, which played in the West End and Broadway and won several Tony Awards. Writing it, Morgan was struck by the relationship between the young Elizabeth and the elderly Winston Churchill, and thought perhaps it could be a film. As he began to explore the idea, and starting at an earlier point, “I thought, there might be a TV show in this,” he recalled.


There was. In a negotiation between on-the-record history and speculative imaginings characteristic of his work, Morgan has portrayed the royal family as ordinarily human, with complicated and rich inner lives. Private versus public, tradition versus modernity, relevance versus mystery: “The Crown” has explored these issues over the decades of the queen’s reign.


“The Crown” started “a seismic shift in royal representation onstage and screen,” Mark Lawson wrote recently in The Guardian, noting that before the series began, fictional representation of the royals was mostly satirical or comedy. Morgan, by contrast, depicted “royalty with the quasi-documentary realism of acting and lavish scenery,” Lawson added.


As a consequence, the series has come in for opprobrium — particularly over the final two seasons — from outraged royal-watchers, critics and public figures, who have called out historical inaccuracies and objected to imagined conversations and encounters.


But truth is elusive, and ambiguity is essential for Morgan. “I can only repeat what I have always said,” Morgan said. “Some of it is necessarily fiction. But I try to make everything truthful even if you can’t know if it’s accurate.” He quoted the late author Hilary Mantel: “History is not the past, it’s the method we have evolved of organizing our ignorance of the past.”


The royal family, Morgan said, “is like a shadow family for everyone, which is why people have such strong opinions. And it’s right and proper that a dramatist writes about kings and queens and leaders. It has historically been what we do to make sense of the world.”


Over almost a decade, the show has made stars of its young actors, among them Claire Foy, Vanessa Kirby and Emma Corrin. “It changed my life,” Kirby, who played a young Princess Margaret, wrote in an email. Morgan, she said, “understands how to paint arcs, deep emotional journeys — no matter how big or small the part.” Morgan, she added, always encourages “the unpredictable, the complex, the challenging.”


Khalid Abdalla, who plays Dodi, Diana’s boyfriend, in Seasons 5 and 6, said that before taking the role, he had been uninterested in watching a show about the royal family. But once he joined the show, he said, he was “amazed by the way Peter gives a point of view you hadn’t had, and makes you rethink what you thought you knew.”


When it came to the characters of Dodi and his father, “it was moving that he gave the al-Fayeds a cultural space for their grief,” Abdalla said. “There is a blindness to that side of the story that needs to be called out and recognized, and Peter did that.”


For each season, Morgan spent at least six months working with a core team to create a detailed timeline of the relevant time period, with a research team providing documents, photographs and other background materials for every scene. “I love playing with stories like a jigsaw,” he said. “I am very specific and detail-oriented; if I were a doctor, I would be an elbow man!”


That detail extends to every character. “Not one character speaks in the same way,” Kirby said. “That is surprisingly rare in writing — and so true to life.”


“I do feel” — Morgan paused for a while — “astonished, and grateful, and quite emotional that we got to the end.”Credit...Jeremie Souteyrat for The New York Times


Over the last ten years, Morgan has also, together with the executive producers Mackie and Oona O’Beirn, overseen every detail of the show’s production. “Making a show like this is like making ten feature films each season, with the same care and detail,” Morgan said. “And unlike one film, it just goes on.”


Now that he’s reached the end, “People keep saying, you must be so happy and proud, but I’m not yet. I’m still a bit traumatized.” He laughed. “I promise I will smoke a cigar soon.”


He is nonetheless on to his next project, which he said he couldn’t talk about yet. “It won’t,” he said firmly, “involve palaces.”

What ‘The Crown’ Teaches Us About Power and How to Wield It




What ‘The Crown’ Teaches Us About Power and How to Wield It

Dec. 16, 2023

By Arianne Chernock

Dr. Chernock is a professor of history at Boston University.


The final six episodes of “The Crown” were released this week, bringing Peter Morgan’s engrossing saga of the Windsors — bookended by the marriages of Elizabeth and Philip in 1947 and Charles and Camilla in 2005 — to an end. The Netflix series had all the appeal of a classic prime-time soap, and sure enough, tens of millions of people have tuned in, escaping reality to dwell for an hour in a bubble of fashion, money, gossip, intrigue and betrayal.


To many, escape is the whole point of royal watching — which is why royal mania is so often dismissed as a frivolous distraction. The royals are no longer as powerful as when they oversaw the rise of modern Britain and its empire. But the world of the Windsors is still intimately, and sometimes painfully, connected to our own. In that sense, the saga of the royal family, as captured in “The Crown,” offers supreme lessons in resilience, demonstrating that even the most traditional leaders can change with the times, relinquishing old roles to find new ways of exerting power and influence.


It may be easy to look at the monarchy today and assume its role is almost entirely ceremonial, but kings and queens — and their extended families — still exert tremendous social influence, especially as exemplars of morality. That was a role that King George III and his advisers pioneered way back in the 18th century when, to maintain their relevance, the royal family was expected to establish standards of proper behavior and stand by them. For better and worse, that expectation persists.


In the most favorable instances, royals have used this soft power to engage in cultural repair and provide moral leadership. Queen Victoria, for example, served as the first patron of the British Red Cross, helping to reform the kind of care received by those injured during conflicts. On the eve of World War II, King George VI met with Franklin D. Roosevelt in Hyde Park, N.Y. In eating hot dogs together, the king and president telegraphed Anglo-American solidarity in the face of rising fascism.


Over time, such stories have helped us understand that the actions of the royals affect not just their world but also our own, which may explain both our perpetual curiosity about the family and the intensity of our emotions as we litigate their choices. Many prestige cable shows have insightfully examined the dynamics of a marriage — take Tony and Carmela Soprano — but when “The Crown” dissects Charles and Diana’s doomed marriage, it is re-enacting a pivotal moment in history that informed how many modern couples think about marital obligation and what we owe our partners and ourselves.


The final season of “The Crown” — and, in many ways, the modern story of the Windsors — has been haunted by the ghost of Diana, a figure who perhaps understood this dynamic between perception and obligation better than anyone. We may remember Diana first for her outfits and her sudden renown, but she went on to do humanitarian work that benefited people with AIDS, spoke openly about her bulimia, pursued solutions to homelessness and campaigned for land mine removal in Bosnia and Angola.


In different but no less powerful ways, King Charles III is currently trying to use his influence to help mitigate the impact of climate change. At the core of these efforts is an acknowledgment that, whatever their political role, royals can, and should, have consequence. But their actions also reflect a recognizable human urge to shape the world around us and take control of our circumstances. That’s why we can see so much of ourselves in the royals when they strive for control — and often fail to achieve it.


Of course, the royals can still seem clueless and out of touch. Take their halting and awkward attempts to reckon with the role their ancestors played in shoring up a brutal empire. Centuries ago, monarchs funded the slave trade and Queen Victoria and her descendants provided symbolic glue for the British Empire and Commonwealth realms. The royal family is still tethered to that imperial past. The Prince and Princess of Wales, William and Kate, received significant public criticism during a 2022 royal tour of the Caribbean when some suggested they failed to adopt a sufficiently apologetic stance toward Britain’s colonial past. King Charles fared better on his recent visit to Kenya by acknowledging Britain’s violent response to the Mau Mau uprising in the 1950s. Even so, the royals are navigating what the British journalist Afua Hirsch described last year as “a clamoring chorus of global trauma” led by “those colonized in the name of the British crown.”


But what history teaches us — and “The Crown” artfully conveys — is that the royal family can embrace change when forced to. The show has always been most successful when it’s not just penetrating the royal bubble but puncturing it. Yes, we’ve followed the Windsors, but we’ve also entered the homes of the grieving mining families of Aberfan following the sudden collapse of a colliery spoil tip. We’ve observed the Bahamian-born valet Sydney Johnson lovingly care for the exiled Duke of Windsor. And in the final seasons we’ve watched the Egyptian businessman Mohamed al-Fayed and his son Dodi make tragic efforts to recast themselves as British elites. The exploits of the monarch are never just about the monarch. They are also, inevitably, about us. When the queen encounters her subjects, she often comes away changed. Though it could still be improved and modernized, the monarchy we see now, under King Charles, is a far cry from the one in 1947 captured on “The Crown” when it began.


We might thrill to be escorted inside Balmoral Castle and Buckingham Palace, where we keep close company with Queen Elizabeth II and her restless brood. There’s certainly pleasure in listening in to the imagined private conversations of a queen so famously tight-lipped that her unofficial mantra was reportedly “Never complain, never explain.” But all of these stories, from the young Elizabeth to Charles and Diana to William and Harry, have reverberated precisely because they offer more than simply voyeuristic escapism. They help us understand our world a little better — and the way that we have shaped the royals’ rarefied realm.

In ‘The Crown,’ the Lonely Final Days of a Naughty Princess


In ‘The Crown,’ the Lonely Final Days of a Naughty Princess


In the sixth season, Princess Margaret suffers a series of strokes that shatter her glamorous exterior. “She doesn’t know how to function,” said Lesley Manville, who plays the role.


By Simran Hans

Reporting from London

Published Dec. 15, 2023

Updated Dec. 20, 2023, 5:35 a.m. ET


On the day that Queen Elizabeth II died, Lesley Manville was in hospital.


The actor was filming an episode of the final season of “The Crown” in which her character,  Princess Margaret, is visited at her sickbed by her older sister Elizabeth, played by Imelda Staunton. When the two actors were briefed that the real queen “may well pass today,” Manville recalled in a recent interview, they told the crew they’d like to carry on filming the emotional scene.


They wrapped at 4 p.m., Manville said, “which we later found out was around the time she died.”


In the sixth and final season of “The Crown,” it is Manville’s character that is approaching the end. Margaret was one Windsor family’s more rebellious members, and as a young woman, she fell in love with the divorced air force officer Peter Townsend, though she was not allowed to marry him. In the show, this heartbreak casts a shadow over the rest of her life.


Still, that pain never dulled Margaret’s sparkle. Manville, 67, who speaks with the command of a seasoned stage actor, described Margaret as glamorous and alluring, “a woman who was never off the front pages of the newspaper in the ’50s and ’60s — the Diana of that generation.”


On “The Crown,” Vanessa Kirby initially played Margaret (Seasons 1 and 2), followed by Helena Bonham Carter (Seasons 3 and 4), and by the time Manville took up the role for Season 5, the princess was in her 60s. Over the decades, the show presents Margaret’s glitzy lifestyle in stark contrast with Elizabeth’s years of quiet duty.


But much of Margaret’s earlier glamour was stripped away after she suffered three strokes between 1998 and 2001. Manville was drawn to the knottiness of portraying Margaret “in this difficult and lonely time of her life,” she said. When the character’s illness also takes away her looks, her identity is shaken, too. “She doesn’t know how to function,” Manville said.


“Ritz,” the eighth episode of the new season, depicts the strokes and Margaret’s decline. The princess defies her doctor’s orders and continues drinking and partying on the Caribbean island of Mustique, where she suffers a second stroke. Ahead of filming, Manville met with several stroke victims, she said, to accurately show the physical and psychological aftereffects. The challenge was to balance the realism of a drooping mouth and slurred speech with “speaking coherently enough,” she added.


During this period of ill health, Margaret’s planner was no longer full — “She didn’t like that,” Manville said — and her royal engagements were less frequent. “When you had all of that, and then you just see it ebbing away, that’s fascinating to play,” Manville said.


Meriel Sheibani-Clare, who co-wrote Episode 8, said that in this episode, the show’s creators wanted to reframe Margaret by celebrating her support for her sister. Manville played her as “brittle and spiky,” Sheibani-Clare said, while still conveying vulnerability so “she sometimes feels like a little girl.”


Manville said “the uniqueness of the series” was that it allowed her “to do my Margaret,” quite separate from Kirby and Bonham Carter’s performances. But running through all three performances, Manville noted, has been a thread of naughtiness. In one comedic vignette from Episode 8, Manville’s Margaret, banned from smoking by her doctor, ransacks the palace in search of a cigarette and takes a hungry, exalted puff. If she had played Margaret without a sense of humor, Manville said, “that would not be picking up the baton very successfully.”


Manville described Margaret as glamorous and alluring, “a woman who was never off the front pages of the newspaper in the ’50s and ’60s — the Diana of that generation.”Credit...Sophie Stafford for The New York Times


Manville, who has been a fixture of British stage and screen since the mid-1970s, said she has never wanted to be “a personality actress who just plays themselves all the time.” When she accepted the role of Margaret in 2020, she was about to portray a ’50s cleaning lady in the feature “Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris.” The contrast between playing that role and a “real blue blood aristocrat” was “too tempting for words,” Manville said.


Staunton, another British actor with a long résumé, said she and Manville were “old friends” and had bonded during “a hilarious time flying around on harnesses” while making Disney’s 2014 live-action film “Maleficent.”


In “The Crown,” the actors channel their offscreen relationship through gentle sisterly banter. But in Episode 8, an intimate scene in which Elizabeth reads to the ailing Margaret in bed at home is a rare opportunity to see the queen’s stiff upper lip quiver. Elizabeth softens and grows wistful, while Margaret’s wit crackles in the face of her own mortality.


In her last episodes of “The Crown,” Manville said she wanted to amplify “the pain of life without a partner” and Margaret’s loneliness, which she said was present even when Kirby played her as a young woman.


But the show’s creators didn’t want to define Margaret by her love life. “There had been so much out there by the tabloids and biographers about poor, sad, tragic Margaret,” Sheibani-Clare said.


“But right to the end,” she added, “she spoke to her sister on the phone every day.”