The Crown Series Four

This has been out for some months now, and although I enjoyed the first three series a good deal, I was dreading this one a bit. The previous season had taken the Queen and her story up to the late '70s, so this one was inevitably going to deal with Charles, Diana, and Thatcher. And that was, also inevitably, going to be painful at best. Apart from the pain intrinsic to the Charles and Diana story, I know that the hatred of Margaret Thatcher among the sorts of people who run the BBC was and is at least on the level of the hatred of Ronald Reagan among the same sorts of people here. 

So I can't say I was disappointed by the treatment of those two stories. They were no worse than I expected. Well, not much, anyway: Charles is treated as more or less a monster crushing the gentle dove Diana, with a fair degree of assistance from the rest of the royal family, and I wonder how much justification there was for that. I certainly hope it was not as bad as portrayed.

The Thatcher story could have been worse. There was some attempt to treat her as a human being. But that aspect of the series was severely handicapped by the strange and unpleasant manner in which Gillian Anderson portrayed her. I admit that I doubt Anderson's ability to act on the level of those superb English actors. But even if that's not the case and these were conscious artistic choices, this particular portrayal struck me as pretty awful. She's utterly stiff, cold, and just plain weird. For some reason--and I assume there must be some real-life reason--whenever she's in conversation she tilts her head oddly, almost unnaturally, in a way that finally began to make my neck hurt. By the last couple of episodes I was actually looking away. 

I couldn't imagine that Anderson's version of Thatcher could ever have won an election. Wondering if she was really that off-putting, I watched several videos of Thatcher speaking, and while she was certainly no one's idea of easygoing, she was in those clips far more relaxed and normal in her speech and general manner than this series portrays her.

I suppose anyone reading this who's interested at all in the series has already seen it. But in case you haven't and are on the fence: I don't especially recommend it. It's extremely well produced and acted, apart from Thatcher. And Olivia Colman as Elizabeth is great again. What an actress she is!--as convincing when playing a middle-class policewoman (Broadchurch) as when playing  Queen Elizabeth. But in addition to the unpleasant aspects I've mentioned there is the frustration of never knowing how much, apart from public events, is history, how much is reasonable filling in of blanks, and how much is pure invention, with an agenda. And apart from the question of accuracy there's a certain cruelty in treating in raw detail the agonies of real people, most of whom are very much alive. I would not want to be William or Harry watching it. 


Addendum: here, for the moment, is the trailer. I say "for the moment" because I noticed that my link to the series 3 trailer (in this post) is no longer valid:


"Of all deceivers...

"...fear most yourself."


One slightly annoying aspect of the current state of this blog is that at least half, maybe more, of the visits to it are from people who have searched for some relatively obscure thing and gotten a link to one of my posts. Whether or not whatever they found here is useful to them or not, they don't stick around, and they don't come back, at least not soon or regularly. Well, that's fine--happy to be of help, if I was. But it means that when I look at my statistics and want to know how many people read the blog intentionally, I have to figure the number of visits by those people, as opposed to those who have been pointed to some specific post on some specific topic and are otherwise not interested, is at best half of the already small number.

One of the more frequent hits is the 2012 post called "Getting Started with Kierkegaard." A fair number of people want to do that, I guess. The post consists of little more than the question: where to start? And there are some good recommendations in the comments.

Which did I pursue? None. The last two comments there reveal the sad picture: about this time last year someone asked if I had an answer to the question. Sadly, I did not, because after eight years I had not so much as picked up one of Kierkegaard's books: it was another of my intellectual projects that failed before it really got started. 

But I have resumed it, thanks to the Eighth Day Books catalog that I received some months ago. They offered a book called Provocations: Spiritual Writings of Søren Kierkegaard, which is a compendium of brief excerpts intended to provide an introduction to Kierkegaard's thought. I thought that might be a good way to take up my abandoned but not forgotten plan. 

Having bought the book (from Eighth Day), I was a little disappointed to find that the editor has in some cases resorted to paraphrase and abridgement in the interests of making Kierkegaard's meaning clear to the more casual reader. Perhaps I'll want to go on from here to specific works. But on the other hand this may be all the Kierkegaard I need.

At any rate I'm finding it very rich in insight, and besides that enjoying it very much. Isn't that epigram fantastic? 


Here's a link to the publisher's description. And by the way it doesn't seem to be available from Eighth Day anymore. 

Beethoven: Septet in Eb Op. 20

An admission: I admit that I don't love Beethoven as I should. "Should" is a questionable term, I know: why should one love this or that artist? Well, in this case, he is such a giant that to feel a little standoffish from his work seems to be a fault in oneself rather than the artist. It probably is. 

Before I go any further, I have to say that this is most certainly not any sort of denial or even diminishment of his universally acknowledged greatness. And I love some of his music as much as I love any. I think it's a matter of personality: there is something in his which I don't warm to. I don't, for instance, think that I would have enjoyed his company (which would no doubt be true of many composers, Wagner coming first to mind). I mean his musical personality, or his personality as it comes through in his music--I probably know about as little of him as a person as someone who's been listening to him for over fifty years possibly could.

How to describe it, that something which I seem to hear sometimes in the music? Irritable. Impatient. A bit ponderous: I can imagine Beethoven fulfilling the stereotypes about Germans and humor. Perhaps somewhat egotistical. Unsympathetic. The opposite of genial.

But never mind all that. It's my idiosyncrasy, and I certainly don't proffer it as an accurate remark about Beethoven. 

It's all a preface to, and maybe sort of a justification for, my reaction to this recording: lukewarm. The septet is a relatively youthful work, written in 1799. Beethoven was twenty-nine, not exactly a youngster by comparison with, say, Mozart, or Schubert, neither of whom made it very far past thirty. It's not the brilliant and profound Beethoven who would appear just a few years later. 

By any reasonable standard it is a good piece of music, but I have no enthusiasm for it. I was mulling over exactly how to explain that when I remembered that in the earlier days of this blog I had written about the symphonies. Here's what I said about the First (you can read the whole post here): 

I admire it, but I do not love it. There is obviously a great gift at work here, and the symphony is interesting, but little of it moves me. It’s of course very much more of the 18th century than Beethoven’s later work, but it seems a heavier Mozart, and a less orderly Haydn. I have the sense that he’s gotten hold of a powerful force but isn’t yet quite in control of it. And I hear some of the things that have always bothered me: the spasmodic leaping rhythms, the repeated quasi-climaxes, and a quality I can only describe, not very informatively, as “dryness.”

That's more or less the way I reacted to this piece. I gave it my obligatory three hearings, and I did warm up to it, but it isn't going to be a favorite. Here's a performance, the first one that popped up when I looked for the piece on YouTube.

The recording is another from the Fr. Dorrel trove: London CM9129, released in 1960. It doesn't seem to me to have any special merit as a recording. And I wonder if, and how much, the ugly cover may have influenced me. That portrait of Beethoven might have been done by someone who disliked him.