Jean's Take

A blog about words, women, & whimsy

Category: Reviews

Enchanted April, 1991, 101 mins.

The only way to have a Women’s Film Club is to show strong women’s films.  Enchanted April  is one of my favorites.  It’s a 1922 book by Elizabeth von Arnim that became a Play that became a Musical that became an idyllic Woman’s Film.  To start with, it’s very pretty and we like pretty.  It’s focus is four women at crossroads—two are in drowsy marriages, one is a lonely widow tired of just living on memories, and one, a glamorous heiress bored with the artificiality in her life.  Can a man enjoy it?  Sure, but it’s only fully understood by a woman.  For example, can a man fully understand that anyone, for that matter, might like to spend a month with three women she just met, in a villa in Italy basking in the warm Mediterranean sun? Well, when I put it that way . . . maybe, but still not with the same sensitivities.

So when Lottie in rainy London sees an ad for a villa for rent in sunny Italy she knows she has to go.  She invites Rose who goes to the same women’s club and they advertise and get Caroline, an elegant upper-class beauty and Mrs. Fisher, a bossy aging widow.  By the end of the month, the husbands of Lottie and Rose have arrived, Caroline is enchanted by the villa owner and Mrs. Fisher has new friends.

Favorite Moment:  As they leave, Mrs. Fisher sticks her wooden cane down in the dirt and moves forward—not looking back–and we are left to watch the cane burst forth with colorful flora symbolic of new beginnings for all.  In other words, it has a ‘happy ever after’ ending that is quite satisfying.

Director:  Mike Newell.  Cast includes Miranda Richardson, Josie Lawrence, Joan Plowright, Alfred Molina, Michael Kitchen and Jim Broadbent.

Froth:  Dame Joan Plowright is also Baroness Olivier, the widow of Sir|Baron Laurence Olivier and is a distinguished English actress in her own right.   She retired not long after making this film when she lost her sight from macular degeneration.

Thought to ponder:  Why do you think the women invited their husbands on their holiday?

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Start a Film Club for Women in your Community, your Neighborhood, or just with a few Friends. I did!

About ten years ago, my husband and I moved to a ’55 and older’ community—we had satisfied that requirement some years earlier. Everything was new from our house to the clubhouse; in fact, the community was less than half built and the sounds of construction were all around us, but we were more than ready for a new home on one floor in a gated community, sitting on a hill overlooking New York City.  Sounds nice?  It is.

One day, early on, relaxing at the Clubhouse with that view and the leisure director, I sighed and suggested that maybe it would be nice to start a Koffee Klatch for women and watch a film about women and discuss it.  “I”, I said, had collected a few women’s films, or—as men like to say, ‘Chick Flicks’—that were really good and worthy of such an endeavor.

While I endeavored to tell her why I had collected some worthy women’s films she flitted off, and by the time I got home, I had an e-mail that had gone out to all residents announcing the beginning of a Film Club for Women. It was after Christmas because I remember that I took some left-over Christmas cookies to have with coffee to that first film.  At our second film and more left-over cookies, another women’s film fan said to me, “Don’t worry about next month, Jean. I’m picking up bagels!”

And that’s how it all began!

We had 8 to 10 women show up for that first film. Ten years later, we have over 150 members and have seen over 100 films focused on women and women issues.  We meet at 9am on the 1st Wednesday of every month and begin with a Coffee and . . . which is now more like a Continental Breakfast with fruit, bagel and pastry.  The chatter and laughter over coffee make life good, and I even feel a bit guilty when I have to break it up to watch the film, but only a bit because I know that they enjoy the discussion after the film as much as they do the chatter before.

SO, if you’re part of a community, believe me, ‘if you start it, they will come’ or if you like to get together with your friends and don’t have time to read a book every month, DO FILMS, GOOD WOMEN’S FILMS.  Write me if you have questions or stop by for film ideas and discussion questions.  And remember–HAVE FUN!!! 

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Sunday in New York with ‘Mary Broome’ at the Mint.

I love New York City on a Sunday.  It’s a quieter and gentler place, and a great time to do something off-beat and off-Broadway.  The Mint Theater at 311 43rd Street, between 8th and 9th, just a block off Time Square, is a good example.

The Mint sits on the third floor of a tall building.  An elevator  deposits you into a fair-sized lobby where you can buy Mint Mugs and such or just sit for awhile and have a cup of coffee.  From the lobby, you enter the theater where there are seven rows of about a hundred seats, and each–except Row A–rises higher from the stage than the one before.  There isn’t a bad seat in the house acknowledged by the fact that all seats cost the same–$55 and less with discounts, a bargain even in the colonies.

The Mint Mission is worthy.  It is commited to bringing new vitality to neglected plays and to advocating for their ongoing life in theaters across the world If you think on it, it is much like Plutarch and his peers who pulled from the recesses of old monasteries the works of playwrights such as, Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripedes.  They gained immortality for these ancients and I suspect that Allan Monkhouse was sitting somewhere amongst us Sunday afternoon basking in the pleasure of watching his early 20th century play performed to a good reception in the early 21st.

Mary Broome is a play strongly influenced by the morals and mores of the Victorian era.  (Victorian is particularly in now because of the BBC series, Downton Abbey) It is produced by Jonathan Banks, the artistic director of the Mint Theater Company and performed by a solid cast of seasoned actors with credits from stage, film and television.

The plot is simple.  Mary Broome, played by the lovely Janie Brookshire, is a housemaid who is pregnant; the father is Leonard Timbrell, the youngest son of her employer and he’s rather ambivalent about the whole thing.  His father isn’t.

Now, most of us could write an ending to this story–we’ve heard them all–running the gamut from suicide and murder to happy ever after, but such responses could make Victorian audiences gasp, and this is pure Victorian.  I thought at first that it might be a satire, an indictment of the hypocrisy of the time, but no, it’s a Victorian play written by a man who lived and was influenced by his time.  Therein is a major argument for its ongoing life in theaters.  

There are four acts and all four take place in the parlor, the most polite room in a house and all four acts politely relate what happened inbetween, that is, behind the curtain–not literally since the Mint stage has no curtain.

The play opens in the Timbrell’s parlor where they are discussing the older son’s upcoming wedding and they casually mention the fact that Mary, who is there–waiting on the family, is pregnant and Leonard’s father offers him an allowance to marry her.  No one asks Mary what she wants.

In Act 2, they are back in the Timbrell’s parlor and a lot has happened. Mary is dressed in a long gown and is there for dinner.  We find that Mary and Leonard are now married and the baby–a boy–was born and also named Leonard.

In Act 3, Mary and Leonard are in their own meager parlor and he admits that he has squandered the allowance and has no money for food.  The baby is crying off-stage and he leaves to pawn his watch for money to bring a doctor.

In Act 4, Mary is in the Timbrell’s parlor to say goodbye and announce that she is going to Canada for a fresh start with an old boyfriend.  We also find out that the baby died, and that Leonard never came back with a doctor, nor came back at all.  Leonard comes in and tries to get her to stay but she has sense enough to leave.

It was fascinating that Mary had no emotional response to seeing him at the end.  Did Mary ever love Leonard?  Did Leonard ever love Mary?  Did Mary cry for her baby?  Did the Timbrell’s know their grandchild?  Lots of answers left behind the curtain for a polite little play.   Today, with all the blood and gore and the reality shows where  we let it all hang out and bad is good, I found it refreshing to need my imagination for these questions.

It was also refreshing to have such a pleasant Sunday in New York with Mary Broome in 4 acts at the Mint Theater.  I do love New York City on a Sunday.

 

 

 

 

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