Downton Abbey actor ~ handsome, talented and a writer!

There is a fan frenzy currently going on in America and it’s focus is on “Downton Abbey”. I’m not sure why this particular drama has caused such a stir when for years we have been the lucky recipients of so many other great British dramas, comedies and detective series on our PBS and BBC America stations but it has.

Highclere Castle

Highclere Castle (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I really enjoyed the first season because it put me in mind of two of my favorite shows, “Gosford Park”, another Julian Fellowes creation, and “Manor House”, a kind of Edwardian, “Upstairs Downstairs” reality show, but the two subsequent seasons just seem  too “soapy” and the writing has fallen way off. Of course that hasn’t stopped me from watching it mind you!

Today I learned something new about one of the most popular characters/actors on the show, Matthew Crawley/Dan Stevens.  Apparently the 28 year is not only a talented actor but is a gifted writer as well. He studied English Literature at Cambridge and has recently started a literary magazine called, The Junket. This article on the NBC news website talks about Stevens’ decision to start this quarterly magazine to help him get over his procrastination and get down to writing regularly.  He and four of his Cambridge friends originally were writing a blog, but decided this literary magazine venture would force them to be a bit more proactive and not dilly dally so much (this is my phrase not his!).

Matthew Crawley

The first edition came out in October and apparently they have been overwhelmed with submissions, due greatly in part to Stevens’ growing popularity. He was even appointed to the panel of judges for the 2012 Man Booker Prize and has signed up for next year’s judging as well. As the article pointed out, he has added “a large dose of glamour to the award”. 

I already liked him for his portrayal of Matthew Crawley, but I’ve gained even more respect for him because of his love of literature. No wonder he is so much smarter than Lord Granville, this explains a lot!

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Anglophile heaven thanks to ACORN tv!

I had never heard of the company ACORN until a few years ago when I was lucky enough to receive Christmas gifts, purchased from their catalogue, from two friends. I’m surprised I wasn’t aware of them before that because I love, love, love British television, and I’m a self-proclaimed anglophile, and ACORN sells lots of great dvd’s plus all kinds of quaint and quirky gifts. Sorry, I’m sounding a tad like a commercial!acorn tv

Just a bit ago I discovered something on their website that really got me excited, ACORN TV. Every month they have 18 British television shows available for viewing on this website. Of course there is an annual fee of $29.99 but they will give you a free 30 day trial which allows you to watch their current selections while you decide whether to sign up or not. It’s fantastic! That’s the option I’ve used…twice 🙂
I love it because I have been introduced to so many television shows I hadn’t known about before. I am very fortunate to belong to a library that has quite a few of these shows in their collection, so once I’ve watch the first episode on ACORN TV, I am then able to order the rest of the series through my library. It’s wonderful!

I have yet to purchase a membership, but maybe, just maybe. if a certain spouse of mine reads this he might get the HINT 🙂

Here are just a few of my favorite shows that I’ve discovered through ACORN (if I listed them all this would be my longest post ever!)

midsomer murders New Tricks Vera tv show

The Midwife by Jennifer Worth

I became aware of this book when I was searching on Amazon.co.uk for a different title. By the way this is a great way to find titles that aren’t available in the States, but I digress…

Anyway, during my search I decided to look at some of their bestseller lists.  A trio of books by Jennifer Worth were near the top of the memoir/bio category and their synopses intrigued me. I hurriedly flipped over to my public library’s website to see by some chance if we might have a copy of one of them. Low and behold the first book in the series, The Midwife: A Memoir of Birth, Joy, and Hard Times was available!  Yippee!  I love when a book I want to read is available for free at my local library. Aren’t libraries wonderful?…again I digress..

I must admit that when I first started the book, I kind of read a bit and then put it aside to read something else, mostly because I’m a squeamish sort and the opening chapter about a woman giving birth kind of put me off.  I’ve been there done that, I don’t really need to read about it in all it’s graphic glory! But then it came down to the fact that I had just this one library book at home left to read before my Alaska Adventure so I plowed on and I’m glad I did.

The more I read this book the more it put me in mind of James Herriot‘s vet series, except with humans instead of animals. That sounds awful, doesn’t it?! But it’s the truth. I guess maybe it was Ms. Worth’s weaving of anecdotes about her mid-wife profession and the colorful characters she met throughout her career. That is why I loved all of James Herriot’s books after all. It’s kind of like sitting around the kitchen table listening to my aunts’ telling tales out of school and gossiping unabashedly, do you know what I mean?  You can’t help but listen and feel part of the setting.

The story does well to mix the good, the bad and the ugly (sorry for stealing the movie title!) while injecting just enough levity in to the mix. Her descriptions of 1950’s London are very vivid and capture a snapshot of a specific time and place that might otherwise be forgotten. After all how many people want to wax nostalgic on living poor in horrid conditions?

I see that the BBC recently premiered a TV series based on Jennifer Worth’s memoirs. I hope that eventually the series will wash up on American soil  either on BBC America or DVD, like so many other great British series.
I would love to see this book serialized!

1940’s theme running through my days

Somehow the 1940’s has become a recurrent theme in all my media outlets this week. It all started when I tuned into the Big Band Pandora radio station over the weekend, progressed into my television viewing on Sunday and advanced into my reading choices my midweek.

Maybe the launch of Season 2 of Downton Abbey on PBS has caused this need for me to immerse myself in a time period that I’ve only known about through my parents and television. Or maybe I kind of wish I had experienced the romance of it on my own. Of course movies and TV do tend to glamorize and sanitize things to the point that I’m sure they aren’t recognizable to those that actually lived through the events.
Downton Abbey, the TV series and Gosford Park, the movie, are two of my favorites and they are both from the creative mind of Julian Fellowes.

I’ve just finished two books set during the beginnings of WWII in England that I really enjoyed. The House of Tyneford by Natasha Solomons is set in a country house, much like those depicted in Downton Abbey and Brideshead Revisited, the novel by Evelyn Waugh. In all three stories these stately manors are given over to the british army to assist in the war efforts. Downton Abbey and Brideshead during WWI and Tyneford during WWII. The House of Tyneford is set around Elise Landau, a 19 year old Austrian Jew. Elise lives a glamorous life in Vienna but her parents decide to send her to England to escape the feared Nazi occupation of Austria. They decide to stay behind and wait for visas to America. Elise is fortunate to be able to secure a position as a parlor maid at Tyneford where her life is much different than before.  I raced through the book and recommend it highly.

The second book, Mr Churchill’s Secretary by Susan Elia MacNeal, was a giveaway of an ARC (advanced reader’s copy) on Goodreads.  It was also a page turner but with a slightly different premise and more of a mystery quality to it.  Maggie Hope, an American with dual british citizenship, becomes a secretary to Winston Churchill during the beginnings of the war. This novel gives you the beginning views of the war from London right in Churchill’s war rooms. There is also a pretty darn good mystery at the heart of the story.

I have one more 1940’s theme to DVD to watch before my week ends, Land GIrls, and then maybe next week I will progress into a different decade!