". . . But the past does not exist independently from the present. Indeed, the past is only past because there is a present, just as I can point to something over there only because I am here. But nothing is inherently over there or here. In that sense, the past has no content. The past -- or more accurately, pastness -- is a position. Thus, in no way can we identify the past as past." p. 15

". . . But we may want to keep in mind that deeds and words are not as distinguishable as often we presume. History does not belong only to its narrators, professional or amateur. While some of us debate what history is or was, others take it into their own hands." p. 153

Silencing the Past: Power and the Production of History (1995) by Michel-Rolph Trouillot

Saturday, April 20, 2013

knitting up the raveled sleeve of care: *Ripper Street* + *Bletchley Circle*

Sleep is the best knitter; second is watching good actors well-telling a tale.

We have come to the end of Ripper Street season one.  Ripper Street starts in a fairly mundane way, if ever copious blood and violence executed on screen upon men and women can be called mundane.  Or whether multiple scenes of extreme flourishes of deranged, fetishized violence acted out upon women --  all of them whores, it goes without saying, since this series is titled Ripper Street -- should be considered mundane. But, by now, it has become mundane, hasn't it?

Those observations out of the way, by way of the more mundane introductory episodes the writers and the actors made themselves into an effective team, much like the crime-solving protagonists of the series turn themselves into during the course of these episodes.  Ripper Street loses the focus on violent sexual crimes on women -- and rises from what you expect to a much higher, and much more interesting entertainment. Instead, the show turns its focus on social issues, on class, on bigotry.  By the middle and late episodes the writers have skillfully included technological and scientific matters, without conveying the least sense of steam punk. This is an empire flooded with soldiers suffering post traumatic syndrome, without jobs, without honor. Advances are being made at enormous velocity, and children starve at the same rate.

Matthew Macfadyen, Jerome Flynn and Adam Rothenberg are the series three leads. As the actors got comfortable with the milieu and the characters they play, all three characters flesh out and get more interesting. By the final episodes they know how to convey some very deep feelings only with their faces.

In the last episode, there is a scene in whch Macfadyen's Chief Inspector Reid tells us some essential information (which I will not reveal due to spoilage -- the season's currently available on dvd) only with his eyes.  Whoever is behind the camera and whoever wrote that scene knows Macfadyen can do that. I didn't, until then. The first ime I saw Macfadyen was as the callow, selfish Sir Felix Carbury in the BBC adaptation of The Way We Live Now (2001).  He's grown enormously as an actor since then.

Jerome Flynn is best known, probably as Bronn in Got.  His Sergeant Bennet Drake isn't that different in some ways from Bronn: a war veteran and lethal fighter, socially far below those he serves, lacking swagger..  Here though, is a person of pathos and  sympathy, one who has been deeply wounded by war, and deeply lonely.  I have come to love him. If he had Reid's loving wife, he'd never betray her the way Reid betrays his.

Guest actors are equally fine, including the young David Oakes, as the season's arc villain, Victor Silver.  He was Juan in The Borgias, and will be yet again a similar figure in the upcoming White Queen, as King Richard's brother George, the traitorous Duke of Clarence.

The actors in the women's roles are excellent also.  But we don't get anywhere as much time with them as we do with the men.  Naturally.

One to look forward to is Bletchley Circle, starting on PBS on Sunday Masterpiece. The three-part series brings together post-War some of the women who were part of Churchill's team during WWII that, among other achievements, decrypted Germany's Enigma machine, shortening the war by two years, it is thought.

For a variety of reasons these women are dissatisfied with the expectations of living the traditional domestic life expected of women after the war. Nor, due to the Official Secrets Act, no one knows what they did during the war, not even their husbands.

From the description of Bletchley Circle:

“The Bletchley Circle,” a three-part series that begins Sunday on PBS, finds an imaginative way to give overdue credit to those unrecognized government servants, most of whom were women.
The series opens in 1943, but it’s actually a murder mystery set in 1952.
Anna Maxwell Martin (“Bleak House”) plays Susan, a bored housewife and mother of two who detects a pattern in a series of unsolved murders. When the police won’t follow up, Susan enlists three former colleagues from Bletchley Park to help her decipher the serial killer’s modus operandi. And while the solving of the mystery is fairly conventional, these amateur detectives aren’t. And that makes “The Bletchley Circle” more compelling than the average British period drama.

The four members of the Bletchley Circle have to meet covertly, hiding their detective work behind a facade of knitting and shopping with ration coupons.
And it’s the women’s bond in a man’s world that is the real secret of “The Bletchley Circle.”
The men who broke codes during the war are more recognized. There have been plays, movies and novels about Alan Turing, the visionary mathematician who developed an early kind of computer to decrypt the German codes and was badly rewarded for his accomplishments. Turing was the inspiration for a fictional heterosexual math whiz in Robert Harris’s novel “Enigma,” and in real life he became a martyr of the gay liberation movement: Turing was put on trial for homosexual acts in 1952 and killed himself in 1954. 
The writer favorably compares this post-WWII British drama with its contemporary series also currently running on PBS, Call the Midwife.  In other words we are very far away from both the world of Ripper Street and Downton Abbey.  We have women yes, and women under threat, but they are neither whores nor aristocrats.  Yet -- notice this: these women are heroes, whose heroism had been hidden away from public acknowledgment until -- get this! -- 2009.  While naturally, male participation has long been publicly honored.  Just this alone is a huge relief, since off screen, let's face it, most women are neither whores nor aristocrats.

No comments: