By Patricia Treble - Monday, January 21, 2013 - 0 Comments
The cast’s costumes are ever-evolving, on set and off
In an episode that screams “set up for future dramas,” I found myself drifting away from the plot–oh, why was Lady Sybil talking in code on the phone?–to look at the clothes worn by the characters. If Highclere Castle, the real Downton Abbey, is considered a leading character for its sheer beauty and imposing grandeur, then the clothes deserve equal billing.
They are sumptuous.
And ever-evolving. While Season 1 featured restrictive pre-First World War costumes–long dresses, elaborate designs and tightly bound construction–and Season 2 highlighted utilitarian wartime clothing, Season 3 is back to full-on luxury. Reflecting, but not mimicking the era, the fashion is that of fluid silks, sinuous satins and light wool crepes. Everything flows and gathers. Waistlines are loose and hemlines are inching up. (Check out this Pinterest page by Simone James featuring Downton characters.) Sure, some have been used on other period dramas. This isn’t a big budget Hollywood movie but a TV production. Yet no one can accuse them of skimping when it counts. Lady Mary’s wedding dress was exquisite, made by hand and carried a $6,000 price tag.
By Patricia Treble - Thursday, July 28, 2011 at 5:05 PM - 2 Comments
A show once dubbed ‘grandparents’ TV’ is rocking the ratings wars
In an era of moribund network ratings, PBS’s Sunday stalwart Masterpiece has done the impossible, becoming TV’s standout program, with a 44 per cent increase in ratings. And the show accomplished it not by dumbing down or skimping on content but by doing the opposite: churning out more and more intelligent, sophisticated series. Everyone in the industry gives credit to one person: its executive producer Rebecca Eaton, 63, who’s had the job for 25 years. But the show wasn’t always flying high. Three years ago, it was floundering, a “dusty jewel,” Eaton recalls. The home of classics such as Traffik and The Jewel in the Crown looked and felt dated. Though it was showing acclaimed dramas such as Bleak House, viewers labelled it their “grandparents’ TV.” Making matters worse was a scheduling schizophrenia: a Brontë period drama would be followed by a contemporary thriller like Prime Suspect and then a Hercule Poirot cozy mystery.
Eaton gambled on a down-to-the-studs renovation. She wiped the fuddy-duddy name “Theatre” from the title. To cure the “head snap” scheduling problem, she divided the show into three seasons: contemporary dramas in the fall, classic fare in the winter, and mysteries in the summer. Each section got a distinct new look and a talented actor as a host. Acerbic Alan Cumming (The Good Wife) eagerly snapped up the Mystery! gig. “I think the whole notion of being a host announcing a drama that is about to unfold is a very rare thing these days, and it just really appealed to me,” he explained.
Ratings increased steadily before soaring this past year—its 40th on air—as Masterpiece pumped out hit after hit, including the acclaimed Sherlock, a new Upstairs Downstairs and the blockbuster Downton Abbey. The latter attracted 12.6 million viewers, with another one million watching it online. The drama about an aristocratic family and its servants was a hit in the prime early 20s age group, a market the show doesn’t target.
By Patricia Treble - Saturday, July 10, 2010 at 9:00 AM - 0 Comments
‘Murder on the Orient Express’ is perfect summer TV watching
With virtually all network series in repeats, summer is a season for exploring what else is on the boob tube. Luckily, PBS has loaded its Masterpiece Mystery! series with some of the best whodunits of all time. On Sunday, July 11, the irascible Belgian detective Hercule Poirot returns for three new episodes. And the series starts with a best of the bunch: Murder on the Orient Express. When Agatha Christie first published this mystery in 1934 it was immediately hailed as a classic. The page-turner features a depressed Poirot returning from Istanbul on the luxury pan-European train when it gets stuck in a Balkan snowstorm. Then comes the discovery of a body riddled with stab wounds. Naturally only Poirot, and his “little grey cells,” can solve the most ingenious crime ever committed.
Startlingly, given this is the 10th season featuring David Suchet as Poirot, the producers have never attempted a TV adaptation of this classic before now. Fortunately they spare no expense. It is so authentic—right down to the brass watch holder affixed near each birth—that viewers who also watch the accompanying special of Suchet on today’s Orient Express will be stunned to learn that the drama wasn’t filmed on the real train. This version of the Poirot classic—which takes a few necessary liberties to update the plot for a modern audience—will keep viewers, even those who know whodunit, enthralled to the very end. Best of all, at a time when movie theatres are full of formulaic retreads, this mystery is free and well worth 90 minutes of a Sunday evening.