Saturday, December 20, 2014

A TRIP TO DOWNTON ABBEY – HIGHCLERE CASTLE, WEST BERKSHIRE. ENGLAND

Ahead of the DOWNTON ABBEY Christmas special episode 2014, and George Clooney’s appearance in the 'DOWNTON...' spin-off sketch for ITV’s annual Text Santa appeal for charity, let’s take a walk around Highclere Castle, the premises that are better known to the world as Downton Abbey. 


Before Oscar-winner George Clooney visited Highclare Castle earlier this year, to film his ITV spin-off sketch, I had the privilege of visiting the grounds of the Castle and taking a walk through the residence of the fictional Crawleys, as seen on ITV and PBS. The structure itself looks a little smaller up-close than it does on television. However, it certainly looks grander in reality. I went to Highclere last year in the summer, which is the best time to visit this attraction in southern England (incidentally, ‘Downton Abbey’ is not in Yorkshire, in northern England, as it is supposed to be in the series). Take a look through these photos that I absolutely loved taking.








Unfortunately, photography inside the Castle was not allowed, so I was unable to capture a lot of the interiors, which are kept exactly the way we see the home in DOWNTON ABBEY, with the exception of the dining room. The large table around which we usually see the Crawleys dining and avoiding awkward topics of conversation, was replaced by a smaller one, more like what we see in the breakfast scenes. When the tour was done, I managed to take a few photos of the rooms downstairs, through the windows, before they closed the wooden shutters for closing time.

The library has real books lining the walls, while the vintage quality of the furniture is more apparent up-close. The fading upholstery and carpets only add to the old-world charm of the very cozy room.





The drawing room, in fact, is much brighter and more spacious than it looks on screen. 



The gentlemen’s cigar room, which we hardly ever see on the show, is the room that connects the library and the drawing room.


The lawns of Highclere are vast and the trees, which look like they could easily be a hundred years old, are massive. 



The steeple of the Castle, which is actually not in the center of the building, is actually where the classrooms for the home-schooled children of the nobles used to be, as opposed to the top of the building being the servants’ quarters, as is shown in the series. Speaking of the servants, their dining room and the Downton Abbey kitchen are not quite in Highclere Castle. I was told that those sets are in a studio in London. 




Whatever I did get to see made for a wonderful experience. I hope you’ve enjoyed these photos!


The DOWNTON ABBEY series 5 Christmas special airs on ITV, Christmas day, 9:00pm, GMT
DOWNTON ABBEY season 5 premieres January 4, 9:00pm ET on MASTERPIECE Classic on PBS 




Thursday, December 18, 2014

5 REASONS WHY 'THE NEWSROOM' SERIES FINALE WAS A FITTING END

HBO's THE NEWSROOM ended its three-season-long run on Sunday last week, and many wrote it off as too sweet, or too much of a farewell party. However, here are five reasons why I felt that it was an apt end for the show. 


1. Charlie Skinner's death and funeral: It was a good way to push the characters into the next phase of their lives and careers, and bring them all together in doing so. I did think that it made the episode too flashback-heavy, with a longing to know more about the present. But while I would have liked more screentime of the characters getting on with their jobs and giving us a glimpse of that next phase, the backstory did inform each character's growth through the series. It brought out key moments of their journeys in clever and effective ways. It did make Skinner out to be the best guy ever and a genius for being the architect of  what News Night should be, but that wasn't way off from the Skinner we've seen for the last three seasons. The high emotional quotient was a bit indulgent, but hardly anything to have an issue with, as far as I'm concerned. 

2. Leona Lansing: Season one put Charlie and Will up against Leona and Reese in massive ways that threatened at least Will's job, and over seasons two and three, that equation was brought a full circle. In the finale, as she explained to Pruit why fighting with one's news directors means that one is doing one's job. The fact that she conveyed it by expressing as articulately as possible that he was a prick was just a brilliant way of getting there. Her character was retired with class, optimism and with all the strength that she had (if not more) as the woman who was in charge. 

3. The couples: It wasn't quite a crucial element of the series. Yes, Will and Mackenzie had a past, and Jim and Maggie have had a will-they-won't-they going on since the first episode, but I didn't see it as such a strong part of the show, until season three. Don and Sloan had just gotten together, and Will and Mackenzie had got engaged, But, honestly, I didn't much care for whether or not Jim and Maggie would get together; just that we all knew that they would. I was more interested in Don and Sloan, the unconventional romance, but not without the commitment or willingness to express feelings. It was a very well written, albeit short, relationship, which was written into the finale maintaining what was good about it, yet keeping with the backdrop and the tone. I was still happy for Jim and Maggie when they talked about what it meant to them to be working apart, and even when Jim implied that he loved her. I thought it wasn't a bad way to end that series-long arc. I was hoping before the finale that Will and Mackenzie wouldn't be pregnant (what a cliché!), but it wasn't as big of a deal to me. 

4. The news people: There was mention of the characters wanting to do a public service of bringing the most useful versions of the news to the viewers of ACN in the episode, and it's that ethical responsibility that is the common factor between them. It's what drove them to do the right thing, taking risks to get the information out there, not compromising on their principles, being ambitious to be able to do it all, despite the differences they had in how they wanted to accomplish that. The news wasn't left behind. Despite a long-awaited union, Maggie still wanted to be a field producer in DC, even if it meant a long-distance relationship with Jim. And Neal came back with an aura and a voice that even Bree, the pompous creator of that stalker app, had to bow his head down to in shame. Don even gave up his promotion to Jim, in order to stick to his goals for ACN's 10:00pm. 

5. The actual news: Telling stories of how the biggest headlines of the last four years reached our TV screens, or how they should have, was obviously the backdrop of everything else that happened on the show. And even in the finale, while there was too much of everything else happening for the news to get in on it, it wasn't completely missing. From Charlie not wanting to see weather reports or Kiefer Sutherland's interview on News Night, to the alert about Mandela going on life support; from the Pope neglecting to comment on the stories of priests molesting boys, to the slight mention of Prop 8, we did still get a slight glimpse of the newsroom. It was all nicely woven in, even though it couldn't be the focus. 

And that, I think, makes it a fitting end to a good show. 


Do share your views on THE NEWSROOM's series finale below.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

TV NOMINEES: 2015 GOLDEN GLOBES & SAG AWARDS

The nominees of the 21st Screen Actors Guild Awards and the 2015 Golden Globe Awards were announced earlier this week, delivering a host of surprises, among the predictable set of TV series that were among the mix. While several new names in television entered the comedy and drama categories among the Golden Globe nominees, the SAG Award nominees stayed consistent with the previous years. Take a look at all the major TV nominees and which ones stood out the most.


THE 2015 GOLDEN GLOBE AWARD NOMINEES


BEST TELEVISION SERIES – DRAMA
THE AFFAIR – Showtime
DOWNTON ABBEY – PBS
GAME OF THRONES – HBO
THE GOOD WIFE – CBS
HOUSE OF CARDS – Netflix

THE GOOD WIFE being in this list is probably the best thing about the TV nominees this year, especially after it was ignored by the Television Academy at the Emmys. It was probably possible because TRUE DETECTIVE is in the ‘mini-series’ category, where it should be. Even though the CBS drama will most likely not win, it’s still good to see the show getting its due. The new entrant—THE AFFAIR—was ignored by the SAG, but if the reviews are something to go by, it could be a strong contender. What I don’t understand is why MASTERS OF SEX isn’t getting the recognition it deserves! But MAD MEN being left out from here is probably the worst snub.

BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTRESS IN A TELEVISION SERIES – DRAMA
Claire Danes, HOMELAND
Viola Davis, HOW TO GET AWAY WITH MURDER
Julianna Margulies, THE GOOD WIFE
Ruth Wilson, THE AFFAIR
Robin Wright, HOUSE OF CARDS

It’s good to see the overacting Kerry Washington off this list. Viola Davis deserves to be here for HOW TO GET AWAY WITH MURDER. Danes, Margulies and Wright’s positions here are no surprise. Elisabeth Moss from MAD MEN should’ve been here.

BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTOR IN A TELEVISION SERIES – DRAMA
Clive Owen, THE KNICK
Liev Schreiber, RAY DONOVAN
Kevin Spacey, HOUSE OF CARDS
James Spader, THE BLACKLIST
Dominic West, THE AFFAIR

With three of the big nominations, THE AFFAIR might just turn out to be the surprising victor at the Globes this time. Making the list even more adventurous are Owen’s and Spader’s nods. While Owen might deserve to be here, Spader’s pretentious performance as Raymond Reddington on THE BLACKLIST definitely shouldn’t have got any acknowledgement.

BEST TELEVISION SERIES – COMEDY OR MUSICAL
GIRLS – HBO
JANE THE VIRGIN – The CW
ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK – Netflix
SILICON VALLEY – HBO
TRANSPARENT – Amazon

Seeing a CW series in this list is a pleasant surprise. I haven’t watched JANE THE VIRGIN, but I have heard good things about it. Joining Netflix this year is Amazon, with the acclaimed TRANSPARENT. However, while I like the HFPA trying to mix things up a little and recognize newer work, the omission of the extremely brilliant and consistent MODERN FAMILY and THE BIG BANG THEORY from this list is unacceptable, especially if one spot is taken by the highly overrated GIRLS.

BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTRESS IN A TELEVISION SERIES –COMEDY OR MUSICAL
Lena Dunham, GIRLS
Edie Falco, NURSE JACKIE
Julia Louis-Dreyfus, VEEP
Gina Rodriguez, JANE THE VIRGIN
Taylor Schilling, ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK

This list was largely predictable, except for JANE THE VIRGIN.

BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTOR IN A TELEVISION SERIES – COMEDY OR MUSICAL
Louis C.K., LOUIE
Don Cheadle, HOUSE OF LIES
Ricky Gervais, DEREK
William H. Macy, SHAMELESS
Jeffrey Tambor, TRANSPARENT

Gervais and Tambor mix it up in this category. However, I think the exclusion of Jim Parsons, THE BIG BANG THEORY, and Matt LeBlanc, EPISODES, is a gross oversight.

BEST MINI-SERIES OR MOTION PICTURE MADE FOR TELEVISION
FARGO – FX
THE MISSING – Starz
THE NORMAL HEART – HBO
OLIVE KITTERIDGE – HBO
TRUE DETECTIVE – HBO

It’s good to see TRUE DETECTIVE in a category that it fits into well. However, that will kill FARGO’s and THE NORMAL HEART’s chances at winning this one.

BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTRESS IN A MINI-SERIES OR MOTION PICTURE MADE FOR TELEVISION
Maggie Gyllenhaal, THE HONORABLE WOMAN
Jessica Lange, AMERICAN HORROR STORY: FREAK SHOW
Frances McDormand, OLIVE KITTERIDGE
Frances O’Connor, THE MISSING
Allison Tolman, FARGO 

BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTOR IN A MINI-SERIES OR MOTION PICTURE MADE FOR TELEVISION
Martin Freeman, FARGO
Woody Harrelson, TRUE DETECTIVE
Matthew McConaughey, TRUE DETECTIVE
Mark Ruffalo, THE NORMAL HEART
Billy Bob Thornton, FARGO



BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTRESS IN A SUPPORTING ROLE IN A SERIES, MINI-SERIES OR MOTION PICTURE MADE FOR TELEVISION
Uzo Aduba, ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK
Kathy Bates, AMERICAN HORROR STORY: FREAK SHOW
Joanne Froggatt, DOWNTON ABBEY
Allison Janney, MOM
Michelle Monaghan, TRUE DETECTIVE

I’m not surprised to see Janney or Froggatt on this list. They’ve both been amazing in their shows. The surprise entrant is Michelle Monaghan, who is good, but I wouldn’t put her performance in TRUE DETECTIVE above so many others’ performances in shows that have been just unfairly ignored (MODERN FAMILY, MAD MEN, THE GOOD WIFE, and so on)

BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTOR IN A SUPPORTING ROLE IN A SERIES, MINI-SERIES OR MOTION PICTURE MADE FOR TELEVISION
Matt Bomer, THE NORMAL HEART
Alan Cumming, THE GOOD WIFE
Colin Hanks, FARGO
Bill Murray, OLIVE KITTERIDGE
Jon Voight, RAY DONOVAN

I’m thrilled to see Alan Cumming here. I’ve always felt that he deserves some recognition for his work as Eli Gold. Also very deserving of his position here is Matt Bomer. The depth in his performance in THE NORMAL HEART hasn’t been acknowledged enough.


21st SCREEN ACTORS GUILD AWARDS

OUTSTANDING PERFORMANCE BY AN ENSEMBLE IN A DRAMA SERIES
BOARDWALK EMPIRE
DOWNTON ABBEY
GAME OF THRONES
HOMELAND
HOUSE OF CARDS

The members of the SAG love BOARDWALK EMPIRE, so it’s no surprise that the final season has been acknowledged here, as have all its previous seasons.MAD MEN, THE GOOD WIFE, MASTERS OF SEX should’ve been on this list.

OUTSTANDING PERFORMANCE BY AN ENSEMBLE IN A COMEDY SERIES
THE BIG BANG THEORY
BROOKLYN NINE-NINE
MODERN FAMILY
ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK
VEEP

No surprises here. I’m glad to see GIRLS off this list!

OUTSTANDING PERFORMANCE BY A MALE ACTOR IN A DRAMA SERIES
Steve Buscemi, BOARDWALK EMPIRE
Peter Dinklage, GAME OF THRONES
Woody Harrelson, TRUE DETECTIVE
Matthew McConaughey, TRUE DETECTIVE
Kevin Spacey, HOUSE OF CARDS

TRUE DETECTIVE, which should be in the mini-series category, is depriving deserving people like Jon Hamm, MAD MEN, and Michael Sheen, MASTERS OF SEX, of spots on this list. As usual, the absence of supporting categories in TV at the SAGs leaves little room for good performances in the limited categories that exist. For a set of awards that are only for acting, I would think that they should be the ones getting more specific categories out there than other awards do with their acting categories.

OUTSTANDING PERFORMANCE BY A FEMALE ACTOR IN A DRAMA SERIES
Claire Danes, HOMELAND
Viola Davis, HOW TO GET AWAY WITH MURDER
Julianna Margulies, THE GOOD WIFE
Tatiana Maslany, ORPHAN BLACK
Maggie Smith, DOWNTON ABBEY
Robin Wright, HOUSE OF CARDS

Tatiana Maslany’s inclusion in this list is surely putting smiles on the faces of many ORPHAN BLACK fans. No real surprises here. Joanne Froggat should have got the ‘DOWNTON ABBEY spot’ on this list though, in my opnion.

OUTSTANDING PERFORMANCE BY A MALE ACTOR IN A COMEDY SERIES
Ty Burrell, MODERN FAMILY
Louis C.K., LOUIE
William H. Macy, SHAMELESS
Jim Parsons, THE BIG BANG THEORY
Eric Stonestreet, MODERN FAMILY

Matt LeBlanc, EPISODES, should have been up there. It’s good though to see that the SAGs aren’t shutting out MODERN FAMILY and THE BIG BANG THEORY, like the Globes are.

OUTSTANDING PERFORMANCE BY A FEMALE ACTOR IN A COMEDY SERIES
Uzo Aduba, ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK
Julie Bowen, MODERN FAMILY
Edie Falco, NURSE JACKIE
Julia Louis-Dreyfus, VEEP
Amy Poehler, PARKS AND RECREATION

This list was rather predictable. Again, too few categories for everyone deserving to be acknowledged, but, moving on…

OUTSTANDING PERFORMANCE BY A MALE ACTOR IN A TELEVISION MOVIE OR MINISERIES
Adrien Brody, HOUDINI
Mark Ruffalo, THE NORMAL HEART
Benedict Cumberbatch, SHERLOCK
Richard Jenkins, OLIVE KITTERIDGE
Billy Bob Thornton, FARGO

Matt Bomer should’ve been here for THE NORMAL HEART. That’s all.

OUTSTANDING PERFORMANCE BY A FEMALE ACTOR IN A TELEVISION MOVIE OR MINISERIES
Ellen Burstyn, FLOWERS IN THE ATTIC
Maggie Gyllenhaal, THE HONORABLE WOMAN
Frances McDormand, OLIVE KITTERIDGE
Julia Roberts, THE NORMAL HEART
Cicely Tyson, THE TRIP TO BOUNTIFUL

OUTSTANDING ACTION PERFORMANCE BY A STUNT ENSEMBLE IN A COMEDY OR DRAMA SERIES
24: LIVE ANOTHER DAY
BOARDWALK EMPIRE
GAME OF THRONES
HOMELAND
SONS OF ANARCHY
THE WALKING DEAD



What did you think of the nominees’ lists this time? Were you surprised by some of the new entrants? Share your views below.