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Poldarks, old and new










The “Poldark” TV series now playing on Masterpiece Theater was a big hit in England and seems to be gathering fans here.  Certainly Irish actor Aidan Turner, who plays the sexy and dashing new Ross Poldark, is fast becoming a heart-throb.  Those who watched the 1970’s television series of the same name will remember actor Robin Ellis as a cooler, more gentlemanly Captain Poldark.  Back then the 29-episode series was one of BBC’s biggest hits, so I wondered why a new adaptation of English author Winston Graham’s books was being produced in 2015.  Now I know what a difference 40 years can make.  The new series shows the beautiful, windswept Cornish coast as lovingly as the first version did.  But the characters seem like a new breed.  By the way, Robin Ellis plays a minor role in the new series.  Did you recognize him as the local judge, Reverend  Halse in the new version?






–posted 11/7/2016





Gerald Durrell’s “Corfu Trilogy”

durrellIf you are wondering why Gerald Durrell’s “Corfu Trilogy” isn’t listed in, it is because the books are autobiography, not fiction.  The six-part series “The Durrells in Corfu”, currently running on PBS’s Masterpiece Theater is based on three books by Durrell:  “My Family and Other Animals”, “Birds, Beasts and Relatives” and “The Garden of the Gods.”  Though the prolific English author and naturalist wrote plenty of fiction, these three books have always been billed as autobiography, despite the post-show sales pitch by Laura Linney for the “original novel.”  I’ve long been a Gerald Durrell fan and wouldn’t think of missing a Sunday evening episode, but I have to tell you that the shows aren’t nearly as entertaining and funny as the books are.

–posted 11/7/2016

John Hannah vs. Ken Stott

hannah3        stott


Four episodes of Rebus, the early TV series based on the detective novels of Ian Rankin are now available on Acorn. These programs star John Hannah and were filmed in 2000-01 for Scottish Television. A later series of ten programs starring Ken Stott was made by STV in 2006-07 and has been shown here in the past.  The personality of Rebus is quite different in the two series, but the Edinburgh they portray is the same seedy criminal underbelly of the town.

–posted 3/6/2015


boschAuthor Michael Connelly has finally come to TV!  The first season of Bosch, the Netflix original series, was released in Jan. 2015.  Actor Titus Welliver plays the Harry Bosch, Connolly’s cynical LAPD detective.  The series has been universally praised by critics.   Readers may recognize some familiar plot elements because this season’s episodes are based on three Connelly titles:  City of Bones, The Concrete Blonde and Echo Park.  Binge watchers will zip right through all ten episodes and be crying for more–take my word for it.

–posted 2/27/2015

Maigret revival

maigret gambonGeorges Simenon’s novels starring French detective Jules Maigret is being reprinted by Penguin beginning in February 2014 with the release of the Pietr the Latvian and The Late Monsieur Gallet. Thereafter they will release a new title every month until all 75 are available. The books will be published in both paperback and ebook format accompanied by a healthy marketing campaign. The series about the big, patient police inspector, who solved crimes by slowly coming to understand the criminal’s mind and background was an immediate hit in France when it was introduced in 1931 and quickly caught on in England and America . Inspector Maigret is about forty-five years old and living a quiet life with his wife in their Paris apartment when the series starts and ages hardly at all through the next 43 years. The last book was published in 1973. Simenon died in1973.  His executors chose Penguin for this edition of his work.  Several of the Belgian author’s non-fiction titles will be re-issued also.

NOTE:  The video series staring Michael Gambon as Maigret ran on many PBS stations across the U.S. and is available on Amazon Prime.  The twelve episodes were filmed in Budapest in 1992-92.

–post revised 1/2015

Film Wallanders

Did you know that Kenneth Branagh isn’t the only a Wallander?  Both Rolf Lassgård and Krister Henriksson played the character in two Swedish versions.  None of them may match the reader’s mental image as they read Henning Mankell’s books.  I just saw the Krister Henriksson TV series in Swedish with English sub-titles (available on DVD).  His portrayal seems deeper, more sympathetic than Branaugh’s and the minor characters–all wonderfully acted–play a larger role.  And there are 26 episodes.  How did they get 26 stories from 10 novels and 5 stories?   Mankell worked closely with Yellow Bird Films, the Swedish production company.  Apparently he hand-picked Henriksson for the lead and suggested additional story lines.

Rolf Lassgård starred as Wallander in nine movies made between 1994 and 2007 by SVC, another Swedish film producer.  I haven’t caught up with them yet.  Only the first three are available (Swedish with English sub-titles) on Amazon.

–posted 9/23/2013

The White Queen

white queen1The new ten-part Starz/BBC1 miniseries titled “The White Queen” is based on Philippa Gregory’s “Cousins’ War” series.  It brings alive the characters and conflicts of the Wars of the Roses (1455–85) –30 years of violent conflict during which the houses of York (white rose) and Lancaster (red rose) struggled for the English throne. The series and the novels focus on the women at the center of the conflict:  Elizabeth Woodville, the beauty who became the queen of King Edward IV;  Jacquetta of Luxembourg, Elizabeth’s mother;  Margaret Beaufort, mother of the first Tudor king Henry VII; and Anne Neville wife of Richard of Gloucester who became King Richard III.  In an interview, Scriptwriter Emma Frost concedes that it was difficult to narrow her focus at times: the first half of Gregory’s novel, The Red Queen is whittled down to a flashback.  Dramatizing 30 years of turbulent history into 10 episodes is not for the faint-hearted–just imagine all the costumes.  Breathless viewers may feel the need to resort to Gregory’s series–now five books in length.  The latest, The White Princess just published this year by Touchstone, tells the story of  Elizabeth of York who marries King Henry VII.  The series has not been written chronologically: The Lady of the River is a prequel to The White Queen and the beginning of The Red Queen takes place before the action in The White Queen.  The reason is that Gregory’s books are narrations each told by a different woman.   Readers who know the organizing principle, can decide for themselves which book to read first.

Note:  Amazon Instant Video is offering all ten episodes of The White Queen

–post revised 12/2014

George Gently Rediscovered

Up here in Massachusetts we’re just meeting Inspector George Gently: Series 1 began in April, 2013 on WGBH-TV though it was aired much earlier in other parts of the country by both PBS and ABC.

The actor Martin Shaw plays Gently, a terse, streetwise veteran cop who investigates in a fairly traditional way. He is past middle age and widowed—early episodes begin with a flashback to the hit-and-run incident that killed his wife. His novice partner, Sergeant John Bacchus, is a scrawny and callow local who provides most of the humor in the series. The series is set in Durham, in northeast England. It takes place in the 1960’s when modern forensics was in its infancy.

However, screenwriter Peter Flannery freely admits that he “rarely used much material from the Alan Hunter series” and the television series differs significantly from the books. For one thing, Hunter’s books have no Sergeant Bacchus. The books were set in East Anglia, Norfolk (much further south than Durham) where Hunter was born and lived most of his life.  In the books, he is single.  I have yet to find a Mrs. Gently, let alone a beautiful woman tragically killed in a hit-and-run accident.  Though in Gently Scandalous, the 38th book,  he seems to be living with Gabrielle.

gentlyAlan Hunter (1922-2005) left school to work on his father’s farm. He wrote nature news for the local paper and began to write poetry. After serving in the RAF during WW II, he worked in a book store and eventually opened his own bookshop in Norwich. In 1956, he wrote the first of his 45 George Gently novels. Gently Does It, the first book in the series was published in 1955 in the U. S. by Rinehart and in England by Cassell. Rinehart also published the second volume, Gently by the Shore. The rest of the series was published hit-or-miss by various American publishers—some titles were never published in the U. S. The English publisher Chivers produced a number of titles in large print which were distributed here. If you have any of Alan Hunter’s books, chances are they are large print editions.

The success of the television series has prompted English publisher Constable & Robinson to issue 17 volumes plus one omnibus (George Gently), which contains the first four books in paperback and digital format.  It remains to be seen if the books are as popular as the TV series.

–posted 6/30/2013

Australia’s flapper sleuth

phrynePhryne (pronounced “fry knee”) Fisher, Australia’s inimitable flapper sleuth, is now well-known to American readers thanks to Poisoned Pen’s reprints of the this charming cozy series.  When we first meet her, Phryne is a fabulously wealthy, single woman living in London in the late 1920s. Although she enjoys the daring high life and fashions of the era, Phryne craves adventure and decides that “it might be rather amusing” to move to Australia and become a private detective.  In spite of her upper class background Phryne  never hesitates to delve into Melbourne’s  lower depths with the help of some slightly disreputable fellows  who become her assistants.   Her trusty housemaid Dot also gets roped into Phryne’s investigations.  When not actively chasing down criminals, Phryne lounges in bed with her mysterious Asian lover, at least in the books.  Australian author Kerry Greenwood has published 20 Phryne books so far and they seem to be still coming.

Note:  Thirty-four episodes of the TV series made by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation are available  in the United States through Acorn Online and Netflix.  The TV series is called Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries.  

–post revised 1/2015

Posted December/9/2012

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