Book Review: At The King's Pleasure

Title:          At The King's Pleasure
Author:      Kate Emerson
Publisher:  Simon & Schuster
Pub Date:  January 3, 2012

From the back cover:

Married to one man. Desiring another. Beautiful Lady Anne Stafford, lady-in-waiting to Queen Catherine of Aragon, is torn between her love for her husband, George, Lord Hastings . . . and the king’s boon companion, the attentive Sir William Compton. But when King Henry VIII, amorous as always, joins the men clustering around her, Anne realizes she has become perilously enmeshed in the intrigues of the court. Will she be forced to decide between the two men she desires—and the one she doesn’t?

My thoughts:  At The King's Pleasure was my first encounter with The Secrets of The Tudor Court series by Kate Emerson, and there were many things that I really liked about this book, and as well as several things that just didn't work for me. Emerson has a real feel for the period, not just the historical background but the small things, the sights, sounds and smells of the time. She is a master at evoking all five senses in her writing. The novel was like a backstage peak as it were of some of the minor courtiers who don't get much play compared to the big names of the Tudor period.  I enjoyed the few glimpses that the reader was given of the young Henry VIII, barely out of his teens and still wet behind the ears.  The book starts at the beginning of his reign and ends in the year 1520 with the execution of the Duke of Buckingham, a cousin of the King.

Lady Anne Stafford was an appealing heroine, feisty, stubborn and opinionated but also fiercely loyal. At the beginning of the novel, she is widowed and living at home with her brother and his family.  Another marriage is arranged, this time with George Hastings, who is 4 years younger than Anne.  At first Anne is unsure of the match, but she quickly realizes that while George is not quite as exciting as say, William Compton, he is stable and dependable, and the couple have great sex. Anyone who has watched the Showtime series The Tudors will probably remember her story.  In the series, Anne and Henry have an affair, and when her brother The Duke of Buckingham finds out, he is livid.  In Emerson's retelling of the story, Anne is innocent of the affair, but neither her brother nor her husband George Hastings is willing to believe her.  She is dragged away from court and shut up in a convent, after just discovering that she is pregnant with her first child. Despite her predicament, Anne doesn't take her situation lying down as it were.  She actively tries to change her situation. She even manages to forgive her husband for his doubts about her fidelity, certainly much quicker than I would have forgiven him!

The biggest weakness in the novel for me were the men.  Neither George Hastings, nor Will Compton, were appealing to me. I found George's continued jealousy over the years annoying to say the least, and Will Compton, although he knows that Anne is married, still continues to pursue her.  I found his behavior unpalatable and a bit stalkerish to tell the truth. The book also has the problem of the sagging middle, at least for me.  After the first excitement over Anne's predicament with her husband and brother, the book settles into a bit of a routine.  Anne and George have babies, they go to court, Anne flirts with Will Compton, George gets jealous, Anne placates George, lather, rinse, repeat.  Even when Anne finally succumbs to Will's advances, the affair is remarkably short-lived (although of course they have great sex).  She spends a few pages, lamenting that she's torn between two lovers, feeling like a fool, and then she's over it. Not even an inconvenient pregnancy to hide!

The characters spend a great deal of time being told about all the interesting things that are happening at court, like Henry's affair with Bessie Blount, and later his affair with Mary Boleyn, but we never actually see any of this. The chapter headings don't help, you finish one chapter and then discover that only a month has passed in the next chapter. I found myself looking foward to the scenes between Edward, the Duke of Buckingham and his mistress. If there can be said to be a villain in the novel that would be Edward Stafford, The Duke of Buckingham (is there something about the title. The Villiers Dukes of Buckingham were rogues and villains).  Descended from Edward III, he was also the son of Elizabeth Woodville's sister Katherine.  At the opening of the novel, he is the only non-royal Duke in the kingdom and very conscious of his position.  Soon others, such as Charles Brandon, receive honors that Stafford feels should be rightly his.  He's none too happy when both Brandon and Howard become the Dukes of Suffolk and Norfolk respectively. And don't even mention Cardinal Wolsey to him! (Imagine what the Duke would have made of Cromwell!).

Although there are some interesting moments at the Field of the Cloth of Gold, mostly involving Will Compton's bitter wife, the action in the book picks up pace again as events start spiralling out of control for The Duke of Buckingham.  Anne proves her loyalty to her brother, who has done nothing to deserve it.  Despite the back cover copy, the title of the book is most apt.  Everyone in the book is subject to The King's Pleasure, whether they like it or not.

The verdict: While this book wasn't a 'wow' for me, I would still consider picking up another book in the series.  I enjoyed getting to know the minor members of the Tudor Court.  Anne had some nice moments with Elizabeth Boleyn, mother of Anne and Mary, at court, giving us a rare glimpse of the woman known mainly for her children.

Scandalous Movie Review: A Dangerous Method

A Dangerous Method (2011)

Directed by David Cronenberg
Produced by Jeremy Thomas
Screenplay by Christopher Hampton Based on his play The Talking Cure (which was based on A Most Dangerous Method: the story of Jung, Freud and Sabina Spielrein by John Kerr published in 1993)

Distributed by Universal/Lionsgate/Sony Pictures Classics


Viggo Mortensen as Sigmund Freud
Michael Fassbender as Carl Jung
Keira Knightley as Sabina Spielrein
Vincent Cassel as Otto Gross
Sarah Gadon as Emma Jung
André Hennicke as Eugen Bleuler

My thoughts:  I saw this film over a week ago at Lincoln Plaza Cinemas, a small art house theatre here in New York, on Martin Luther King day.  Instead of writing my review immediately, I decided to let the movie simmer awhile. I'd also been going through some personal stuff which took my focus away from writing for a bit. I have to admit that my views on the film are somewhat colored by the fact that I have always leaned more towards Jung's theories than Freud's, ever since I first read about the two men in my high school psychology class.

A Dangerous Method is based on the turbulent relationships between Carl Jung, founder of analytical psychology, and Sigmund Freud considered to be the founder of the discipline of psychoanalysis, and a young patient of Jung's, Sabina Spielrein who later became a physician and one of the first female psychoanalysts.  The film starts in 1904 where Jung is working at the Burgholzi Hospital in Switzerland. A young Russian woman, Sabina Spielrein, arrives as a new patient.  She seems to be suffering from hysteria, which was one of those all-purpose diagnoses at the time. Contorting her body in impossible positions as she were being hit by hot poker, Spielrien's condition turns out be a great deal more complex than anyone realized. Employing Freud's controversial 'talking cure,' Jung soon discovers what has her knickers in a twist as it were.  Soon Sabina becomes much more than a patient, she begins assisting Jung with his treatments as well as attending medical school. Before long the two have become lovers, beginning what would become a pattern in Jung's life. At the same time, Jung has struck a correspondance with Freud, sharing details of his work with Spielrien.  The two men eventually meet, and Freud takes the young psychoanalyst under his wing, believing that Jung could be the future of psychoanalysis. But their friendship soon founders as Jung begins to move away from Freud's theories, developing his own unorthodox methods. Spielrien is caught in the middle between these two powerhouse men as she struggles to find her way in a male-dominated field.

While I found the subject of the film endlessly fascinating, I also found watching this film incredibly frustrating. My frustrations stem mainly from the treatment of the women in the film. For example, in the film, Emma Jung is portrayed as the dutiful little wifey, rather bland, whose sole function is to have babies and to provide a large fortune for Jung. There is no mention in the film that Emma Jung was a psychoanalyst in her own right, that she wrote books, or that she carried on her own correspondance with Freud, nor that at one point, Jung was treating his own wife!  As for Spielrein, apparently sleeping with Jung, was enough to cure her and send her on her merry way to medical school. I would have liked the film to have delved deeper into what drew Jung to Sabina, besides her being an interesting test case for him.  Was it her intelligence?  The kinkiness of their relationship? Little is made of Freud's own relationship Spielrein or how her own work eventualy informed both Freud and Jung's, particularly the death instinct. It's just sort of mentioned and brushed aside. There is one telling moment, when Freud suggests that Spielrien forget Jung and find a nice Jewish husband.

The film is on surer footing when it focuses on the relationship between Freud and Jung, and the tensions that ultimately led to its demise. The relationship between Freud and Jung is initially that of mentor and disciple.  Freud hopes that Jung would eventually lead the psychoanalytic movement, proving that it was more than just a Jewish 'science' and into the mainstream. But Jung goes rogue, dabbling in astrology and spiritualism, and developing his own theories which began to conflict with Freud's. One of those tensions was Jung's relationship with Sabina, and how Jung basically lied to Freud about it, claiming that Sabina was lying when she said they were lovers, to the point of saying that she was suffering from delusions. Nice guy! The unraveling of their bromance, and not the triangle between Freud, Jung, and Spielrein, is the most compelling aspect of the film.

That both Michael Fassbender (as Jung) and Viggo Mortenson (as Freud) give stellar performances is a given. Fassbender starts of the film as this sort of uptight figure, clearly the son of a Presbyterian minister, who slowly starts to indulge his appetites.  There is a telling scene when he visits Freud at his home for dinner. As they talk, Jung keeps piling more and more food on his plate, as the Freud's look on horrified, wondering if there is going to be anything left for them to eat! Mortenson is almost unrecognizable as Freud, his face obscured by the constant cloud of cigar smoke. However I found myself most impressed by Keira Knightley's performance as Sabina. On the surface, the role doesn't seem to be a natural fit.  Knightley is generally cast in films where she gets to look beautiful and wear great costumes, as an unobtainable object of desire, but as Sabina she had to convincingly play a woman who was afraid, tormented, and filled with guilt and disgust. In the beginning of the film, Sabina is like a wild animal, unable to be tamed until she finally admits to the secrets that she has been keeping. It is a remarkably mature and assured performance from Knightley.  A shame that in came in a year when there were so many great performances by women in film. I was amazed when I read in an article that Julia Roberts was originally offered the role.

My verdict:  I give the film a thumbs up for the relationship between the two giants of pyschoanalysis, and a thumbs down on the portrayal of Emma Jung.

The Scandalous Women of One Life to Live

Today is a particularly sad day for me, not only is it Friday the 13th, but it is brings the final episode of One Life to Live after 42 years on the air. One Life to Live was created by Agnes Nixon in 1968, and from the beginning of its run, it featured strong women who were not afraid to go after what they wanted, no matter who or what got in their way. I started watching the show in junior high, and was fascinated by the wide array of female characters from the ridiculous to the sublime. While there have been some fascinating male characters on daytime and on One Life to Live in particular (Marco Dane, Todd Manning, David Vickers), soaps have always been a more female centric medium. These ten women are just the tip of the iceberg and my personal favorites during the past 43 years.

Carla Gray – the story of Carla Gray was a ground-breaking and controversial storyline for daytime in the late 60’s, and put OLTL on the map as a soap that wasn’t afraid to be different. The audience was shocked as Carla romanced not only her boss, the much older Dr. Jim Craig, but also a black intern at Llanview Hospital. They were even more shocked to discover that Carla was not white, but the light-skinned estranged daughter of Sadie Gray, the hospital housekeeper, who was passing for white. Carla and her mother eventually reconciled but she lost both the men in her life.

Karen Wolek (played by the immensely talented Judith Light who won an Emmy for the role). Karen Wolek was initially played as a gold-digging sex kitten looking for the easy life as the wife of Dr. Larry Wolek until Judith Light took over. Suddenly Karen was a walking bundle of jagged nerves with low self-esteem and a secret life Kept on a tight budget by her fiscally conscious hubby, Karen begins to indulge in a little “afternoon delight” with some of Llanview’s wealthy businessmen to pay for the luxuries that she craved. When her former lover and con artist Marco Dane discovers her little secret, he forces her to become a “housewife/prostitute” to prevent Larry for learning the truth. The storyline came to a head when Viki Lord was on trial for Marco’s murder. Under blistering cross-examination by Herb Callison, Karen confessed to the truth of her double life, falling apart on the stand. Karen later became involved in a baby switch storyline when her sister Jenny Wolek’s baby died at birth. Karen and Marco Dane (who turned out not to be so dead after all) switched Jenny’s dead baby with the healthy baby born to Katrina Carr, a fellow prostitute.

Dorian Cramer Lord – Amoral, greedy, ambitious, careless, and a murderer (allegedly), these are just some of the adjectives that could be used to describe Dr. Dorian Cramer Lord Callison Vickers Buchanan etc. during her years in Llanview. There was nothing that Dorian wouldn’t do to get what she wanted; she even pretended to be a lesbian in order to win election as mayor of Llanview. She’s also been a doctor, a publisher, the ambassador to Mendorra, and now a U.S. Senator. While Dorian married a plethora of men, her greatest love story was with Viki Lord Buchanan. For over 30 years, Dorian waged war with her frenemy and former step-daughter Viki, fighting over men and the late, and unlamented Victor Lord. See Dorian married Victor Lord have she lost her job at Llanview Hospital (she accidentally gave a patient a lethal dose. Oops!), and managed to finagle the lion’s share of his fortune after his death. She even went so far as to seduce Viki’s youngest Joey. What viewer didn’t live for the episodes where Dorian and Viki ended up trapped in a room somewhere? While Dorian could be vindictive and conniving (and that’s just before lunch), she could also be protective and caring, particularly towards the Cramer women, three generations of women, which included not just her daughters but also her nieces and her two sisters.

Tina Lord – When Tina Clayton arrived in Llanview; she was a sweet, innocent, teenager who had just lost her mother, and had come to live with Viki Lord Riley. Within months, she had been used by Marco Dane in his vendetta against Viki, and used by her father to try and bilk money out of Viki. But Tina’s story really kicked into gear when she discovered that she was Victor Lord’s illegitimate daughter. See Victor had seduced Tina’s mom, Viki’s best friend. What a dad! During her years in Llanview, Tina often did some questionable things (not telling people that her niece Jessica was really one of her alters Tess, trying to bilk Viki out of her fortune, etc.) Tina always had a good heart. Her taste in men is another story. Through the years, she always found herself attracted to the bad boys of Llanview, everyone from Mitch Laurence, Max Holden to con artists Cain Rogen &David Vickers, but her true love was always cowboy Cord Roberts. Despite the fact that Tina married him knowing that he was Clint Buchanan’s long lost son before he did, and pretending another woman’s baby was theirs, Cord just couldn’t quit Tina. No matter how many crazy schemes she came up with, and Tina was nothing if not creative, Cord always forgave her and took her back.

Echo DiSavoy – Countess Echo DiSavoy came to town, like so many tourists do to Llanview, seeking revenge, which never works out well. Played by the talented Kim Zimmer, Echo made her mission to seduce Clint Buchanan, and then framed him for her “murder” all because she blamed him for her mother’s death. Of course, he didn’t kill her mother, it was someone else. Echo finally came forward and told the truth. But leopards never really change their spots. Echo came back years later with a secret; she and Clint had a son, Rex, who was now living in Llanview. Still a schemer, she used her alcoholism to get close to Viki’s new husband Charlie Banks (and her ex-lover) who she claimed was Rex’s father. They started a torrid affair until Charlie discovered the truth. She then tried to ruin Dorian 's to David Vickers Buchanan, getting his co-star to try and seduce him, but it didn't work.

Allison Perkins was another one of those good girls who turn bad.  She was a candy striper at Llanview Hospital until she fell under the spell of evangelist Mitch Laurence and joined his cult.  Mitch convinced her to kidnap Viki Lord Buchanan’s new born daughter Jessica while dressed as one of Viki’s alters Nikki Smith.  Although she ultimately returned her, Allison ends up at St. Anne’s, the local mental institution. Was Allison always crazy or did Mitch just bring it out in her? Years later, she was still doing Mitch Laurence’s bidding.  Claiming to be well, she was released from St. Anne’s.  The 2nd part of Mitch Laurence’s grand plan came to fruition, it turned out that Allison had switched babies all those years ago.  Now Viki’s real daughter came to town to wreak havoc, helped along by Allison who pours poison in her ears about what is rightfully hers and by extension Allison. Allison was the gift that just kept on giving whether you wanted her to or not over the years.  Despite being sent to prison for 20 years, she managed not only to break out Statesville twice but also St. Anne’s.

Alexandra "Alex" Olanov Wentworth Hesser Buchanan Stuart Vickers (played by Tonja Walker) – Alex Olanov came to town as the FBI agent who was trying to help Bob Buchanan find his wife Sarah Gordon who had been kidnapped by mob boss Carlo Hesser.  When Sarah was presumed dead, Alex became just a little obsessed with Bo, who didn’t return her feelings.  Misunderstood or charming sociopath? Hard to tell with Alex.  Even when she did something good, it was for the wrong reason (Bringing back Bo’s wife Sarah on his wedding day to Cassie Callison). During Alex’s tenure in Llanview, she married Bo’s dad, Asa Buchanan (twice), became mayor of Llanview, married Carlo Hesser, was arrested for the murder of Carlo Hesser, worked as a stripper, faked having a sex addiction, and abandoned her two children as kids.  Over the years, Alex schemed to get her share of the Buchanan fortune, going so far to marry David Vickers, thinking that he was Asa’s long lost son.  Like a cat, Alex always seemed to land on her feet.

Blair Cramer Manning – Blair Cramer is probably the only character in soap history, who started out as Asian-American, and then ended up being replaced by a Caucasian actress. Later regimes had fun playing up that little fact.  Blair Daimler as she was called came to town in 1991.  Unbeknownst to everybody, she was Dorian Lord’s niece, conceived when her mother was raped while a patient in a mental institution. That would give anyone a chip on their shoulder! Blair first tried to ruin Dorian by trying to get her to sign a document confessing to the murder of Victor Lord.  She changed her tune when she discovered that Dorian had thought her sister Addie, Blair’s mother, had died.  Blair then decided to go after Asa Buchanan, one of the richest men in town, becoming wife number 5 or 6 but who is counting? The night before her wedding, Blair had sex with Max Holden in barn.  Despite the romp, she married Asa anyway.  Trying to stake a claim on the Buchanan fortune, she faked a pregnancy (this would not be the first time Blair tried this trick). When Asa had a heart attack after founding out the truth, Blair left him to die.  She left town for a while and then returned, taller, blonde and with a southern accent.  Blonde Blair went after town pariah Todd Manning (illegitmate son of Victor Lord, rapist, thug, terrorized Nora Buchanan), after unsuccessful romances with Max Holden and Cord Roberts, beginning one of the most dysfunctional relationships in Soap history.  During their many estrangements, Blair had relationships with Patrick Thornhart, Kevin Buchanan, Sam Rappaport, John McBain and Max Holden (again).  Blair’s weak spot has always been Todd Manning, despite the fact that he sold their son Jack because he was convinced he was fathered by someone else, and told Blair the baby had died.  Like her Aunt Dorian, she’s always been extremely loyal to the Cramer women, defending them to death, even as they squabble amongst themselves.

Lindsay Rappaport – Lindsay was always one of my favorite Scandalous Women on OLTL.  She wasn't amoral or vicious like some of the women on this list.  Lindsay just wanted to be loved.  Unfortunately the mean that she loved either didn't love her back, or due to her insecurities, she manipulated them by lying and scheming.  For instance, telling Bo Buchanan that he was sterile after his son Drew's death, leading his wife Nora to sleep with her old beau and Lindsay's ex-husband to have sex (to give Bo a child to replace Drew).  Then she manipulated the DNA test to make it look like Matthew was Sam's child and not Bo's.  See Lindsay grew up knowing that her father preferred her younger sister Melanie to her, he made no secret of it. Than learning that her husband Sam had never really gotten over his first love, Nora, lead her to have an affair with her brother-in-law. Her rivalry with Nora led to her decision to get back at Nora by stealing her husband Bo. Her hatred of Nora led her to help Colin kidnap and drug Nora until she lost her memory.

Lindsay was one of those women who were lonely and just a little desperate. Sure she shot and killed her ex-husband Sam, but she had been manipulated by Mitch Laurence. And yes, she imprisoned Troy McIver on a giant carnival wheel and left him to die, when she discovered that he was playing her.  Haven't we all had thoughts like those, we just haven't acted on them? Still she loved her two children Will and Jennifer fiercely. And she even once saved her old enemy Nora Hanen Gannon Buchanen from a fire.  Over the years, Lindsay softened and became less manipulative. If only the show had really given the romance between her and RJ Gannon a chance.

Margaret Cochran –A quiet and lonely accountant who worked at Buchanan Enterprises, when she was approached by Todd Manning for dirt on his rival Kevin Buchanan (who had slept with his ex-wife Blair).  Todd, being Todd, led Margaret to believe that he had feelings for her.  Imagine her surprise when she found out that Todd and Blair had reconciled for the umpteenth time. Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned! Margaret, however, was not about to give up on the man of her dreams. She fakes a photo of her and Todd in bed together and shows it to Blair.  Thank god for Photoshop! Blair, coming from a family of mentally unstable females, is not taken in by Margaret’s little art project.  So Margaret kidnaps Todd and Blair’s son, which gets her a one way ticket to St. Anne’s.  Since the mental health professionals in Llanview are easily fooled, Margaret is eventually released. Having spent her time in St. Anne’s re-reading Stephen King’s Misery, Margaret shoots Todd in the knees on his wedding day to Blair, holding him hostage in a remote cabin. Blair, who also must have read Misery, manages to track Margaret to the cabin.  When she tries to save Todd, Margaret locks her in the trunk of a car.  Not content with just kidnapping, she adds rape to her list of crimes.  Todd is eventually rescued, but now Margaret is pregnant with his child which infuriates Todd. When she is found dead, Todd is tried and convicted of her murder and sentenced to die by lethal injection.  But like Jason in the Friday the 13th movies, Margaret is not dead, but alive thus freeing Todd.  Margaret finally gets her comeuppance when she is killed in a car accident.