Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf?

Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? is a 1962 play by Edward Albee. It examines the breakdown of the marriage of a middle-aged couple, Martha and George. Late one evening, after a university faculty party, they receive an unwitting younger couple, Nick and Honey, as guests, and draw them into their bitter and frustrated relationship.

The play is in three acts, normally taking a little less than three hours to perform, with two 10-minute intermissions. The title is a pun on the song “Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?” from Walt Disney’s Three Little Pigs (1933), substituting the name of the celebrated English author Virginia Woolf. Martha and George repeatedly sing this version of the song throughout the play.

Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? won both the 1963 Tony Award for Best Play and the 1962–63 New York Drama Critics’ Circle Award for Best Play. It is frequently revived on the modern stage.

Imelda Staunton and Conleth Hill star in a new production of the play, directed by James MacDonald, at the Harold Pinter Theatre in London currently (early 2017). This is the production I shall be discussing in this post from this point on though I do discuss the play in a broader aspect too while doing this.

Stage Layout

whose afraid of virginia woolf staging

 

Beige: stage floor

Light grey: Raised areas

Dark Grey: The entrance and the stairs leading up to the bedrooms.

Green: Access off stage. The lefthand door goes to the kitchen, the middle is the entrance to the house and living room and the one on the right leads to the toilet.

Purple: Offstage. I guess those sat on the right would have had some limited view but most events occur towards the front of stage.

Orange: The drinks trolley and the record player.

Red: the seating.

Brown: On the left the fireplace, centrally the table and the cabinet on which the piece of art sits.

Yellow: The triangle is the art piece they comment onn in the first act, the circles the bells that get hit at one point and the diamond a free standing light.

Thick black: Walls.

This image is an estimation of how everything was placed on stage. Kirsty Walk, during the brief break between acts 2 and 3 told us about the staging. The couch and lower level is set out like a boxing ring into which the characters enter to confront each other with the fireplace, doorway and reading areas act as the ringside where they take respite from the frisson of events as observers.

Plot summary

Act One: “Fun and Games”

George and Martha engage in dangerous emotional games. George is an associate professor of history and Martha is the daughter of the president of the college. After they return home, Martha reveals she has invited a young married couple, whom she met at the party, for a drink. The guests arrive – Nick, a biology professor (who Martha thinks teaches maths), and his wife, Honey. As the four drink, Martha and George engage in scathing verbal abuse of each other in front of Nick and Honey. The younger couple is first embarrassed and later enmeshed. They stay.

Martha taunts George aggressively, and he retaliates with his usual passive aggression. Martha tells an embarrassing story about how she humiliated him with a sucker-punch in front of her father. During the telling, George appears with a gun and fires at Martha, but an umbrella pops out. After this scare, Martha’s taunts continue, and George reacts violently by breaking a bottle. Nick and Honey become increasingly unsettled and, at the end of the act, Honey runs to the bathroom to vomit, because she had too much to drink.

Act Two: “Walpurgisnacht”

Traditionally, “Walpurgisnacht” is the name of an annual witches’ meeting (satiric in the context of the play). Nick and George are sitting outside. As they talk about their wives, Nick says that his wife had a “hysterical pregnancy”. George tells Nick about a time that he went to a gin-mill with some boarding school classmates, one of whom had accidentally killed his mother by shooting her. This friend was laughed at for ordering “bergin”. The following summer, the friend accidentally killed his father while driving, was committed to an asylum, and never spoke again. George and Nick discuss the possibility of having children and eventually argue and insult each other. After they rejoin the women in the house, Martha and Nick dance suggestively. Martha also reveals the truth about George’s creative writing escapades: he had tried to publish a novel about a boy who accidentally killed both of his parents (with the implication that the deaths were actually murder), but Martha’s father would not let it be published. George responds by attacking Martha, but Nick separates them.

George suggests a new game called “Get the Guests”. George insults and mocks Honey with an extemporaneous tale of “the Mousie” who “tooted brandy immodestly and spent half her time in the up-chuck”. Honey realizes that the story is about her and her “hysterical pregnancy”. The implication is that she trapped Nick into marrying her because of a false pregnancy. She feels sick and runs to the bathroom again.

At the end of this scene, Martha starts to act seductively towards Nick in George’s presence. George pretends to react calmly, reading a book. As Martha and Nick walk upstairs, George throws his book against the door. In all productions until 2005, Honey returns, wondering who rang the doorbell (Martha and Nick had knocked into some bells). George comes up with a plan to tell Martha that their son has died, and the act ends with George eagerly preparing to tell her. In what is labelled the “Definitive Edition” of the script, however, the second act ends before Honey arrives.

Act Three: “The Exorcism”

Martha appears alone in the living room, shouting at the others to come out from hiding. Nick joins her. The doorbell rings: it is George, with a bunch of snapdragons in his hand, calling out, “Flores para los muertos” (flowers for the dead), a reference to the play and movie A Streetcar Named Desire, also about a marriage and outside influences. Martha and George argue about whether the moon is up or down: George insists it is up, while Martha says she saw no moon from the bedroom. This leads to a discussion in which Martha and George insult Nick in tandem, an argument revealing that Nick was too drunk to have sex with Martha upstairs.

George asks Nick to bring Honey back for the final game – “Bringing Up Baby”. George and Martha have a son, about whom George has repeatedly told Martha to keep quiet. George talks about Martha’s overbearing attitude toward their son. He then prompts her for her “recitation”, in which they describe, in a bizarre duet, their son’s upbringing. Martha describes their son’s beauty and talents and then accuses George of ruining his life. As this segment progresses, George recites sections of the Libera me (part of the Requiem Mass, the Latin mass for the dead).

At the end of the play, George informs Martha that a messenger from Western Union arrived at the door earlier with a telegram saying their son was “killed late in the afternoon…on a country road, with his learner’s permit in his pocket” and that he “swerved, to avoid a porcupine”. The description matches that of the boy in the gin-mill story told earlier. Martha screams, “You can’t do that!” and collapses.

It becomes clear to the guests that George and Martha’s son is a mutually agreed-upon fiction. The fictional son is a final “game” the two have been playing since discovering early in their marriage that they are infertile. George has decided to “kill” him because Martha broke the game’s single rule: never mention their son to others. Overcome with horror and pity, Nick and Honey leave. Martha suggests they could invent a new imaginary child, but George forbids the idea, saying it was time for the game to end. The play ends with George singing, “Who’s afraid of Virginia Woolf?” to Martha, whereupon she replies, “I am, George…I am.”

Review

When people debate the greatest plays ever written this one is regularly in top 10s and rightly so, when acted well it is one of the most devastating evenings of theatre you can encounter.

However the live broadcast of the current production I saw of it was not…

In a sentence I found that subtlety was thrown out for overt caricature which led the dark dry humour of the play to be performed as if it was an American sitcom.

There are only four roles in the play.

Martha – (Imelda Staunton) A screeching loud New Englander

the daughter of the president of the college

George – (Conleth Hill) an associate professor of history

A put upon ‘family man’ with a whiny nasal tonality

Nick – (Luke Treadaway) A stereotypical all American corn fed jock

a biology professor (who Martha thinks teaches maths)

Honey – (Imogen Poots) A squeaky voiced, ditzy, North West all American girl

Nick’s childhood sweetheart and wife

I think what set it off on the wrong foot was the preceding short documentary we were presented with about the play’s history with talking head after talking head telling us of how Albee has humorous dialogue. This led to certain members of the audience laughing at every few lines as if a laugh track was playing in their head telling them when, where and to what degree to laugh.

Do you ever feel like you’re the young child in the children’s story ‘The Emperor’s New Clothes’? That is how I feel about this particular production. It has received glowing reviews but the bitterness of the characters and their predicament is lost in people doing the broadest impressions of Americans they can manage. For the time period and location the play is set it’s not inaccurate but I kept getting the feeling more effort was put into that side of the production than working on the nuances of each exchange between the characters. Maybe I just feel Imelda Staunton is too old to play the role. Yes controversial. How dare I say such a thing of a living legend. But it reminds me of when, in opera, you have people with visible grey hair performing the role of teenagers because they’re the ones with the ability to do so. The performance is good but when you have a very short woman in her 60s. Playing a woman in her 50s, pawing at a tall 32 year old (playing a 28 year old) it comes across as false he would have, at least in this production, an all but implied sexual liaison while his wife lies drunk in the toilet.

The whole production is oddly paced and plays out in the style of a 1960s sitcom in tone. I think what suits it better is to play it far more straight, to allow the black humour of the passive aggression play out without flourishes. Perhaps what I instinctively felt was there was no energy between the performers. Of course it’s about dysfunctional relationships but even that has an energy to it which I found lacking here and instead replaced with energy you expect of a comedy which doesn’t fit the tone I was expecting.

Imelda Staunton all but yells her lines. Each. And. Every. Time. This is a great acting by a living theatre legend? Her performance is praised but there is no nuance. Either she’s shouting, thrusting herself at Nick or rattling off stories intending to shame her husband… until the final scene which is performed well but is too little too late. Nuance be damned. It’s far too over the top. I saw her, in person, performing the role of Gypsy Rose Lee’s mother Rose in the 2015 production of Gypsy and can’t help but feel she has brought over some of that behaviour when reprising the American accent which was a mistake. She is a good actor but something in the direction has led her and the others astray. Less shouting and I probably would have enjoyed it more. There’s a way to be loud without coming across as if every line should be shouted and she is more than skilled enough to do so.

Conleth Hill… I don’t know what to say. He plays the role of a put upon family man from a 1950s American sitcom. Burton played the role as a mild mannered yet passively aggressive man of letters while Hill plays the role as… Varys from Game of Thrones (who he plays) so I am a bit concerned he lacks range as I’ve not had the chance to see him in other productions. If you know Nathan Lane and how he performs comedy roles just imagine him in the role and you’re more or less where I was watching this. What are meant to be bitter barbs of a frustrated man come across like catty comments more fitting of a stereotyped gay character. Maybe that’s something they were implying in this production though I feel I’m giving them more credit that they deserve.

Luke Treadaway plays his role overly safe if not quite bland. Imagine a jock from a comedy film or all American young hero from a war film. There you go you know how he came across both aurally and physically. Admittedly the character lends himself to being played that way but it’s too blunt. The liaison between Nick and Martha comes across as so sudden and forced due to how things have been staged that it’s as if you put two cats on heat in a box and watched them writhing into each other. Partially intentional of course but a bit too forced here when the others are in the room still.

Imogen Poots also plays her role somewhat safe if not overly straight with little if any nuance. Someone apparently watched Grease and decided to replicate a Pink Ladies. The role is a foil for the others and is meant to offer some levity to the deeply embittered proceedings but here, where everything is on the verge of spilling into slapstick, it’s hard to make the role have any weight sadly. She is a good actress and makes the most of what she can thus stealing a few scenes but usually gets left in the sidelines. Often quite literally by being offstage for most of acts two and three.

There is, as the preceding documentary insisted, humour in the dialogue but by drawing attention to it with slapstick like delivery undermines the underlying tragedy of the narrative involving a marital breakdown and how the characters feel trapped by social conventions.

Each person is ignoring reality and perpetuating a socially acceptable facade. They do so to appear as successful members of society when in reality each of them is, in their own way, severely damaged. In their overwrought efforts to fit social norms they only exacerbates their problems until confronted with their reality which ultimately breaks them. Be it Martha marrying George because she wanted to remain a part of her feckless father’s world in which she herself could never impress him. George never becoming head of the History department. Nick who married his childhood sweetheart because that’s what everyone expected of him (especially after the phantom pregnancy) or Honey who you could argue remains a cypher to us beyond her existence as Nick’s wife.

The costumes were what you would expect so there is no fault there and the stage design gives an over burdened, claustrophobic, atmosphere helping emphasis the intensity of the character’s interactions with it’s excessive furniture tightly packed into a small area. Some liberties were taken in order to make it more of a chamber drama than other productions might but on the whole you don’t miss anything substantial.

The play is good. This production is not.

If you have never seen a production of this play before then go watch the film starring Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor. I never suggest watching the film as, of course, it’s a completely different experience – however in this case I think the real life relationship of Burton and Taylor lent the dialogue exchanges a depth that is hard to replicate though, by their own admission, it took a toll on their relationship and Taylor felt she was playing Martha too much in real life afterwards. I feel the play is better played understated and straight while this version has overplayed the humorous aspects.

Personally I feel the delicate balance required for this play is lost and makes me wonder if, in trying to play up to the humour inherent in Albee’s dialogue, James MacDonald unintentionally played up the humour to differentiate this production from others and in doing so completely undermined the drama of the piece. It discredits the themes of reality versus illusion, as all comedy requires some level by trivialising or satirising of reality in order for us to cope with it’s harshness, and the social expectations both we and society expect of each other which few, if any can live up to.

Playing it for laughs too much means the impact of the reality is muted and because Martha is played over the top we see her more as a caricature not as a tragic figure who feels the need to exaggerate her actions in order to garner a reaction – first from a father who all but ignores her when she doesn’t serve his purpose and then a husband she feels is inattentive to her needs.

Nick is the overachiever being both an athlete and a prodigy who got his masters at 19 years old. He has to get things right at all times because that is what is expected of him. Even in the bed room he is expected to be a stud but ultimately, like all the men in Martha’s life, failing her as a ‘flop’. Honey gets pregnant (albeit it’s proven to be a phantom pregnancy soon after) so of course he will marry her as any good guy would. Failure is not an option.

Contrasting to him is George to whom failure is the only option and like any underachiever he plays the role of satirist playing out fictional narratives over and over to trivialise the dramas of reality. He fails Martha by not having children and by not being able to stand up to nor replace her father as a potent, in both senses, male figure in her life.

Honey… is a cypher. Is Honey even her real name or just a moniker everyone calls her by just like Lady Bird Johnson in real life because that’s the only name anyone around her uses? Do we hear of anything she does exclusive of Nick? Thus she is in the role of the trophy wife, as George was the trophy husband expected to have achieved but ultimately failing too for Martha.

Honey and George mirror each other as ‘failures’ – he as an academic and husband and she as a traditional housewife meant to serve her husband and cause him no trouble. Both fail to bear children in comparison to their alpha partners who, over the nights proceedings, are drawn to each other and have a tryst which ultimately leads them to realise that it’s not an equal they need but a partner who compliments and supports them. Honey, despite drinking, plays the doting wife to her husband obeying him when leaving while George, as Martha mocks at one point, makes her laugh and as the play ends he tries, but fails, to comfort her as she admits she is deeply scared now her bravado has been stripped away and she accepts reality now George has stopped humouring her about their son and no doubt any number of unspoken illusions they have maintained with one another until this point.


This review might be a bit patchy but I keep writing things and not posting them so expect, in the following few weeks, reviews of things that are a bit out of date…

1944 (Estonian WW2 film) Synopsis and Review

1944 is a 2015 Estonian action war drama film directed by Elmo Nüganen. The film first premiered in February 2015 in Berlin, Germany, before its release in Estonia and other Northern European countries. It was selected as the Estonian entry for the Best Foreign Language Film at the 88th Academy Awards but it was not nominated.

The film is set in the year 1944, from the Battle of Tannenberg Line (25 July – 10 August 1944) to the Battle of Tehumardi in Sõrve Peninsula (October – November 1944) and is shown through the eyes of Estonian soldiers who had to pick sides and thus fight against their fellow countrymen. Choices had to be made, not only by the soldiers, but also by their loved ones.

The film focuses on the individual in the context of the war rather than war itself, and shows the war from both perspectives – those of the Estonians in the Red Army and in the German Army.

The film was funded by the Estonian Film Institute, Estonian Ministry of Defence, Cultural Endowment of Estonia and private investments.

During the run of the film Estonian, German and Russian are spoken.

Excuse me not using names for the most part but in war films everyone seems reduced to stereotypes and can you honestly say, barring the central characters, you ever remember the names of the entire cast during these – most of whom die shortly after their ‘provide a minimal amount of character development by showing a picture of family which foreshadows they’ll die in the next scene’ moment?

Synopsis

We open on text:

‘In 1939, Soviet Union and Germany sign a Treaty of Non-Aggression. A week later, World War II begins. In 1940, Soviet Union annexes Estonia. 55 000 Estonians are mobilized to the Red Army. In 1941, Germany occupies Estonia. 72 000 Estonians are mobilized to German armed forces. Since German Army, Wehrmacht, accepts only German citizens, Estonians have to fight in Waffen-SS and other military units. Now in 1944, the Red Army is back on Estonian border.’

The subtitles at the start confuse ‘German’ and ‘Germany’ while omitting the definite article. Great start… and they move too fast to read for the last sentence or two. I notice once or twice later the subtitles seem grammatically wrong again and suspect they were done by someone whose not a native speaker or was put under severe enough time constraints they didn’t double check their work though for the most part it’s fine.

In the trenches the fast shakey camera makes effective use of the limited perspective.

OF course it lacks the ‘Hollywood sheen’ but in some ways that works in it’s favour. Also the minimal use of music during the charges of soldiers so as to not glamorise events and give way to moments over the stark depictions of combat.

One or two have camouflage on their clothing which I assume isn’t period accurate but might be. It’s the issue of so little coverage of World War 2 events which are not explicitly form German, American, French resistance or British perspectives. As a western viewer you automatically assume the attackers are Fascists but in fact it’s the Soviet forces or as seems to be the films preferred nom de plume the Red Army.

The quieter moments in the trench barracks feel far more effective as we focus on the actors and this doesn’t require big flashy events. The story of the people involved and their motivations rather than the glorification of war. Stories of how they dealt with the situation they were in and the sense of losing oneself – the loss of personal identity as a pawn in the motivations of others.

After proceeding under cover of darkness the music has a continuous tense cord with a few stark notes. THey join some Danes. This really is a narrative not explored in the West at all.

A fat Russian chokes a man. Few if any Russians would be that fat.

Some soviets surrender and are show from behind by the protagonists.

The German commanders appear. A government man appears and congratulates them and spouts the party line they’ve proved the Estonians belong to the Aryan race. He hands out signed photos of Hitler thinking they would get a wooden or iron cross

The poem ‘soldiers mother’ plays over the radio as they mock Hitler and one returns saying the Dutch have their own toilet paper and gave him pack of cigarettes.

One soldier shows the medal his father gained in World War 1/ its all that’s left of him. An argument breaks out as there are Estonians on the Soviet side. What will they do when they face their countrymen?

Outside propaganda plays over the tannoy and they begin to sing to drown it out as they move through the trenches.

The look out says its been quiet. When one of the brothers takes over a sniper shoots him in the head and the brother left behind is in shock a moment before beginning to cry. They give him something to drink. Later one reflects that his uncle in Tallinn told him not to go but he had to as there were arrests being made. An older soldier comes to relieve him and asks if being stubborn will bring his family back from Siberia . He knows it wont. They speak of the war and what its for. Whether they’ll gain their countries independence.

A procession of civilians walk along a road as military vehicles pass them. One soldier thinks going to Tallinn would be better as they could escape via a ship to Sweden. They shoot in the air to scare people off. A self defence force leader, clearly a civilian as he’s in an suit but with an armband, asks if they’ve spare ammo. He is gives them the weapons they ceased and the man jokes with out ammo they’re no batter than clubs.

A woman stops the procession and makes a man throw away furniture and take people on his cart. The soldiers joke she is the real furher. ‘men like cow’s udders’ she says as she loads a child into it.

A plane flies overhead. They take cover in the forest. It begins to fire down on everyone. Bombs are dropped. Sainas goes to save a child but ironically is shot dead while the child is fine. Another runs for the child and saves her just in time. The driver of the soldiers truck put sout a d fire and they go to escape as the reds will be there any moment. Main guy says his sister has the same doll as the girl but she is for away now. They decide to load people onto the truck. Injured to hospital refugees to Tallinn. The girl wants her doll to tell main guy something. He holds it to his ear and after he return sit the truck leaves and the soldiers walk away in another direction on foot as a folk song plays. A storm brews as they walk across the countryside.

They see due to the open landscape there’s no way to retreat if they cant hold the location along the road on the edge of the forest. A senior member tries to rouse them with a speech of how if the Russians beat them back they’ll retake it tomorrow. Then they begin to dig the trenches. A passing man offers them food. All quiet along the western front is mentioned. Again the leader tries to rouse them about their flag flying in Tallinn but the main guy is more pessimistic. They laugh and eat. It is a moment of peace in the war.

Sept 20 a motorcyclist goes past them at speed as they’re hidden in the dry grass. A tank and supply trucks procession is heading their way. They snipe the commander and fire rockets at the tanks.A sniper takes out their sniper. Many of the characters we have been following are wiped out.

They realise they’ve been fighting Estonians on the Soviet side. Their worst fears. What will they do now it’s a reality. Both sides stare at each other. Mournful music plays out. This is the reality of fighting a war begun by others and for their agendas. The soldier who killed the poetic guy looks at the documents in his pocket and seizes them before closing the corpses eyes and laying him to rest.

At a camp we follow the Communist side. They realise it was ‘normal Fascists’ they were fighting. The commanding officer berates them then leaves. The secondary commander tells them to bury the dead and stay out of the way of the NKVD officers.

A man asks if they’re burying fascists with their own. ‘its the end of the road for everyone’ someone replies. They pity that this is how things have turned out as they bury the dead and mark them. 31 dead red army soldiers.

The same old couple who served food to the fascists now serves it to the communists. They soldiers have meat and give some to the couple. It is German stuff they had ceased. The bearded soldier pities them as the couple have nowhere to to and will be labels kulaks and sent back if not to the Gulag.

A glasses wearing soldier shows a photo of his family and everyone knows his spiel off by heart and call it before he says it. They pass through the golden fields and reach Tallin in Sept 22.

Masses of Red army soldiers are there and propaganda plays over the radio accompanied by upbeat band music.

Beard tells killer to be happy and dance. The soldiers are fed and enjoy. Else where people pick through the rubble and inhabit dark silent buildings. Killer Juri visits the apartment of the dead poetic fascists woman and gives him the letter which he took from the corpse. She reads it in silence as we hear the dead man narrate his words talking about family.

Juri asks if he can help as she is tearing up. He removes his boots. She asks how he got it. Karl was her brother. She asks if he died in battle. Juri confirms it. How does he know. Juri says he witnessed it. The family were taken to Siberia. It broke Karl who blamed himself for what happened. She asks of him. He was conscripted in 39. She asks why he didn’t fight back. They were to disciplined to disobey or were cowards he admits. His family? The soldier is are his family but there’s less and less of them. She says he and her brother were similar. The innocent feel guilty. The guilty feel nothing.

She says he must be hungry and cooks for him. She watches him as he eats in silence. He takes out a cigarette and she offers him an ash tray. Its her uncles apartment not hers. They fled two weeks ago by boat to Sweden. March 9 the red army flattened the city. Juri says he was told it was Germans. She insists only women children and the elderly were there.

A little girl drew her something at the orphanage and she goes to show it but they’re interrupted by the radio. A moment passes between them and we see them walk in the park together. bird song. Slow piano. ITs not a romance as much as just comfort in kindred souls. She goes to check a door and find sit open. They go inside the church. Their footsteps echo.

She asks if he is staying long. Or will he move on? Where to? To Saaremaa he replies. She smiles to him takes his hand which fluster him and says they’re alone. He puts his arm around her hesitantly. She says she would forgive the one who put their family ane on the list to be deported. A name Jogi was on it. Juri doesn’t react. She recalls how they lived before the war smiling and falling asleep on his shoulder.

In the morning she gestures he write. She asks his family name. ‘Tull’ he lies. He is Jogi. An NKVD man calls him to the comrade captains car. He says that they’ve fought many battle together but bourgeois nationalists are still there. He says he is young and has time for everything including hanging around at night.

The captain asks who the woman was. They had observed him. Juri lies its his sister. The Capt. says he doesn’t remember it from his file. He asks Juri to report any anti-soviet efforts to him. Juri looks unsure.

17 Nov The soldiers move out across the countryside passing a form. One breaks rank and bearded soldier , Prohhor, is ready to shoot but it told to hold. The guy is at his home town so they allow him to call to the other residents. Beard mocks his grandmother said Estonia was small but not this small..

The soldier notes no one is there sadly. After a moment he says that he’ll go find them something to eat.

At night the commanding officer , Juri, staff sergeant calls on a soldier to have the three replacement soldiers come in to speak to him at the lit table he is writing at. He notes from how they stand they fought for the Germans. He tells them to forget their past and kept their mouths shut. Juri tells farm boy to feed them as well ads the others with the potatoes he fried. Farm boy tells them eat as much as they like as there is no point leaving any for the rats.

Juri asks if he heard anything about his folks who had abandoned the farm. All the farms in the area were destroyed, the people deported to Germany. He reflects the war will be over in a year or two and everyone will be back then. ‘My house is whole and I’m alive’ he remarks before leaving.

Juri later details his strategy plan to the leading soldiers.

They all drink some vodka from a bottle before farm boy remarks that Kreml (the Kremlin… Again refer to my view the subtitles were not done by a native English speaker) wanted to see him.

We next see Juri report to the Comrade captain who was cleaning his handgun. Juri hears the gun click as he closes the door but in fact the captain was putting it away before inviting him to sit. He calls on Juri to toast ‘to the victory’. The captain notes Juri got 3 replacements and asks if he checked them, Juri says he did. ‘Juri you are from the right family and have made the right decisions so far. Just like your father in his time. You haven’t applied for the party membership?’ Juri answers no. ‘That’s even better. You’ll be trusted more. You’ll go far. We’ll send you to study, and you’ll get an officer’s rank. You’ll be the company commander soon. We’d make a good team.’ Juri notes the company already has a commander, Captain Viires, as the Comrade Captain walks away. ‘That radish… Red outside, white inside. Those kinds of guys should be kept an eye on. Don’t spoil your life, Juri’

The next day, November 19, the cannons are being loaded as battle ships fire on the soldiers proceeding along the shoreline. Mines are on either side of the road. The tanks runs over a corpse. Shells hit the tanks. Many of the infantry are taken out by the impact. Still they press forward. One soldier breaks rank and runs across a field only to be killed by a landline. The soldiers get pinned down by machinegun fire and rockets shooting the tank. The tank fires on the machine begun wall blowing it up but still the infantry have to charge for cover. The tank knocks out the corner of a hut Fascist soldiers were coming out from. The on foot soldiers split into two groups heading along shallow trenches. One is blown up by a soldier dying holding a grenade and his wrist. They reach the command post and order the people inside to emerge. They then shoot them in cold blood though they surrendered, They were not ordered to shoot. Juri asks the man if he thinks it’ll bring Sarah back. The man doesn’t answer.

Later Juri sits alone outside smoking. Beard is hunched over at the table. He asks if Juri cant sleep. Juri says her cant forget the guy whose letter he delivered to his siste.r Did he tell him? He couldn’t.. But he fell in love mocks beard. ‘You didn’t kill him, the war did’. ‘MAybe God will forgive. Or not.’

Nov 22 they’re on the move again as an overseer captain says one last push and Estonia is theirs. The company Captain tells Juri the political office is interested in him. The captain says its as if they’re eating shit everyday. He had hoped to bring the men home but asks where did he bring them? He gestures for the company to stop its advance, checks and then they move on. They notice movement Fascists in the river crossing. The Fascists shout don’t shoot as their Estonian. The company captain calls for no one to shoot and those in the river to come up. Immediately the overseer/political captain runs up and interrogates them. They were not volunteers and are 16 years old. The Germans wanted to take them but they wanted to go home. The political captain tells Juri to take them and ‘shoot these traitors’. Juri says they’re children. The captain looks back at the cowering boys and announces ‘Soviet citizens who have defected to the enemy must be shot. Staff Sergeant Jogi take your men and obey the order. They were forcefully mobilised. Juri, obey the order.

Juri says he will not shoot them.

The political captain draws his handgun and immediately shoots Juri through the heart. All the men draw their rifles and aim at him.

‘Shoot. Shoot and all your relatives will be sent to the Gulag. [The company Captain faulters and slightly lowers his aim]. Are you scared? That’s right. One must be scared of Soviet Power. Captain Viires. Obey the order.’

The political captain slowly begins to raise his handgun but a shot rings out as he is shot dead through the chest.

It was the bearded soldier.

Viires orders the company to move forward and the boys to go home. Get rid of their uniforms and go home.

Beard stops a moment and kneels at Juri’s side removing his hat. Everyone stops. Beard removes a slip of paper from Juri’s jacket. He crosses himself and everyone stand over the bodies.

We then have a narration of the letter as beard delivers it as Juri had delivered the woman’s brothers letter earlier. An old woman and a girl live with her now. From the orphanage no doubt. Juri wonders, if not for the war, had they met after the war, maybe in the church, if he could face her and tell her the whole honest truth. ‘We need to start from a blank page. This is from Juri Jori, the Red Army soldier who killed your brother in a battle. I couldn’t tell you eye to eye. You are the only one left to me. Please forgive me if you can.

Then a black screen with white writing:

‘To all who fought and suffered in the name of freedom.’

Review

I think the first thing to be said is that the title is so basic you are likely to never look at this film if you see it on the shelves in a shop or a list on-line. If it had a more distinct title, even ‘ Battle of Tannenburg’, ‘Tannenburg Line’ , ‘Battle of Tehumardi’ or anything as generic, but still distinct, as those I think it would have gotten more recognition as ‘1944’ alone makes it sound like this was one of the laziest by the numbers productions possible when in fact it has a good message, told without demonising bias towards any one party, and provides incite into a perspective on the Second World War not often given a voice in the west. It hasn’t got the gloss of American financed films but the core concept of showing the divide of a nation during occupation by both Fascist and Soviet forces is interesting as there are no definitive ‘good’ guys and ‘bad’ guys barring those who are self interested and seek political power. Everyone is swept up in the course of a war between foreign powers and has to face the reality they will be killing their won countrymen at some point.

If I have one issue with the film it is perhaps that the conflict scenes are bland. I wish perhaps it pushed those to the side as much as could be reasonably expected of a film set in this period involving soldiers and focused more on the characters. The death of the protagonists certainly comes as a shock to a first time viewer but it provides an important lesson I feel is often missing from war films – people have lives and things they are doing which come to an abrupt end because of events. OFten this is given the ‘here’s a photo of my family’ omen of minor characters who you know from that point on are going to be the sacrificial lamb of the films narrative so we see the results of war but the protagonists remain able to carry out their story to completion.

As I have said already I feel the translations for the subtitles on the DVD needed to be proof read as there were a few moments were the grammar went out the window. I have to assume either the translator, and the subtitler, were not native English speakers or there was a severely tight schedule and mistakes were made which leaves it to be criticised at leisure by consumers. Hopefully the company is more carefully in later releases as this is the sort of thing that will put people off buying their products. The DVD also was very bare bones but really I have come to expect that with many Foreign films now that are not released by Criterion, Curzon Artificial Eye or other long established Foreign film DVD makers who offer extensive extras.

The only truly antagonistic figures in the film are the political officers – those who have thrown in their lot completely with either the fascist or Communist forces to have power even if it means betraying their countrymen. Everyone else, for better or worse, only looks forward to when the war is over and they can return to their normal lives. The hardship undergone by civilians is represented by the procession of refugees fleeing their home in the country encountered by the Fascist soldiers.

On a sidenote I personally found the woman suddenly forcing a man to throw away his possessions so it could carry people, when said people had clearly already been on this procession for a long-time alongside the cart, a bit of a double standard. It is symbolically putting people before possessions, which is a good in the moment message, but could represent a willingness to abandon their own culture, represented by the objects that are discarded, in order to survive which seems at odds with the rest of the film’s philosophy of maintaining Estonia as a unique entity after the war’s end. Objects can be replaced of course but this moment in the film felt a bit to forced in and not cohesive with the rest of it.

The sense of Estonian national communal unity is represented by the old couple who serve food to both the Fascist and Red Army groups seeing only fellow countrymen not political sides.

The sense of the nation’s division is symbolised by the brothers from the farm being on seperate sides though on a first vieiwng this might go unnoticed as the brother on the Fascist side only mentions it in passing he is from the farm while we see the brother on the Red Army side return to the homestead. Contrasting this are the two borthers who are both on the Facist side and one witnesses firsthand the death of the other via a sniper.

If anything the bereft sister, who sees both her brother and potential love interest die, seems the anomaly as she seems to live a comfortable life even in the middle of a war torn country when everyone else has either been forced to choose a side or flee their homes. I suppose she offers the contrast to the farm boy soldier who has a home but no one to be there with while she has the orphanage ( or at least the little girl and old woman) in the end thus having a community but nowhere to call her own as she is living in her uncle’s apartment.

Would I watch this again? That is the big question and the answer is… Yes but it isn’t a film I would recommend if you didn’t have an interest in North European/Baltic cinema nor World War 2. In fact I don’t care for the seemingly endless number of films based on World War 2 but this gave a unique perspective similar to War Horse, due to the shifting perspectives of each side being represented, but without the near fairytale tone nor the convenience of it being due to a horse. Both sides are represented equally unsentimentally as external forces having a negative effect on Estonia.

In the end the concept far outweighs the execution sadly. I think with a bigger budget or more unique cinematography it might have been a world cinema classic rather than just a successful film in Estonia which you find cheap in your local supermarket with a bland, non-descript, cover as they hope people will blindly buy anything World War 2 related. Time will tell how it is received in the long run but I feel it was even-handed noting the strengths and failings of each side without leaving the audience with any prejudice save that Estonians were forced to take a side or evacuate which was sadly a truth of the era they lived in and if anything they delivered this message possibly too gently in regards to what happened to citizens. A good message, fair depiction but not a film you will remember long after watching it. The unique Estonian perspective however lends it at least a novelty value for anyone interested in not seeing yet another retread of the ‘America saved the world’ slew of Hollywood depictions nor the more blindly patriotic films of somewhere like Russia.

Wałęsa. Człowiek z nadziei [Walesa, Man of Hope] 2013 film

A 2013 Polish biopic film about the leader of the trade union Solidarity movement (and later president of Poland) Lech Walesa by Andrzej Wajda. The film was selected as the Polish entry for the Best Foreign Language Film at the 86th Academy Awards, but was not nominated. Recently, on 10/01/2017, this film was shown on BBC4.

Synopsis:

Lech Wałęsa, an electrician at the Gdańsk Shipyards, participated in local demonstrations during the 1970s which became violent and left their mark on him after he returned to his daily routine. Ten years later, a new uprising occurred and unexpectedly became a charismatic leader of the Polish dockworkers.

Wałęsa’s leadership role signifies the beginning of a new movement that successfully overcomes the country’s Communist regime, and Wałęsa is pushed into representing the majority of Poland’s population. The Soviet Union authorities, previously regarded as too powerful to be confronted, eventually tolerate existence of the movement a degree. However he is at one point taken from his home in the middle of the night by Soviet officials to an unknown location. On their journey there they pass a road and Lech declares that the people will support him but his escort laugh at this and tell him to open his window and ask the people themselves. On the roadside are some poor farmers who tell him they hate him and he has done nothing to help them. At the interrogation location he is fed and openly shows defiance to the authorities before being eventually released when it’s clear they will get nothing from him. Later we see his wife accepting the Nobel peace prize on his behalf in 1983 as he believed if he left the country he would not be allowed back in.

The film ends on a note of Soviet members saying they will get him and Wałęsa being left unchallenged by opponents. The Polish example of the group Solidarity causes a domino effect throughout Eastern Europe. People in Eastern Germany follow the Polish example, starting demonstrations for freedom which achieves a peaceful reunification of Germany. The Soviet Union then dissolved alongside Yugoslavia.

In the epilogue we are told that while Europe is reshaped, Poland remains stable and peaceful. Yet a huge variety of political parties unfold and Poland is on the brink of becoming as ungovernable as the late Weimar Republic. Wałęsa is subsequently elected as the first president of the new Polish democracy; but, this is followed by feelings of resentment among the Polish people who start to think that Wałęsa is becoming overly privileged. Consequently, the Polish people start to seek out ways to diminish Wałęsa’s significance, until they finally accomplish their goal through uncovering actions from a past period.

Cast:
Robert Więckiewicz as Lech Wałęsa
Agnieszka Grochowska as Danuta Wałęsa
Zbigniew Zamachowski as Nawiślak
Maria Rosaria Omaggio as Oriana Fallaci
Cezary Kosiński as Majchrzak
Mirosław Baka as Klemens Gniech
Iwona Bielska as Ilona, Wałęsa’s neighbour
Maciej Stuhr as Priest
Małgorzata Zajączkowska as Shop assistant
Marcin Hycnar as KOR member Rysiek
Dorota Wellman as Henryka Krzywonos
Adam Woronowicz as Tadeusz Fiszbach
Marcin Perchuć as Instruktor
Ewa Kuryło as Anna Walentynowicz
Arkadiusz Detmer as Malinowski
Mateusz Kościukiewicz as Krzysiek
Piotr Probosz as Mijak
Ewa Kolasińska as Shipyard worker
Michał Czernecki
Remigiusz Jankowski as Shipyard worker
Wojciech Kalarus as Chairman
Maciej Marczewski as KOR member
Maciej Konopiński as SB agent
Marcel Głogowski as Bogdan Wałęsa (aged 8–10)
Wiktor Malinowski as Jarosław Wałęsa (aged 3–5)
Kamil Jaworski as Przemysław Wałęsa (aged 5–7)
Jakub Świderski as Ludwik Prądzyński
Bogusław Kudłek as Bogdan Borusewicz
Michał Meyer as Jerzy Borowczak
Grzegorz Małecki as UB agent
Ewa Konstancja Bułhak as Customs official
Damian Jagusz as soldier

Review:
Be honest – if you read that synopsis and didn’t think ‘this is propaganda’ then your not being critical. This is a view you must take with any biographical works as inevitably there will be a bias present no matter the intent. Either the subject themselves, in the case of autobiographies, is editting the truth in order to better fit their personal self image or intentionally presenting an image they wish to be accepted as true or, in third party works, you are viewing the events through the perception of someone interpreting their subject for better or worse. It reminds me about someone who once told me they only read biographies because they deal in reality while fiction is just make believe. For such people this film will be accepted at face value.

Andrzej Wajda is a freind of Lech Wałęsa and so there is inevitably a bias. This film romanticises events in favour of depicting Lech Walesa as a man of the people who never did anything questionable. It is a love letter to him displaying his defiant, outspoken behaviour and being seen to be rarely challenged successfully in his opposition to the Soviet era establishment. It is highly romanticised not in it’s imagery, as Wadja’s style is distinctly realist and unsensational (barring a few concessions to cinematic flare), but in how we are presented Lech’s personality, showing him often making political statements and being in control of any enviroment he is in – even when he is taken by the secret police from his family to be interrogated.

Many scenes of the film include achive footage in which the faces of the actors are superimposed onto the footage of the person they are playing. Due to the low quality of the footage in compariosn to modern high definition imagery this is done quite effectively although I would wonder if it feels jarring for those familiar with the real life individuals and this footage in its original form. Apart from this we have dramatisations of Lech’s personal life which presumably has been sourced from multiple accounts to create as close to the actual events as possible – or maybe it’s just from Lech’s perspective and therefore favours his interpretation of events.

In the final third of the film, once he is held by the Soviet authorities, all we have is speculation based on his personal accounts of events. My issue with this? In most of this film we have the intergration of modern and contemporary footage (with the actor’s faces placed over those of the actual historical figures they play) which lends itself to making us unable to distinguish which parts are fact and which parts are further along the sliding scale of fact towards we accept as ‘historical fact’.

What I mean by this is we can only base our knowledge on the accounts given by people of the time and any evidence we are able to establish. History is only what we are told happened and which re-enforces the oft cited cliche ‘the victor writes history’ as we are discovering, time and time again, when historians go back to events long ago and uncover new evidence that the previously accepted ‘truth’ is not what actually happened but was a biased interpretations of events from the perspective of one side.

Why note this distinction between fact and historical fact? This film is doing its best to establish Wałęsa’s legacy as an unquestionably noble figure who did no wrong in his lifetime to achieve his goals and yet there is a challenge to such a perception of him nowadays. Recently Wałęsa has faced accussations of colluding with the Soviet government which he vehemently denies despite growing evidence to the contrary. In the closing minutes of the film we see his interrorgaters comment, to almost cartoonish effect, they will ‘get him later’. This moment works to make the audience also refute any later accusations of collusion they will hear including those currently being discussed in light of new evidence. After all who do we believe – the Soviet authorities who are well known to have used certain methods and obscured the reality of events often or this idealised man of the people?

Further to the cartoonishly villainous declaration of revenge we are given a brief summary, via text on the screen, relaying what occurred after the events depicted. One of these asserts that because of Wałęsa’s actions, and the rise of the Solidarity group, Poland led other Eastern Bloc nations towards rebelling against Soviet control and thus were key in the fall of the Berlin Wall.

This film presented an oversimplification of historical events regarding the downfall of the Soviet Union in it’s closing moments by suggesting Wałęsa’s actions, singlehandedly, began the sequence of events that led to the collapse of the Soviet Union. There were a great many other world events and internal problems within the Soviet union which led to its downfall so this film, as I have already mentioned, acts as propaganda attempting to secure the legacy of Wałęsa as one of the great historical figures in the history not just of Poland, which has been so hard fought for throughout the centuries by its citizens, but of the world.

He comes across as a historical figure not a man in this film. An image not a living person similar to how canonised saints are depicted. We have seen this time and time again in biopics which cherrypick what is depicted, how it is depicted and perhaps this is why I tend to avoid watching them because ultimately what we are watching is personality propaganda and not a fair account of the individual’s life. Rarely are such films a fair representation of what actually occurred let alone the unblemished, and sometimes unpalatable, truth. Often they instead iconise their subject either as hero or villain.

A caricature who is defined as representing some noble cause and whose example (of their mythos, not their reality) we should follow, is presented to the audience and we are asked to accept it blindly. There are too many examples of biopics being more fiction than fact but that is something to discuss another day. What is safe to say is that the actions of characters in the film must fit the narrative even if it warps the character of the real life person. Examples I can give off the top of my head are First Officer William Murdoch’s depiction in the 1997 film Titanic and of Vivian Liberto Cash in 2005’s Walk The Line both of whom were depicted negatively to enhance the focus narrative without thought to real world events.

Secondary to depictions of Wałęsa are those of the Italian reporter Oriana Fallaci, who is interviewing him as part of the film’s framing device. She is also somewhat of a caricature of the real life person and the choice for her to be used is itself indicative of Wadja’s intentions. Here she is depicted as the classic image all journalists wish to be seen as. Partisan yet invested. Distant yet intimate with their subject. Taking a stand against perceived injustices in the world yet never personally being involved (or indeed effected by it save, as journalist’s often do to create repore in hopes of exposing weakness in their subject, to express a few half hearted suggestions of sympathy – but never empathy). To be objective though they edit what they write and thus can never truly ignore their own experiences in life thus fostering an image which often overshadows the subject they cover. A journalist’s journalist.

The real life Fallaci often came into conflict with Muslims regarding her outspoken criticism of communities both in the East and West while she maintained an aloof air of superiority over them both. During her 1972 interview with Henry Kissinger, Kissinger stated that the Vietnam War was a “useless war” and compared himself to “the cowboy who leads the wagon train by riding ahead alone on his horse”. Kissinger later claimed that it was “the single most disastrous conversation I have ever had with any member of the press”. In 1973, she interviewed Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. She later stated, “He considers women simply as graceful ornaments, incapable of thinking like a man, and then strives to give them complete equality of rights and duties”.

It is hard to suggest that this image isn’t based on one Oriana herself made every effort to enforce during her life through her actions, often intended to incite reaction, and not just Wadja trying to lend further credence to his biopic by using a respected real life journalist in the framing device. She, like any others, was more a journalist seeking glory and building her reputation through conflict than making a difference in the world through her work and reporting things people do not want to accept as reality. Despite the heavily doctored image she seemed to wish to portray of herself fault always lay outside the individual as was the case when she blamed her lung cancer on her stay in Kuwait in 1991 after Saddam Hussein had ordered troops to burn hundreds of oil well alone and not that she had been, by choice, a lifelong heavy smoker. And in this film the fault lay exclusively with the Soviets never with how people did not rise up and challenge them before Wałęsa ascension to, what this film is mythologising as, a figurehead.

Summary:
On many aspects of the film I can find no fault. The acting is impactful, the cinematography up to the standard you would expect of a world class director such as Andrzej Wajda (who sadly passed away 9 October 2016) and it really has the sense, if not the most accurate depiction, of the 1980s in Poland. It is solidly built but the message it wishes to express seems, as with any biographical work, to have a desire to frame events in a certain light and omit anything unseemly in order to create a streamlined mythological narrative about its subject – to create an icon rather than relate a flawed, but inspirational, subject.

My greatest critcism is that Andrzej Wajda considered Lech a personal friend and I feel that this caused him to not cast a critical eye upon his subject. This has led, in this love letter of a film to his freind, to the embellishment of a historical figure and securing of his legacy. It deminishes the moments of true opposition faced in order to secure the heroic, incontestable, historical mythos of Wałęsa. The reason people watch a biopic or read an (auto)biography is to see the person behind the facade but sadly, as is often the case, all we get is a re-enforcement of what was already presented to us elsewhere. If you want an introduction to the life and times of Wałęsa then this is good enough as a biased crib notes like starting point but don’t expect any insight into him or how the Soviet era effected Poland beyond trade union strikes.

If you are interested in the works of Andrzej Wajda, or depictions of Poland under Communist rule, I strongly recommend you go watch Wadja’s Man of Marble (Polish: Człowiek z marmuru) or its sequel Man of Iron (Polish: Człowiek z żelaza) which depict fictionalised characters’ experiences covering the events of the Solidarity movement. In these Wajda is less sentimental about his subject and can better present the moral ‘truth’ of events without concern for offending a friend as has sadly occurred with this biopic made far later in his career.

Spelling Game by Iain Crichton Smith

If the plural of house is houses

and the plural of mouse is mice

why then the plural of rouses

should surely be written as rice

and if the plural of deer is deer

and the plural of fish is fish

then the plural of beer should be beer

and the plural of dish should be dish.

If mouses run over our houses

and eat up our loaves and our scones

why then our lice should be louses

and our phones should be sounded as phons.

by Iain Crichton Smith

The Living and the Dead: Episode 4

Episode 4: “When a woman goes missing, Nathan must put his spiritual troubles aside to lead the rescue party. As he races to solve the mystery, Charlotte struggles with a secret of her own.”



Credits:
Nathan Appleby: Colin Morgan
Charlotte Appleby: Charlotte Spencer
Matthew Denning: Nicholas Woodeson
Gwen Pearce: Kerrie Hayes
Martha Enderby: Fiona O’Shaughnessy
Jack Langtree: Joel Gilman
Gideon Langtree: Malcolm Storry
Isiah Cobb: Adam Ewan
Alice Wharton: Gina Bramhill
William Payne: David Oakes
Maud Hare: Elizabeth Berrington
Lizzie Merrifield: Sarah Counsell
Lara: Chloe Pirrie
Writer: Robert Murphy
Producer: Eliza Mellor
Director: Sam Donovan


Victim of the episode:
Martha for being ‘different’. Jack for being a lovesick fool and because the creators believe the audience want karmic retribution making him pay for the previous episode. Alice the ghost girl who fell to her death or committed suicide while hysterical.


Synopsis:
Autumn 1894 – A woman in a red dress moves through a forest as if being chased. Nathan, in his office, uses a Ouija board to call on Clarity Winlove as he still wants to know if she blessed or cursed Charlotte’s womb. The red dress woman calls out asking if someone is there. Scene duality for the win yo. Nathan is getting no results himself though. The woman gets captured suddenly. Charlotte is back from her apple foraging calls on him. Once he is gone the Ouiji board begins to move. and ‘Daddy’ is written on the mirror. DUN DUN DURR.

The hay wagon has been tampered with leaving the sacks spilt on the ground. Reverend Denning came to check on Nathan and notes the Ouija board on his desk. They discuss the fashion for spiritualism which he sees as a malaise and covering the grief of bereavement. Nathan asks him his view as his reverend. Transgressing against man and nature. Jack Langtree is suspected of being the saboteur.

Miss Martha Enderby, the red dressed woman, appears and is the school marm we are told. If you have been watching can you honestly say you say the actress in any of the community gathering scenes in the past episodes? I can’t personally. She is clearly in shock so Nathan offers her a stiff drink and Denning asks her if she remembered anything. She remembers nothing of course as she is still in shock. She speculates maybe if she got back there… then remembers Jack Langtree attacked her… but it also wasn’t him at the same time. Almost as if he were possessed.

Later Nathan speculates she is blocking out something traumatic and wants to take her back into the forest in order to go after Jack. Charlotte protests but Martha agrees as ‘Jack Langtree is dangerous’.

Nathan asks if Jack forced himself on her which seems a logical enquiry considering her behaviour. They then look for where Jack attacked her.

Charlotte goes looking around the silent house and hears a baby’s cry. She then vomits in a bowl as Gwen turns up. Pregnant marm? Pregnant marm… Let Gwen hold your hair there marm while you chunder marm…

Nathan asks Martha to recall things and Martha speaks of a girl Alice she was educating. ( For those who remember the song: all together now! ‘Alice? Alice? Who the F*** is Alice?’) Jack was living and poaching there. Alice was going to elope with him so Martha was hoping to warn her off. (she has split personality and the grabbing at the start was of lovers i bet). she challenges him saying people think Nathan is raising the dead but she thinks he is a good man. They see smoke coming from nearby.

Gwen makes a drink to stop Charlotte vomiting. Chalotte wonders whats in it and Gwen says ‘what you don’t know wont hurt you’. HEDGE WITCH COMING TO THE RESCUE. Charlotte reflects on matters again and ‘hope is better than no hope’. She asks Gwen about he sound of the baby asking if maybe a worker brough a baby in. Gwen says she doesn’t know. ITS FORESHADOWING. NATHAN ISN’T THE ONLY ONE GETTING GHOST ENCOUNTERS… but later in the series she refuses to believe him which in hindsight makes it seem like a severe plot contrivance considering what happened here.

Nathan and Martha find a still smouldering camp site by the mouth of a cave. Nathan calls for Jack but there is no response so he goes to investigate. Martha sees it as Alice’s room and asks what he’s done to her? She runs for air looking around the upper levels of the trees when a pale, blonde, ghost girl appears nearby whom she identifies as Alice. Nathan goes to approach her but Martha shouts ‘No!’. (She’s a ghost then I guess.) Martha wants to leave this place. Nathan points her in the direction of his house and tells her to inform his wife. Martha says Alice isn’t the secret flower of the forest. No because that’s an unsubtle metaphor for the vagina… because you know… lesbianism symbolism. Nathan tells her he will bring her home safely.

Charlotte rides a horse to Mr Payne’s stately looking home. He is handsome. He has llamas. You know at some point he is going to be involved in some sort of temptation storyline with Charlotte as the, at the moment, happily married woman. They have banter but she is here to ask a favour. She needs his wagons. He agrees to it. (I bet he sabotaged them).

Nathan is still chasing Alice though the woods. He comes to a narrow path between tall rocks and finds Alice collapsed there… turning her over he sees she is a corpse. DUN DUN DURR!

Charlotte arrives home on her horse but seems weary of something. She enters and calls for Gwen. (Gwen’s been hiding a baby unless DUN DUN DURR its foreshadowing about the modern-day matters being hinted at heavily). Martha is sat in front of the fire. She considers it ‘all her fault’. Alice was going to elope with Jack and she lost her temper and went too far. When she went back to apologise Alice was gone. Believes she would have overcome her infatuation with Jack if she hadn’t intervened. Nathan checks the corpse and sees blood on the nearby moss. As Martha tells Charlotte more of Alice Nathan brings the corpse back through the forest.

Jack is wandering through the forest himself looking remorseful for how things have turned out.

Charlotte believes people wouldn’t accept a friendship between a school teacher and a simple lady. she views the area as backwards, even medieval, then apologises for saying such. MORE OF THE MAIN CHARACTERS BIGOTTRY. LETS HOPE THERE ARE NO EPISODES ON THE HORIZON WHERE WE ARE MEANT TO BE SYMPATHETIC. In reality, is such a small community, they would have. Oh except maybe this was the creator’s attempt at using ‘friendship’ as a euphemism for lesbianism – in which case I think you would find even modern urban societies would also at that time not look favourably towards their ‘friendship’. This is some bad writing.

Mr Payne arrives so Charlotte goes to greet him. Nathan arrives with the corpse of Alice. Like a cat that’s gone hunting. Alice was one of Mr Payne’s workers. Nathan asks for his help to apprehend Jack Langtree to which he agrees. Martha uncovers the body and sees the corpse of her friend. She and Nathan look at each other and he has Gwen take Martha back in the house. Charlotte questions him but Nathan asks she do as he asks. Be a good wife – love, honour and obey – just like you were so sycophantically willing to do in the first two episodes.

He inspects Alice’s corpse in a candle lit room while making written notes playing at being a proto-forensic investigator. Martha is staying with them and is shocked by the appearance of Alice’s ghost in the window.
Nathan later that evening declares to Martha and Charlotte he believes Alice was murdered that morning and discusses seeing her spirit. Martha denies seeing the ghost of Alice earlier suggesting he imagined it when he was there with her. He grabs her arm aggressively and asks what she is playing at then begins to shout at her claiming she is lying. Charlotte gets between them and apologizes for his behaviour. HIS FAITH IN SCIENCE IS BEING SHAKEN AND IT ONLY TOOK 4 SEPERATE GHOST ENCOUNTERS.

Nathan and Charlotte go into the corridor and she believes he has been in his study too long. Then the title of the series comes up as he is focused on the dead and she wants him to focus on the living. DRAMATIC DENOUEMENT – PLAY THE THEME TUNE!!! He then tells her about seeing the healer Miss Winlove’s ghost and needing to know if it was a blessing or a curse placed on Charlotte. She says she has given him everything she has but he has abandoned her.

He hears tinny voices and goes rushing to his study. He sees an electronic tablet speaking but it disappears and he doesn’t know what to make of it. I should note now they clearly indicate it is an iPad in a later episode by name in case you thought the BBC never do product placement. That is a hell of a strong back light on it considering how it lights things up.

The next morning he rushes outside to his horse as Charlotte comes outside to see him riding into the distance. Martha, inside, hears noises coming from an adjoining room to her’s. The door handle rattles. She opens the door and see the silhouette of Alice which then comes screaming towards her in a very goofy way. FORESHADOWING.

Cut to reverend Denning giving a sermon and children placing harvest festival offerings in a pile at the altar. TRAILER SHOT.

Jack is hiding under a tree from the mob hunting him down with rifles in hand. TRAILER SHOT. They find him and he runs away from them. Payne and a few of his workers arrive brandishing rifles. Payne spots Jack running in the distance and raises his weapon. However Nathan catches Payne just in time and calls him out on his conduct. Payne claims he wasn’t going to kill him and Nathan says he wants Jack alive. OH IS PAYNE BEING HEAVYHANDEDLY MARKED OUT AS AN ANTAGONIST? I THINK SO!

Gwen lock and loads a rifle saying if Jack Langtree comes their way he’ll have her to deal with. She also locked Martha’s door when Charlotte asks where Miss Enderby is.

Nathan chases Jack. Others appear with rifles. Nathan catches up to him. Jack thinks its Nathan causing the curse and persecuting him for all his ills. He considered Alice his angel who was going to save him. Nathan tells Jack he wants him to return for a fair hearing. Jack just wants him to bring her back. He’s seen him raise the dead and asked him to do it again. Nathan says he is ‘just a man, no more, no more’. So Jack throws himself off those same high stones that Alice did and dies.

Charlotte wants entry to Martha’s room but she just wants to be alone.

Payne asks if he wasnt guilty of murder why did he run? Nathan finds a book on Jack.

Charlotte moves a table from barricading the door. Chalotte tells her she believes Nathan saw something and asks why Martha lied and denied seeing it.

Nathan reads the book and Martha also recites the lines. ‘my love is like a red red rose… until the seas run dry. To my secret flower of the forest, love Martha’.

GET IT? SHE WAS A LESBIAN ALL ALONG! JACK LOVED ALICE. ALICE LOVED JACK. MARTHA LOVED ALICE BUT ALICE WASN’T A LESBIAN! MARTHA WAS AN OBSESSIVE LESBIAN STALKER, WHOSE LOVE WASN’T RECIPROCATED, ALL ALONG! WOOOOOOOOOOOO SPOOKY! SPINE TINGLING HORROR! HOPE YOU CAN SLEEP TONIGHT!

Jack loved Alice as did Martha. Martha always felt alone until she realised she loved Alice with all her heart. Then she sees the ghost of Alice saying if she loved her she wouldn’t have done this to her.

Nathan runs home as Martha monologues about how she was ignored because she was different. She then begins to choke Charlotte claiming to love her (Alice) challenging her why she laughed at her. She is delusional. Charlotte is choking. Nathan arrives and runs up the stairs. Gwen has already shot Martha dead and remains stood over the corpse pointing the rifle at it. Where was she earlier? We always see her literally at Charlotte’s right hand so it seems a plot contrivance she was absent without reason in order for Charlotte to get in trouble.

Field workers carry Jack’s body out for burial as the others ask where it will end as another of them is dead and he replies he doesn’t know.

Denning, in the church, approaches the altar and sees all the harvest offerings have gone mouldy and rotten. DUN DUN DURR (Actually this is a good bit of foreshadowing for the next episode in fairness).

Police take Martha away in a horse and carriage. How genteel for an attempted murder. Payne also departs after being thanked for playing his part. Nathan goes back inside to Charlotte. Martha murdered Alice with no possession or demon. It was because of passion and folly he claims. Human weakness. Charlotte says she can not remain here. She tried to kill her. He says he will protect her. He Loves her. But can he protect their child she asks. He is happy she is pregnant. It was everything they wanted and why they came here so nothing else matters but this. ‘the past is dead and the dead are dead. there is only us three’. and they embrace smiling. But we see him look pensively when she is unable to see his face.

STINGER CLIFFHANGER TIME. A modern car with the red coated woman pulls up to the house and she takes a baby asking ‘do you want to go inside?’ GET IT? THAT’S WHERE THE BABY  NOISE CHARLOTTE HEARD WAS COMING FROM.



Review:

A bit awkward of an episode. A modern audience is meant to take it as Martha was a lesbian but the problem is that women of that era had far more intimate friendships than nowadays. If you look at the story Carmilla by Sheridan Le Farnu nothing in it was lesbian in tone for the era but in contrast to today it certainly seems overly intimate but was normal at the time especially for middle or upper class young women.

Mr Payne just seems to be suddenly introduced here. I appreciate we don’t have to be shown every aspect of the Applebys’ arrival in the town in episode 1 but considering what we are shown you would think some reference to him would be made prior to the very sudden ‘we need help from someone (but someone who is equal to us not the workers who are portrayed as a sheep like rabble)’ moment in this episode.

Alice has little character development so her death seems little more than a weak narrative device. An object acted upon. What made her so appealing to Martha and Jack we never really get explained. She was inquisitive and wanted to learn. That is the motivation for protecting a youth not eloping with a lover.

So did Jack vandalise the wagons? I’m not sure if that little mystery is resolved or not.

When did Jack, or others, see Nathan raise the dead? It is mentioned a few times during the series and the only people you could argue he did that to was Peter and there were very few people present.

Really the time frame of this series seems to be about one episode per 2 months of them living there due to the passage from harvest to raining winter time imagery by the end of the series.

The image of Gwen as loyal servant is fine. People ‘knew their place’ as part of the class system. I take issue with the image of Gwen stood over Matha’s corpse though. It implies we are meant to see Gwen as badass or a strong woman in comparison to the other women this episode. What I see though is a clear glorification of violence. When did Gwen, a house based servant, learn how to use a rifle? We are never told and it neither came up before or after yet she seems to handle it like an expert. Was shooting Martha a reasonable response to seeing Charlotte being choked? Couldn’t she had instead struck her at the back of the head to knock her out (which still might seem severe but at least would leave Martha alive). No. No can’t be having any of that. Lesbians are degenerate. Might infect the other women folk. Death to her it is. So add hints of homophobia to the anti-intellectualism before. ‘Oh but that’s how people were back then’…. No. This series is presenting a very stereotyped view of the era and it seems minimal research was done concerning the issues of each episode. They are showing the worst of society each time and it makes the entire matter disagreeable in tone and execution.

The sudden turn of Charlotte from being loving , doting, wife to critical skeptic is too sharp. If they had done a better job of indicating her increasing disquiet I could accept it but it seems that the denouement before the ‘real’ story of the series begins is presented in a very heavyhanded manner making it seem forced rather than a gradual creeping development in the series. This goes even more so for how easily the workers leave the town. Many of them would have lived and worked in this community since birth so would know nothing of the next community over let alone have the drive or savings to abandon their homestead.

It’s a very heavy handedly written episode and it does a severe disservice to the story regarding Martha, Jack and Alice’s love triangle. There was potential there, especially in addressing the view of lesbianism in that era, but it is discarding in one of the most blunt ‘DRAMABOMB’ style sudden shifts in dramatic tone between its leads I have seen in recent history without it intended to be a shock. To me this is the turning point in the series where it tries to be far more clever than it is and its only downhill from here. What at first seemed like it would be an interesting series about science versus superstition – in regards to whether the ghosts are real or unclassified psychological issues – but decided melodrama is more important than consistency. If anything I feel this series is a veiled contempt for people who are not ‘normal’ under the guise of ‘oh but its set in the past and its that generations view of it’ when it often wouldn’t have been in reality. I will cover each episodes ‘people of hate’ in a round-up review in a few weeks hence why I explicitly note the ‘victims of the week’ with each entry. The series seems to want to deal with social issues but if so a lot of it’s topics are at least a decade too late.


The BBC seem to be uploading promotional images and such to the official site a few weeks behind airing the episodes on BBC1 which is annoying as I cannot post images of the episode I am reviewing in each post. Obviously they are preparing for the international market and are behind schedule. Fortunately I can return and add the appropriate image later but it is a shame for anyone who wants immediate reviews in the days following the episodes broadcast.

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What To Do When You Have Made Too Many Notes

I kept notes on my phone and never typed them up only to find out I cannot transfer them via Bluetooth, email, messaging or text. What to do? They are all full note documents which are about 1500 characters each and I have generated on average 4 per day for the past 5 months! I tried typing them out but that involves having to constantly tap the screen so it doesn’t shutdown. If it does then the entire Notes programme reverts to its default, sending me to the top of the list, to the newest entries, and I have to spend 30 seconds scrolling all the way down again and finding where I left off. So what to do?

Use a DSLR camera and photo, then scroll down while keeping the last line on the screen, photo, then scroll again, then photo, ad nauseam. The first set of images numbering somewhere in the region of 500 shots added up to about 1.5GB of data. Obviously once I type them up this will be far less but for the time being it is a step in the right direction.

With them off my phone hopefully it will not drain the battery as quickly… no that’s not the reason for this spring cleaning. I have a bad habit of making notes but not writing them up. I have scraps of paper from the last three years which have probably lost all meaning by now.

If I clear my phone will it clear my mind? No. But it will ensure I do not look at them during the day. Not discarded but at least placed where they will not weigh me down. A catharsis through clearing my record keeping.

Tomorrow I will photo all the scraps of paper – Held in a see through A4 carry case along with pieces of high quality 300gsm paper sheets and notebooks of previous years (including one from 2012 whose contents I wrote up in an early blog post on here should you wish to look https://ramblingatthebridgehead.wordpress.com/2015/01/15/the-faux-wisdom-and-miscellany-of-a-partially-filled-2012-notebook/ ) on a chair which has for the past year served more as a storage zone than a seat.

Monday I will sort out my paperwork – Presently spilling out of a filing box as if a small non-flammable bomb had exploded at its base.

Tuesday I will sort out the table in the corner of the room where I have put numerous brochures, programmes, pamphlets and leaflets from every event I have been to in the past ten years and many I never ended up attending in the end – A wicker basket, won from a Harrods contest, holds them all in check. If you have ever seen the artistry some people have in maximizing their one allotted bowl of salad at a restaurant buffet constructing fom that simple base a cyclopean tower ike structure defying all logic and yet in no risk of structural failure then you know how I have ended up creating a massively overloaded, blossoming flower like, paperwork mass billowing out from the corner table where it has been growing for over a decade undisturbed yet nurtured.

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I have been too busy to write them up properly in all these years. A positive to take from that is I have been too busy living a life to do so.

All these image copies will of course take up a lot of space if I don’t go and crop them but ultimately it will save physical space in the house. Although it goes without saying I will further back these records up by copying them to an external hard drive. So in one way I am getting rid of them but in another they will loom there awaiting the day I return to them and find they were all a waste of time.

But what are these notes about? Ideas, turns of phrase, thoughts, story ideas, observations, trying to better guide my future self about certain people’s most common type of behaviour so I don’t keep finding myself always giving them the benefit of the doubt or condemning them along with other miscellaneous matters. Does it really matter what they are about? They mean nothing to anyone except me (unless the person looking is naturally inquisitive or nosey). When there are entire sites like Pintrest focused solely on ‘pinning’ things as if to make a note of them for future reference it seems nothing odd to be ‘old school’ and actually have such things in the real world.

It is a long task but in the end I hope it provides catharsis. Better this than burning all my worldly belongings no matter how alleviating and romanticized that idea may be to people who are at no risk of it happening to them. I hope it will be a cathartic experience. I am not sure if I am an enigma or an open book.

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Disney’s Frozen: Commentary, Observations And The Effects of the Song Changes on the Film’s Narrative

So of course there are many reviews of this film by now and they have by now covered the same points and statistically will have use the exact same wording unintentionally due to the limited number of words in the language to articulate their views. It is inevitable with such a major success. Even by social osmosis if you haven’t seen the actual film itself you can probably tell someone the general story and key points of the narrative and so reviews are redundant.

I think wouldn’t it be better to have a bit of a running commentary and observations about things? Really get that person’s perspective on it. I find reviews tend to become formal no matter how informal they begin and the reviewer feels the need to get certain points across but a commentary, especially on some DVDs, is like a side story and gives you a glimpse behind the curtain of either the creation process or, by a third party, their mind set. I know on Youtube there are a few people who create their own commentaries to be run while you simultaneously watch the film so I thought maybe I could try that for a blog entry. So here, with very little editing as I couldn’t remember Kristoff’s name and called him ‘THE BOY’ throughout, are my typed observations on a second watching of Frozen. I include where certain deleted scenes would have been so you can get a better idea of where the story changed over the production time but obviously it can never be 100% accurate.


Vuelie (The opening chanting) – sounds quite African/Native American in rhythm but presumably is Scandinavian… it doesn’t fit with the music of the rest of the film and only reoccurs when Elsa’s magic recedes. Is it to act as a bookend indicating ‘the magic has arrived’ and ‘the magic is fading’? A bit of research and the answer is: “Vuelie” is the opening music inspired by indigenous Saami and Scandinavian culture written and composed by Norwegian composer Frode Fjellheim. The song is a combination of Saami yoiking and the Danish Christmas hymn “Dejlig er jorden” (“Fairest Lord Jesus”) composed by Frode Fjellheim. The original hymn is composed by the Danish composer B.S. Ingemann. It appears to be the only lingering openly-Christian element of the film, as other Christian imagery (such as the crosses on the Bishop’s mitre and Elsa’s scepter and crucifer and the banner of Joan of Arc) was removed.

Frozen heart’ song – it reminds me of the music from ‘Paint Your Wagon’ manly men singing musical numbers in chorus as they do hard labour. We are introduced to Kristoff as a little boy and Sven the littlest reindeer. It occurs to me on a second viewing that we see him here with a number of men, as if brought to work by his father, but why is he later alone and raised by trolls if he had a community here? It feels like there is a plot hole here that is never addressed. Potentially Disney wants to leave such a thing in case they need an excuse to make a sequel since the main narrative is resolved except for the origins of Elsa’s powers. Perhaps then Kristoff’s search for his real parents, if he is not implied to be an orphan though I saw no evidence of this, could be the third of a trilogy if they ever chose to go down such a route? It would however paint the trolls as negative figures rather than the cute, if pushy, figures we meet in the ‘Fixer-upper’ song if they ever addressed this. For all we know there was a cut sequence where Kristoff also loses his parents but having two parent loss sequences within the space of 10 minutes was deemed far too dark a tone to establish. At least the song serves the role of an overture to introducing the tone of the film and concept of a frozen heart.

What is the age difference between the sisters? Elsa seems larger than Anna when little so perhaps 1 to 2 years? The deleted song ‘We Know Better’ suggests maybe 3 to 4 years. This song would have been effective in establishing how close the sisters are but it seems tonally out of place with the scenes that would have surrounded it of gruff ice cutters and the parents’ death and the sisters’ remorse. A shame as it is a very nice song. Potentially it could have served to make the ‘injury’ scene a bit more tragic and impactful but the start of the film isn’t too badly affected by its omission however the reference to doing things together later would in itself have really established the message of the story’s narrative where they overcome their differences and achieve this in the end. If anything it makes Elsa more sympathetic as we see how much she dotingly adores Anna and how upset she is by hurting her and how great a divide is created between them by the time of ‘Do You Want To Build A Snowman’.

Where Elsa’s magic comes from is never discussed unless you watch the television series ‘Once Upon A Time’ where the central characters guest star. However I have not seen that part of the series myself and cannot comment on the quality of the storyline and only saw a brief synopsis of it involving an aunt with the same powers who was an ‘evil snow queen’ more in line with Hans Christian Andersen’s original character. Is that story line considered in canon with the film’s universe then? It at least could justify why we only see or hear the father being the one to condemn the magic while his wife… I am not sure if she has any lines of dialogue or if she does they are inconsequential but she does not challenge his decisions openly.

Troll prologue sequence – The film would have been better served not having this aspect revealed until much later when we meet the trolls again and so maintain a mystery regarding Elsa’s flashbacks and how things became as they are. It serves to comfort a first viewing audience but then dilutes the narrative in doing so by over explaining the situation. We do not learn alongside Anna, who is the focal protagonist, but are already established to understand things now from Elsa’s perspective all too easily. Had they just introduced that Elsa had powers and had hit Anna by accident, explaining her repression, especially after it being one of the last requests by her parents prior to their untimely death, then skipping to the ‘Do You Want To Build A Snowman’ song sequence the narrative would be more compelling. We would be lead to assume that Elsa chose to isolate herself without reason thus ‘freezing her heart’ by not letting her sister in but due to the prologue we know of the amnesia and more importantly the reason for Elsa’s self imposed isolation which instead of being cold is in a sense an act of self-sacrifice to protect her sister from her though it hurts them both. The troll woman says she will keep Kristoff and Sven – so they were kidnapped from the previously established community but this aspect is never addressed! As I mentioned this is something never really addressed nor justified and is a dark undertone regarding the otherwise comical trolls. There is a nice moment where they introduce the ‘proto-Olaf’ and I wonder if his original design was more in line with this version. As is common in such films due to miscommunication certain things are misunderstood. If Grand Pabbie explained himself properly the film wouldn’t occur as Elsa would embrace her powers immediately and learn to work with them. The old troll just needed to say ‘embrace your powers’ but no instead he words it in such a way the parents misinterpret it. And it seems to be the father making the decisions and wanting it hidden… I do question, with the addition of the ‘Once Upon A Time’ story arc if there were any previous plans to establish the origins of Elsa’s powers? In the later story it is established it comes from the mother’s bloodline but at no point do we see any hint of her being involved in the decision. Ultimately patriarchy still reigns though the film has been marketed as a more feminine orientated film.

Do You Want To Build A Snowman’ – This song sequence is very effective in setting up the dynamic between the sisters but unfortunately what we are presented with here and the coronation scene immediately after creates a contrast in our perceptions of what the sisters relationship actually is. At the coronation as we then get the impression Elsa hasn’t been completely isolated but watching this song sequence implies she remained completely isolated for the next 3 years before the coronation similar to Beast in ‘Beauty and the Beast’ keeping one wing of the castle for himself to be isolated and telling Belle never to enter (which inevitably she does). The coronation implies they do spend some time together as they are not completely formal when speaking with each other, uncomfortable certainly, but not formal. The parents’ death is well done in the nonverbal style seen most memorably in Pixar’s ‘Up‘, during the setup of Carl’s life story with his wife prior to her death, before the current day events of the film. Personally to me this is the strongest song of the film as we are told so much of the characters’ relationship in so brief a time and that there is a mutual affection shaded by Elsa’s sense of guilt which Anna is not aware of. The visuals also strongly enforce the narrative as, although Anna is upbeat and extrovert, we see her running around empty hallways seeking any companionship, even paintings, to pass the time when in other scenes we see a number of servants around populating the palace. In the closing moments of this sequence we see the sisters on either side of the closed door mirroring each other to indicate that they are in the same situation. The staging non-verbally illustrates Elsa reflecting her sister’s desire to be together but the barrier, represented by the opaque door, remains in place though Elsa could remove it if she desired to. More so the final image, Elsa curled up by the door, subtly indicates to the audience that she is introverted and restraining herself there are snowflakes drifting in the air just as when she later loses control of her emotions her powers act out on her behalf and immediately it fades into Anna sat in the exact same position but not hiding herself by curling up thus reinforcing that she is the open, more extrovert, sister. Also as it fades from Anna at the funeral between the gravestone monoliths to her walking down the halfway to Elsa’s door it is again non-verbally enforced she is the protagonist more so that her sister (who originally was the be the villain until decisions during the production process). Elsa is not present at the funeral which we can justify in the narrative as ‘she was in too much grief for a public appearance’ though we are aware of the more likely reason as this is defintely a point where off screen she woud be unable to control her powers, and we only see a glimpse of what her room looks like during this time at the end of the song, but it feels as though we should be accepting that this isolation exists for the next 3 years in the story but this doesn’t appear the case in the next part.

Spring Pageant (Deleted Song) –  In early versions the writer’s intended there to be a prophecy where the kingdom would be brought down by someone with Ice magic. I presume that the film would then frame much of Weselton’s comments about sorcery and monster within this frame work by claiming Elsa is the realisation of this come to pass. There is a song where a teacher and his class would be performing the ‘Spring Pageant’ song detailing to the audience what the prophecy is. From the end of the track it suggests this takes place just before the ballroom scene as they refer to ‘Queen Elsa’. Potentially it could have opened the film instead of the ‘Frozen Heart’ song as I think it would fit in with ‘Vuelie’. Tonally it has a more traditional part in the middle and would have eased the audience into why her parents and people react to Elsa’s powers the way they do with terms like sorceress and monster being declared at her coronation.

3 Years Later – We assume Elsa was in complete isolation due to the closing imagery of the previous scene of her sat alone behind a closed door in a darkened room but the dialogue during coronation ball implies they have spent time together at some point. What sort of interaction did they have during this time? There was a deleted scene involving Anna borrowing a dress from Elsa and I think it would have helped the audience better understand them as it was a lighter scene with the two prior to the coronation showing their siblinghood but reiterating how they contrast with Anna acting before thinking and Elsa being overly restrained but interacting stoically with her sister after time has passed from the shock of their parents’ death. We see Sven and Kristoff in town sharing a carrot and selling ice. I do question how he could have been raised by the trolls yet somehow has a job as an ice carver. There is a brief moment involving a man named Percy and a girl, or his wife, bothering him about his hat. They never appear again and it just seems random and unnecessary to introduce characters who, unless used in crowd scenes, play no other role in the film. Perhaps at one point they were meant to be part of the palace community scenes but were cut? Weselton as soon as he walks on screen is talking out loud about his intentions and I found that unnecessarily heavy handed informing to the audience even in a children’s film. They could have had something like the servant announcing his arrival and him being pompous, as he is in the ballroom scene, to indicate him in a negative light as a figure of ridicule. Anna having ‘bed head’ is funny and a good contrasting of her ‘wild’ personality compared to her sisters pristine appearance. It feels like this is the sort of Anna they initially were really going to go for but in time toned her physicality down though we still get glimpses of it through the film when she sings ‘For The First Time In Forever‘ and later tries to climb a cliff face without equipment.

For The First Time In Forever’ – Another good sequence and very traditionally ‘Disney’ in style with musical flourishes. Usually this sort sequence is seen far later in Disney films so it is interesting how they mix up their own usual narrative progression by having the song much earlier in the running time. Little ducks instead of he expected songbirds we would expect to see with many Disney princesses when singing in other features to reiterate that they are a ‘friend to all living things’. The sequence as a whole shows how Anna feels restrained in her position as a princess but while girly as a princess is still very much a tomboy by nature while Elsa is willingly restrained and more mature if not womanly in her conduct both demurely early on and later on more provocatively in her attire. The juxtaposing in front of the paintings is a very nice moment illustrating Anna’s flights of fantasy to fill the days and prepares the audience for her all too quick acceptance of Hans‘ proposal as an extension of her thought process being based on romanticised notions of love. The deleted scene where Anna chases a pig, while helping to further contrast the sisters I believe was a good decision to remove as it adds nothing to the narrative which hasn’t already been demonstrated otherwise.

If anything it makes her come across as a menace to the townsfolk. The refrains of ‘Let It Go’ are good foreshadowing when we see Elsa stood alone in her room already dressed in her coronation robes waiting for the event to begin. Then it gets a bit Broadway in the ‘open up the gates’ duet moment. This sequence finishes with Hans‘ horse bumping into Anna.

I think ‘More Than The Spare’ was at some point the song meant to be at this section and ‘For The First Time In Forever’ is a far more fitting song as the spare one makes Anna a far more downbeat character than she should be when contrasting Elsa. I wonder how it would be introduced had it been included. It suggests someone called her the spare, most likely Weselton, but the butler who seems to be present in many key scenes yet has no dialogue may have at some point been the one saying it in passing to another servant unaware Anna was listening to them. It actually helps to reiterate that Anna is still as isolated as she was as a child but now can recognise it instead of making friends with the paintings. She refers to Elsa as ‘the scholar, athlete, poet,’ but at the very least athlete would be questionable and in fact conflict with the impression we have of Anna as the ‘extrovert’ sister who we see so physically active throughout the film. Of course you could read it as her displaying self-doubt by considering herself ‘the screw-up’ thus reflecting that despite their differences the sisters have common ground in their vulnerability and low self-opinion (which Anna later attempts to resolve by accepting Hans’ proposal. It has a negative defeatist kind of tone though it is meant to be uplifting in its message. She is dreaming of being better but suggests she is completely out of touch with reality (which could be quite realistic really as without the pig chasing scene there is no indication she has ever left the palace grounds) which would aid in understanding her sudden acceptance of an idealised romantic engagement but makes the audience all too aware of how dangerously naive she is to go after her sister later rather than it seeming heroic. Overall has a unfortunate negative implication of the message the song sends to children by saying ‘it’s okay to not be the best’ which would be a fair message, as seen at the end of Monsters University, except the song follows this with the implication that ‘there is nothing you can change about being the useless spare in the lives of others so just accept your place in life’. It has her question her own metaphor changing from a button to a horseshoe. Had it been included the interpretation of Hans saying ‘Sandwich’ during their duet later would not be deemed foreshadowing of him not being as synchronised with Anna as he wants her to believe and having ulterior motives. Personally I always found that a bit of a stretch in interpreting the line in the song but as I later state there is no other real foreshadowing of his true intentions before te reveal.

Citron (Hans’ horse) bumping Anna and boat tipping moment – A sudden intro of the faux love interest Hans… I actually prefer this new idea of naming the princes unlike the generic Charming, etc, in the older films. Those princes were stock narrative conventions with no personality while many of the recent ones are decent characters in their own right with Flynn/Eugene in Tangled being a great example so perhaps was seen at the time as quite jarring due to how comedy orientated he seemed compared to previous Disney leading men like Aladdin who left comedy exclusively to the sidekicks. Anna falling so quickly actually is in character for her in all version and again contrasts Elsa’s more cautious, glacial, approach to life. The dropped in the water moment while funny jars with the reveal later but does set the audience on the wrong path as villains rarely have such moments in Disney films, although in Robin Hood they were quite comical figures, so no doubt was intentional.

The Coronation – “The gloves” the minster utters insisting she takes them off but why is that a thing? I have seen rulers wearing gloves doing this? But for the sake of the film it is inevitable as a demonstration of how focused Elsa is on controlling herself and a bit of tension to foreshadow how stress causes Elsa to be unable to control her powers. I do wonder how the gloves actually help to stop it. I assume it’s actually more of a placebo effect and she could easily use her powers anyway as she does later when breaking out of imprisonment. The Old Norse chanting again feels a bit out of place as we get so little Scandinavian aspects to the film though it obviously has the overall setting of this region. I would assume the coronation induction to be conducted in Latin but that is from my own bias regarding how things are conducted for the British royal family.

The Ballroom – Why introduce Anna as well at her sister’s coronation? Presumably she would have been up there already or not as they would have practised this moment or at least discussed it. It seems to be here to except to allow them to be stood next to each other and let the audience see them interact. I again think it would be better to clarify if they had spent time together or to indicate if they remained completely separated as ‘Do You Want To Build A Snowman’ suggested the latter was the case.

Weselton’s Dance Request – I remember a one shot character once in the 1980-90s Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles animated series who had the same ‘my name is not pronounced Weasel’ characterisation… the same joke is apparently fair game 20 years later. Why does he do martial arts poses? The dancing while funny reminds me of Mr William Collins from Pride and Prejudice due to the pomposity and self-aggrandising. He is clearly not to be considered a ‘man’ in the films sense of design as not only does he have an immense comb-over covering his bald spot, which flaps when he dances, but apart from Percy (he of passing the screen with a hat concerned wife/girl) all the prominent men in the film are tall and broad shouldered. Hans changed clothes which is realistic compared to other times I have seen humour points like the boat spill where the character later appears in the same clothes (though admittedly you could argue the first set were his travelling clothes and these are his ballroom clothes). They get a surprising amount of space in the dance floor to further instil in the audience their being the focus of the moment. Anna being so quick to fall for him at least seems set up well with how absorbed in romanticised fantasy she is. This entire ‘courtship’ is well done and in accord with the similar scenes in previous classic Disney fare. Apparently the creators believed it would ‘set off alarm bells’ that this sequence occurs so early in the movie. Although Elsa was the original villain for the film as we all know the creators had a change of heart. What I find difficult to figure out though is how we were to have the following sequence and such unless Hans was initially meant to be sincere during these sequences. The creators later say that when he kisses her it doesn’t work as he only ‘likes’ her and it is not true love but I find Hans a difficult character to have in the film with this knowledge and sadly poorly implemented due to it despite the good set pieces he has throughout the film as you have to read along the lines and the lines even when you are aware of them are very weak in their suggestion of his motives. If anything is revealed then later repeated during his villain reveal it is quickly skimmed over so even now I don’t take it in and doubt a first time viewer would either.

You’re You (Deleted Song) – Originally there was a song ‘You’re You’ which is more whimsical that the eventual one used. He doesn’t let Anna get a word in and this would work better for ‘villain’ Hans as he is forcing his statement on her. Although I do not know what the imagery would be accompanying the song if it were in the film but he is serenading her in an overly complimenting saccharine way which with her naivety would work on her.

Love Is An Open Door – In the actual film we get ‘Love Is An Open Door’. The ‘sandwiches’ moment I suppose is meant to indicate they are not as ‘on the same page’ as we are otherwise led to believe but the reveal later is still too arbitrary to consider this foreshadowing of any ill intent by Hans in the finale version of the film. In the earlier ‘he just likes her’ version of the character this would indicate they are not a perfect match but he does like her and would have been a nicer moment rather than the unfortunately darker tone people have associated with a single slip up by the character saying the word sandwiches in the song. The lighthouse reminds me of ‘A Monster In Paris’ which bothers me a bit. Did they rip it off? Though of course AMIP may have been referencing something itself so I don’t think it is a directly intentional parallel.

Anna is very much in the mould of a ‘Disney’ princess so I can see how given the earlier placing of this event in the narrative compared to previous Disney films Elsa is sided with much more easily by the audience. Ironically, in hindsight, we are meant to deem this same rapid pace of relationship development, in the classic films, where this ‘meet, propose, marriage’ sequence occurs in the last ten minutes of the classics as romantic. The exchange involving the question ‘what do you know of true love’ should have had more emphasis considering the denouement later in the film regarding what is true love. This argument is very effective in portraying Elsa’s discomfort and restrained emotions, including the anger shown here, in contrast to Anna’s ‘act/speak before you think’ mentality.

Weselton – what does he hope to gain casting judgement on his trade partner so quickly? This seems a holdover from the earlier drafts involving a prophecy but in the actual film’s context makes him seem like he over reacts with such terms rather than just shock or awe as most of the supporting cast react with. And why does he wish to stop/kill her instantly? Going as far as calling her a sorcerer/monster? His men are in the colour coding black and red of ‘bad guys’ through most visual media but in truth the film’s creators seems to have at some point had difficulty as without Elsa as the villain they felt obligated to provide one. Certainly Weselton fits the mould of many secondary villains as being diminutive as arrogant while a figure of farce but otherwise it feels forced. His henchmen are in a position where they are no bigger nor intimidating than many of the other men in the film so they almost seem little more than filler roles so that we do not see depictions of Elsa’s own soldiers from Arendelle attacking her since they offer no distinctly villainous actions otherwise.

The running across the water sequence with no one able to follow is very well done and visually impressive cinematography wise. It is unfortunately at this point I think the film suddenly loses its pace and structure rapidly which is ironic as its when Elsa is about to cast everything into a severe winter. If anything they fit so much of the core narrative into this opening part of the film it feels glacial for a lot of the film afterwards until the climax. There is almost a sense of narrative burnout having covered so much ground in the story so far when much of it should have been perhaps the first half, if not three quarters, of the film.

Watching a second time – at what point are we meant to guess Hans has ulterior motives? Why lead the people in Arendelle in making sure they are protected from the sudden severe cold? Why go after Anna later? Why go ahead of the other soldiers and confront Elsa? His plan, as far as it is explained later, was more or less set to gradually succeed had he just sat back at this point and let one or the other of the sisters return. Admittedly Elsa could have potentially returned but when confronting her he had the perfect chance to eliminate her from the equation. I suppose he took her back for the drama and to be heralded a hero by punching her but again this is all aspects of his character the audience have to assume by themselves with no true foreshadowing.

Let It Go’ – Personally there is something off about the song. Initially it was meant to be a villain song and there are certain notes or cords that seem forced and at least one high note I found unpleasing. How would this have been a villain’s song when Idena Menzel first sang it? I assume the lyrics were rewritten and the tempo altered but that is all guess work. Oh she makes Olaf! It was a throw away moment but at least the creation isn’t off screen. The particle effects for the snow are excellent. I do question how she becomes so happy though. She just left behind everything she cared and sacrificed her own happiness for. This wouldn’t be a moment for thinking ‘I’m free to do as I please’ as much, according to how she has been portrayed so far, as ‘I am alone/isolated now but unable to harm others’. If anything I think this is the point the film begins to fail. For someone so dedicated to duty she just abandons it all too easily. The dress… doesn’t make internal logic to the aesthetic of the film’s setting. The sequence is a big lipped alligator moment I feel just to justify some impressive visuals and the style change of Elsa from restrained heir to sultry singing sorceress. Although it could be interpreted that without obligations Elsa is carefree to the point of ignoring her surrounding environment (or in this case the potential effect of her magic on Arendelle without her holding back) like Anna in a way. I learnt of the animator’s short cut of letting her braid pass through her left shoulder but now I know that is all I can focus on in that moment of the scene. It would have been better not to announce that even if it was interesting to know because I would like to see what the problem would have looked like when they state the braid would have crumpled like paper if they didn’t allow it to clip through her shoulder.

Anna Gives Chase – She rushes off without provisions. It’s in character but it seems the ‘cold doesn’t bother her’ either then or she is too focused to let it… which reflects Elsa’s focus in restraining her powers earlier in the film. What does Anna know of tropical things when she asks why Elsa couldn’t have had tropical powers? She doesn’t seem the sort to read, etc and wouldn’t have gone travelling to know of such things nor does she associate with anyone to be informed as far as we are aware as an audience. The dress freezes over which is funny though forcing her to have a costume change like Elsa but, in this repeated mirroring of the sisters, the new outfit is more reserved than anything she has wore previously.

Oaken’s – this scene seems randomly inserted to break up the mountain climb although it explains where Anna gets winter clothes during summertime when the film is set. Is Oaken a bit of a… caricature of Scandinavians? And his family populate the sauna… which came across a bit creepy a visual though it wasn’t intended to be. After all we don’t see the rest of the building but it sort of suggests they spend all their time in there as the building, from the front, doesn’t seem large enough for everyone to have their own room. Kristoff is introduced to Anna as surly but we have met him a few times now where he was shown to be carefree and joking around with Sven. So again, like the earlier troll sequence, less would have been more if they had chosen to omit his earlier appearances giving the audience more information than we need. Why does Sven act like a dog? I noticed that in other films aimed at kids and it seems a bad idea to give kids as they will assume all animals are approachable. It was a nice moment showing that Oaken is a man of his surroundings, who lives nowhere near people (though with his family who are all stuffed in a small sauna room) in the mountains, stands up and is a mountain of a guy thus indicating that the informal ‘yoo hoo’ welcome was him being friendly to customers, who themselves are obviously not in company, but Kristoff crossed a line in his behaviour. I like the Oaken character as he seems one of the few characters to reflect the concept of family and kindness without judgement in the film but otherwise is an easily ignored figure. I imagine if Disney ever expanded on Frozen he and his family might reappear but then I grew up watching all the Saturday morning cartoons like Aladdin where they did expanded universes for the characters. Oddly I feel the deleted scene of meeting Kristoff, perhaps set prior to Oaken’s, would have been an interesting alternative and gives a more world weary looking Sven which I would have lied to see but the one in the film gives a greater immediacy of why Anna would ally herself with Kristoff… though from that clip having a ‘I don’t care’ version of Sven with weary eyes would have been nicer compared to the ‘all animals are dogs’ version in the film proper.

Reindeer Are Better Than People’ song – This song seems to be much overlooked. Admittedly we have the acoustic version here which lasts only a minute but there was initially meant to be a longer remix version which would play over the start of the credits but… I guess they ran out of time or the actor had a schedule clash which they themselves admit was a shame.

It is a private moment between Kristoff and Sven to show their friendship and seems often forgotten when people talk of the songs from the film. I like the little interaction between him and Anna trying to seem more a capable than he is and demonstrating a bit of princess like arrogance which we don’t see otherwise further endorsing how sheltered her life is despite her being presented as the more outgoing sister. His attitude to caring for the sled, and spitting on it to shine it, is true to someone with his line of work relying on it and spending little, if any time, with other people. The interaction discussing the marriage arrangement is nice and showing Disney again acknowledging how unreal the agreement was thus knowingly acknowledging the fantastical romanticised view of love they have often portrayed in their films. My issue is he asks questions regarding how well she and Hans know each other but I doubt she knows these things about him either at the end of the film either when they kiss. Then follows a bit of a slap, slap, kiss sequence very reminiscent of 1980s films like ‘Romancing The Stone’ or the Indiana Jones film series where the protagonist and the leading lady start of in conflict before being drawn to each other romantically by facing dire situations together.

The Wolves – I wish they were a bit more of a recurring threat later on considering how much time is spent in the mountains. They could even be used to show Hans as ruthless should he have killed them in a later scene rather than only seeing them attacked in self-defence when fleeing as is the case with Kristoff and Anna. Anna’s endangering actions throwing a flaming barrel and leaping a gorge without hesitation further cement that she is a person of action not thought. Oddly I feel perhaps if she had caused Elsa to initially use her magic on purpose and cause the frozen head sequence at the start, rather than Elsa being distressed by Anna endangering herself thus becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy, it would have made more sense in regards to what later follows where in the available versions Elsa knows she has struck Anna in the heart but still forces her away (which I will further discuss at that scene). Talking for Sven… it’s a bit odd but a character trait and I can’t remember if Flynn/Eugene did the same with the animals in ‘Tangled’. It works however and is one of the things I really enjoyed in the film when it occurred as Sven made the appropriate facial gestures so for all we know the things Kristoff were saying actually were his friend’s thoughts. I assume it’s done as we move away from speaking animals in recent films but does give a sense of how lonely and a bit ‘off’ the leading men are when it is meant as an endearing character trait.

Olaf Appears – The scenery is excellent with blue and purple hues to pick out the detail of the landscape. Olaf… why has he just wandered so far from the palace? Elsa consciously made him so it seems maybe in an earlier draft he was the comedy relief sidekick to the villain like Iago for Jafar in Aladdin or the hyenas to Scar in The Lion King previously just to mention two examples. I feel sorry for any kids ever trying to make him as his head defies gravity… and no doubt someone will have made the terrible joke about ‘defying gravity’ in regards to Idena Menzel’s most famous role in ‘Wicked’…

In Summer: very nice funny song showing his naivety but Olaf does seem redundant a lot of the time later and even ruins the impact of certain moments. The seagull tap dance moment is nice. The sauna snowman bit I get the impression was a rejected design for Olaf as we see no other snowmen except Marshmallow the snow golem who no doubt is a holdover from the ‘Evil Elsa’ drafts. The moment when he says ‘and you guys will be there too’ strongly reminds me of ‘By The Sea’ from Tim Burton’s film adaption of Stephen Sondheim‘s musical Sweeney Todd which, intentional or not, I found very funny considering how inappropriate the scenes are in each of the films with Sweeney Todd sullen faced as he is consumed with his desire for revenge and the Frozen character are in full Winter wear on a sunny beach.

Back in ArendelleHans is helping people. Are we meant to be misguided by Weselton’s behaviour? I suppose so as he has the heavily built non speaking henchmen by him at all times but this suggestion of him as the villain of the story still isn’t convincing. The apparent need for a clear but villain is perhaps the weakest aspect of this film by far. You can argue Hans is just trying to give a good impression so people will be on his side later but it still rings false.

Back Walking Across the Mountain – Interesting the stalagmites grow sideways though we are not given the impression that Elsa’s powers acted like an outgoing wave but rather descended onto the land (although admittedly the spreading effect just after the Coronation would suggest they would be facing away from the direction the couple are now walking from. The impalement joke is a bit grim considering the target audience and I can’t help but think it was one of those key points which contributed to the film being a PG rated film unlike many of Disney’s other films. ‘Nobody wants to be alone’ – an interesting view for Anna to express and says more about her than her sister so is a nice subtle character building moment as she won’t let Elsa feel as she did. Anna’s inability to climb is good showing that for all her energy she is still a indoor living, palace based, princess not an outdoorsman. Going back to my previous references to the leading ladies of older action films it is interesting to see that this moment too is a subversion as often we are on the side of the gruff adventurer whose view point we have followed rather than the girl he is helping. ‘I might cry’ Kristoff admits upon seeing the ice palace and Anna replies ‘go on, I won’t judge’ which again was a very good moment of character building and challenging gender stereotypes though admittedly it’s more of a pun playing to gender roles rather than challenging them. Sven on the ice calls back to the first look trailer

Olaf and his ‘why isn’t she knocking’ question ruins the emotional impact of this moment and should have been excised as we are distracted by how Anna is faced again with a closed door by her sister and the likelihood even after her journey it will not be opened to her. The moment goes by so fast without a beat to allow her the trepidation it feels as though the creators did not have confidence that the audience could deal with this brief moment of silence in the film and needed to fill it. Then Kristoff and Olaf begin counting giving Anna time alone although I would have liked it is they had rushed in exactly at the allotted countdown time although it would have rushed Elsa and Anna’s reunion.

In The First Time In Forever [Reprise] / Life’s Too Short (Deleted Song) – This scene I know was heavily altered. There was meant to be a song, ‘Life’s Too Short’, where Anna asks her to put the gloves back on so everything goes back to normal which infuriates Elsa who now feels free and she unintentionally lashes out. if that song, viewable as a deleted scene, had occurred it would have made far more sense showing that Elsa hasn’t rejected everything and does love her sister still but when confronted with being made to hide herself again, by the person she is closest too, feels the utter rejection of her true self she has been unable to express again since childhood. The fact this sequence would have ended with Anna bursting through a shut door rather than knocking would have actually fit thematically with the knocking on the door during ‘Do You Want To Build A Snowman’ as this time she doesn’t knock and wait respecting Elsa’s boundaries and the inevitable, which Elsa had feared for years, finally occurs.

Instead we get ‘For The First Time In Forever (Reprise)’ which suggests Elsa chooses still to be isolated now she is confronted by her sister who in the other version she welcomed. Being isolated is her area of comfort which sends a sign to the audience that ‘Let It Go’ wasn’t as much about letting go of the pressures she had placed on herself as isolating herself even further than ever before as she thinks, wrongly, this is what will make everyone happy due to the outbursts by Weselton. Anna displaying she is there for her sister (which works for the act of true love scene later). It is meant to make her a tragic figure but the gestures of the character and tone of the music unfortunately disguises this. I could imagine the line ‘… go enjoy the sun and open up the gates’ being said far more spitefully as though Anna had always gone on about these things previously to the point of ignoring the torment her sister was going through for her sake. It could easily have been done in this manner to make Elsa come across a bit more antagonistically without becoming the antagonist as the creators seemed to fear happening once they chose not to make her an outright villain. ‘Stay away and you’ll be safe from me’ is responded to with ‘actually we’re not…’ which I could easily see being a kicking off point causing Elsa to lose control as Anna just, unintentionally, agreed with her self preception as a threat to those around her.

In the following exchange I find Anna acts as expected but not as a person with her experience would. She reassures Elsa that she can control her powers but it seems now she is through the metaphorical door she doesn’t know how to give Elsa emotional space having lived a life where Elsa had remained behind closed doors a number of times. This scene then has Elsa in the foreground and, perhaps just to my ear, being more dominant in the volume of their exchange as though the audience is being subtly told to see things from her perspective. Interestingly Elsa refers to not being able to ‘control the curse’ and while we can see her viewing her powers as a curse I again wonder if this is a holdover from the drafts where there was a prophecy. She tells Anna she will just ‘make it worse’ and I find that this moment is meant to be far more tragic as Elsa now does what she had feared all along for years when hiding herself away. ‘There’s so much to fear’ she declares and looks at her own reflection in the ice which, if they had held on the shot more, would tell the audience that while Elsa is ‘free’ in isolation, so she doesn’t fear hurting people around her in the mountain but she is not truly free as, in fact, she is just running away from her responsibilities which isn’t the same thing. In this moment she now confronts this seeing her own reflection and cannot accept the schism between the two versions of herself. This inner conflict, as previously demonstrated, is visually shown by snowflakes but unlike ‘Do You Want To Build A Snowman’ where it was only a few easily ignored flakes in is now a full blown flurry which keeps Anna at bay despite her sister’s efforts to approach her. Thus we also are shown again how Elsa throughout the film is allowing her powers to be a barrier between them. Losing control she hits Anna in the heart. I find the next moment perhaps the second worse point in the film’s narrative direction besides Hans‘ villainous reveal.

Elsa knows, both in the final and the deleted versions of this moment, she has struck Anna but, instead of acknowledging the moment she has spent years dwelling on in fear has now come to pass and go to the trolls again, she acts in an odd mix of fear and anger which doesn’t ring true of the character. The expulsion of her injured sister becomes such a false moment in the film. If she remained true to what we have previously been shown she would place Anna‘s safety above her own and go to the trolls which could have been done by having Hans and Weselton‘s men leading a whipped up crowd after her or something to that effect. I find that perhaps due to them not wanting Elsa to be a villain in anyway whatsoever they actually harm the narrative. However I concede the build up with the snow storm flurry was very effective but then the castle begins to crumble which doesn’t make sense. During Elsa’s emotional distress before we have seen her powers increase not diminish. It could be inferred that on some level that the palace beginning to crack represents Elsa’s inner turmoil and on some level she acknowledges she injured her sister and her love for her is weakening her powers but as the finale has the Arendelle’s snow lift in the air prettily and not shattering it is hard to really infer what this single moment of cracking ice, which is coloured quite darkly in contrast to the rest of the structure, is mean to confer to the audience. After all cracking ice is a destructive process not reflected elsewhere with Elsa’s powers. Had the surface of the fjord/marina begun to crack when Elsa later shows sorrow at least there would be consitancy as we could associate cracking with the negative emotional reaction her powers display but this doesn’t happen. I think again this could be a holdover from a previous version where Elsa perhaps did have shattering ice as a part of her powers but the closest we get to this is Marshmallow the ice golem who arises in this scene and also seems out of place in the films tone. To me he/she is another hold over but I am certain this comes from the ‘raising an army’ moment of the evil version of Elsa.

I have to assume they had put too much effort into the ice golem creation process and needed to use it somewhere but it still comes across as out of place in the film. The closest imagery we get of Elsa’s powers being evil is when the ice of the fountains in Arendelle’s palace freeze in a batwing like shape (which during my first viewing I thought looked like ice dragon heads), the horizontal stalagmites, the cracking of the palace and Marshmallow’s fingers and back spikes. Though the snowball moment of defiance by Anna is funny and again reinforces that Anna often acts before thinking. If anything it seems a very childish sibling act of rebellion so feeds further into how perhaps Anna has reacted to Elsa’s inability to interact with her before.

The snow anchor scene – While Kristoff says it is like landing on a pillow I appreciate they can not just have the characters leap off a cliff for fear people start linking children doing the same with seeing it done in the film. Sadly that’s a sign of modern times that everything has to be overthought and so we have terms like ‘may contain mild peril’ which previous generations just accepted as an event in narrative progression. The sequence of Marshmallow pulling them up in order to tell them to leave just seems pointless. It wasn’t even in the trailers to give a false impression of danger so it is completely unnecessary as they were already running away. I do note that, unlike Olaf, Marshmallow has ice in his/her structure as part of the fingers so again it makes me believe the design is a remnant of a more violence orientated version of Elsa.

Kristoff I should address never really comes across as a love interest despite the closing scene. He is always there to help and the film seems to be heavy handed later on in inferring he is a romantic lead but everything leading to that point really doesn’t confirm it to the audience… but I will address that later. Olaf saying he doesn’t have a skull or bones – was that meant to be funny? It’s stating a fact in a very flat way and contributes nothing to the scene. Olaf works as a representation of Elsa’s remaining affinity with Anna but much of the dialogue given to him negatively affects the narrative except for the fire side scene.

Anna’s hair turns distinctly white in one section Olaf dulls the moment indicating Kristoff hesitated when addressing this. Olaf seems to be there to fill gaps of dramatic tension and for an older viewer it ruins quieter moments of drama though I understand children need to be introduced to these concepts so noting it helps educate them in the aspects of narrative e.g. a hesitation demonstrates the speaker isn’t necessarily telling the truth. Kristoff advises Anna where to speak but we would expect a romantic lead to be more tactile and protective during this scene. Also I would assume the steam would negatively affect Olaf here.

Kristoff and the trolls – again was he kidnapped? It is never addressed but that’s the reading I have as he was amongst the ice cutters at the start, presumably as someone’s son, but then only calls the trolls family. The declaration by Olaf that ‘[Kristoff]’s crazy’ would be illustrated by Anna’s actions alone and Olaf seems to be there to underline and make explicit these moments so for once I understand the issues people have with sidekick characters when I have usually been happy to justify them for one reason or another before. The troll saying ‘take you clothes off….’ While a throwaway line gives unnecessary implications and raises a number of questions about Kristoff’s upbringing. So he never wore clothes growing up? Where did they get his clothes? He has the ones seen around the point of ‘In The First Time In Forever’ in Arendelle and his standard outfit seen here. If he was raised by the trolls where did the sled come from? If he was raised by the trolls why doesn’t he seem as comfortable about their opinions in the song as you would assume someone raised with their societal views would be? There is a barrage of stone based puns so obviously they couldn’t decide which was best and just decided to throw them all in.

Fixer Upper – I find this song troublesome although it is meant to tell the audience that the trolls are unlike the society of the human characters. The trolls seem a bit keen to force romance and I get the feeling that in some way they represent the creative team feeling that not only does the film need a villain but also a romance and this is meant to tell us that the trolls, with their insight into magic and being ‘experts in love’ can tell that Kristoff and Anna are meant to be when there have been no real signs of romantic affection only friendship up until now. I think because of the films core message about what true love is this song therefore flies in the face of it and undermines the film when seen as a whole. The song while instrumentally good has lyrics that are worrying like saying his relation with the reindeer is ‘a bit outside nature’s laws’ when it implies to an older audience bestiality. They refer to his isolation but ironically he is perhaps the least isolated of the main cast as he has Sven and the trolls as family who embrace him as soon as he arrives back. However they do mention love and a healing hug so in a way it prepares the audience to accept how Elsa’s crying while hugging Anna in the climax works to undo the effects of the magic. Then they go on to say getting her fiancé out of the way is acceptable as ‘her quote engagement is a flex arrangement’ to which the little one makes a point of indicating there is no ring visible (beneath mittens…) so there are quite materialistic values being portrayed. Then ‘kidnapper’ troll does a mock gospel sequence saying you can’t change people, they don’t really change. People make bad decisions if mad, scared or stressed. They are dropping hints about how to remedy Elsa’s problems but it is hidden behind some quite bluntly anti-social ideas. The cloak and crown look quite Hawaiian or more likely Pagan which would make more sense. Why are they marrying them so quickly? That is worrying in and of itself as earlier we were told not to rush into things by Elsa in Arendelle’s Christian settings (albeit they removed the iconography but the minister and cathedral like settings betray what it was) in contrast with this pagan setting which endorses Anna’s quick to agree to marriage behaviour earlier. That she rejects it perhaps is meant to show personal development by her and a growing understanding of Elsa’s perspective on the matter however she is still engaged with Hans so the point is moot narrative wise.

Then she collapses and Grand Pabbi finally appears with a very serious moment which comes as quite jarring with just 20 seconds ago the hectic sociopathic humour of the other trolls.

They discuss what the act of true love is and Anna’s hair whitens even more. Is Elsa’s hair meant to be white naturally as she is Scandinavian or is it an effect of the ice magic as neither of the parents were fair haired. Olaf again seems excess to requirements here asking who Hans is though, for him, it would be a valid question. I hope someone didnt think this would make the audience question who Hans really is and his true intentions. I think that would be expecting a bit too much of the audience to do for a children’s film without decent foreshadowing.

Hans gives chase / Elsa imprisoned – Why does Hans go after her himself if he has no affection for her and just wishes to claim the throne? Perhaps to cover his own back so had she nor Elsa survive to claim they had shared their oaths, as he later does, but all this is just an assumption to fill a plot hole. He most likely went to make a good impression on the others so they would elect him ruler in lieu of there being any remaining heirs to the throne. Why ask for no harm to the queen when Weselton and no doubt others have demonised her and are willing to do what is necessary to return things to normal? Again the different drafts seem to have been forced to merge here and there are discrepancies. The action sequence with Elsa portrays her as a cornered animal. She isn’t defenceless and could easily erect more barriers so it seems a needlessly dramatic battle though an impressive sequence nonetheless. If anything she nearly kills the ‘slick back hair’ henchmen as she isn’t fully in control and using is using stalagmite shards to impale him to the wall which we earlier saw to be sharp enough to impale. ‘Don’t be the monster they fear you are’ Hans tells her and if you really want to stretch it you could argue he was making sure she believed all of Arendelle had turned against her when the only person we have seen do this is Weselton. At this point he could, if wanting the throne, have killed her so why take her back? And why are there such unique manacles in the castles basement? It is almost as if they were aware of Elsa’s hand fixation in regards to her powers. A part of me wants to believe these were actually made by her parents (or if you have seen Once Upon A Time some even earlier ancestors dealing with ice powers) with a mind to controlling the ice powers if they could not be controlled otherwise.

I can’t [bring back summer]’ – There should have been some suggestion here. Kristoff carrying Anna back riding Sven seems a moment where he is being demonstrated as the true love interest. This moment is implied to be an act of true love but also it can be seen as just the act of philia, the love of a friend, not ‘true love’ as usually defined by Disney as eros or the romantic love. But of course the creators hope you fall into this trap and assume it is Kristoff (or Hans upon a first viewing) who will save the day. I feel the foreign leaders should have had a little bit more development and I assume there are unseen ideas about more scenes in Arendelle during Anna’s quest which got quickly discarded for time.

True loves kiss’ – In earlier drafts he was going to kiss her and it would not work as her only liked her (philia) but didn’t know her long enough to be familiar with her to be affectionate (storge) nor romantically (eros – as Disney usually depict such kisses) nor unconditionally (agape). If anything in the final version he is in direct contrast to the concept of agape which may have been intentional but too subtle a reference to the 4 loves of Christianity when references have been excised and Disney is an international company appealing to many non-Christians. He only wants her for the condition of ruling over Arendelle through a union with her and even then he would kill her I assume as there is no point to reveal his plan at all during the events of the film if that was his plan. The whole villain monologue scene is just terribly conceived and implemented forcing Hans to act far out of character compared to earlier events. It’s too jarring a change in character with no previous indications of his true intents as I have addressed briefly earlier. If he had been set up better with hints of his intentions this scene is basically a villain’s monologue without the lead up. It could be suggested he has adapted to the situation at hand and is stating his original plan now as he feels things have gone beyond being salvageable but still there is no reason for him to monologue to Anna. Due to the events of the film we would expect him to have taken better advantage by taking defensive actions for the people and not pursued either sister himself. Overall the monologue has been put in to give the film a villain when there was no need. Weselton represents the overtly violent reaction by others Elsa, and her parents, feared regarding her powers. His henchmen act as an extension of this prejudice though they have no lines of dialogue (do they?). Even ignoring that these aspects of the narrative were incorporated from the ‘Elsa is the bad prophecy come to pass’ drafts of the film. There was no real need for a villain and arguably Weselton or one of his henchmen could have been the one to swing the sword at Elsa so Hans just seemed to be selected to send a message that beauty doesn’t equal moral good but that itself fails when everyone is either attractive according to their gender stereotypes of physique or a gonk due to being middle aged, a figure of ridicule or just someone to fill the background in the scene but needing to be differentiated from those around them. The trolls, who are the most questionable, if they are meant to be cute or grotesque but depicted in the films art style, are themselves a sort of moral grey area where they will help without payment but they don’t make their answers clear and seem all too willing to force their own views on others. In short Hans is not so much a villain as a plot device of a figure to demonstrate Anna’s naivety and later be the assigned villain because a mandate apparently demanded there be one in the film.

You would think someone would have challenged the marriage having occurred as there would have had to be witnesses and the minister there. Weselton is well set up to be the one to state his support for Hans claim without being given any proof so in that sense he has been well developed for this moment and to be an accessory to Hans’ scheme. I do question how Elsa escaped as the stonework is presumably built to withstand severe frost. Obviously it was too expensive to do the wall breaking but would have been appropriate as a lead into the next scene.

‘Life’s Too Short (Reprise)’ –  At this point, while Elsa is in the dungeon with the hand manacles on and Anna in front of the fireplace, we were to have ‘Life Too Short (Reprise)’ but I assume as the early song was taken out then so too this had to go which is a shame.

It demonstrates the character development of both sisters and their respect for each other. It shows them acknowledging the others perspective and needs which were denied. This would lead to a slightly stronger impact for the point where Anna sacrifices herself and Elsa embraces her but it is not as severe a loss as some other parts but would have been a good way to reinforce the film’s message of appreciating you siblings. Many of the parts taken out demonstrate more clearly the duality of the sisters and in some additional materials like the ‘A Sister More Like Me’ book still have clear remnants of this version as they were composed prior to the finalised stages of the film’s development.
Kristoff and Sven race back to help – Sven forces Kristoff to go back but I question why did he depart so soon when things had not been resolved? It gives them the chance to show his rushing back to save Anna but nonetheless the scene is questionable even if Kristoff does like the company of other people unless completely necessary when selling his ice as shown in one of the opening scenes. Again the audience has to make assumptions here presumably that he thought everything was fine now and there was no need for him to remain.

 Olaf and Anna at the fireside – representing Elsa’s love for her sister gets his one good scene of dialogue in the film. ‘Some people are worth melting for’ showing not just his alliegence but affection towards the sisters but unlike them he can’t quite bring himself to sacrifice himself which is a nice preparation for younger aundiences to better understand the extent of Anna’s later intended self sacrifice. There is a good PSA about not touching fire here just to make sure little kids are weary of going near open fireplaces. I do wonder, now we see Anna’s hair in its fully white state, if Elsa is meant to be white haired naturally. What is true love is discussed and interesting what they talk about here, though I disagree Kristoff coming back is true love, is not so clear cut an issue here now Disney have subverted their usual ‘true loves kiss solves everything’ tradition. If they had played wanted to play Kristoff rushing back as heroic I again protest that he wouldn’t have left anyway so there must be an omitted moment where he decides he is no longer needed and leaves by himself or is told he is no longer needed by someone (although having an ice cutter when the palace is frozen over would probably be something they would pay over the odds for though he doesn’t have his tools. Why does the ice only now invade the palace interior? Perhaps due to Elsa’s proximity and emotional turmoil though previously it seemed immune to it for the most part? The frozen fjord while nice doesn’t seem a very dramatic location in and of itself except allows for a clear demonstration of the snow effects in their full glory without having to account for walls or other obstacles. If the ice powers are passed down maternally wouldn’t Anna have some resistance even though she doesn;t have these powers? Admittedly without seeing their effect on a non-royal we cannot say if someone else would have automatically become an ice sculpture or not under similar circumstances.

Hans approaching to kill Elsa: this is a good scene but the setup of him as a villain was far too little to be satisfying. So we can assume that when Elsa displays anger or distress she unintentionally generates a snow storm while sorrow induces a stagnant cold seen here and during ‘Do You Want To Build A Snowman’. Where did Hans get the sword? He didn’t have it on him and it would have sunk under the ice if it were in the ford or extremely brittle if it had been sat on a boat all this time. He just gets it from nowhere it seems and it’s a bad moment of non-continuity which can’t be explained away easily.

Act of True Love: The sacrifice is a good moment. Somehow I feel there should have been a few more beats before she began unfreezing but they show everyone, including many secondary characters, in remorse so it does work out but I have found the entire film is slightly too fastly paced so scenes and moments don’t get to ‘breathe’ and have their full impact. The film shows Anna throwing herself selflessly in the way of Hans’ attack as an act of true love as she doesn’t consider her own safety. I feel, and hope, though that the film also has a secondary act of true love displayed by Elsa crying openly thus admitting her sorrow for what has come to pass between them without blaming either herself nor Anna. Then she weakens the moment a bit by repeating the word love over and over as if its a great revelation, which admittedly it probably is to her, until it is a bit too saccharine but it’s that kind of feel good film so I can ignore it. It is however an immense coincidence they are stood on a ship when clearly they were in the middle of open space previously. Until that ship somehow got trapped suddenly under the ice they should all be in the water at this point. They whole fjord/marina sequence seems to have not been staged out well or the omission of things in the landscape was a short cut to get the film out quicker and they would excuse it saying ‘the snowstorm obscured you seeing them’. Then the Vuelie chanting gets a reprise to indicate the magic is fading away from the land. At least they acknowledge Olaf is part of her magic and begins to melt which is the sort of thing I have seen ignored in other works to give a happier ending to everyone. Anna gets to punch Hans, instead of Kristoff or Sven who would be able to get the leverage to knock him overboard. In regards to the diplomatic implications I imagine Weselton must be the ruler of his nation and so inevitably due to his overt behaviour towards Elsa the ceasing of trade with them was inevitable (and the very least he could expect considering he was attempting regicide and an accessory to Hans‘ attempt within a foreign country) but what happened to his henchmen? Maybe I missed them in the background. I wonder what the consequences would be for Hans’ nation as the other diplomats/rulers state his twelve brothers will no doubt have things to say but we know nothing of them. They could very well have directed him towards taking such action as we don’t know their ages nor their statuses. If anything they could be like the princes in Neil Gaiman’s ‘Stardust’ killing each other over the succession.

The sled moment is sweet and funny with Sven’s ‘look at my ride’ posturing but Kristoff is still just a friend from what we have seen and with Elsa’s abilities his job is presumably redundant so the job title is honorary with no real responsibilities. I suppose Anna and he hooking up at the last moment is in line with Disney’s usual quick hook up at the end of the leading man and woman. So did things really change with this film for Disney as people seem to hope? Maybe not but it was a nice gesture to not have the man save the day and at least take a step towards gender equality in some aspects even if they ultimately reinforce others. After all for all Elsa’s power what did she achieve with them and didn’t she follow her father’s decision even after his passing? I do question everyone so suddenly accepting Elsa’s powers, even if she is their queen, and being willing to go skating. What I find awkward is that the palace is set on its own in the marina/fjord which though never addressed seems an odd location for a royal palace. I expected it to be a shoreline docked palace on the edge of a sea trading city similar to say to Novgorod or Cardiff (though the castles are set a bit more inland but for the sake of this film I assumed coastal erosion or the palace was once the medieval dock fortifications and the royals moved in at a later point). This sequence just seems to be there to rap everything up which for a Disney film is excusable though it leaves questions for older viewers such as the origins of Elsa’s powers which would have been addressed in previous drafts via the prophecy no doubt.

The credits were meant to begin with a reprise of the ‘Reindeer Are Better Than People’ song and I honestly feel it would have been a much more fun, upbeat, way to finish the film than the Demi Lovato cover of ‘Let It Go’.

It is an honest shame this didn’t make it into the final version. Especially funny as Kristoff has finally got some people in his life besides Sven and the trolls so he is still clearly a little too close with Sven and would like . It was obviously a joke song as the final line is ‘why didn’t I get a real song?’ although he did get to sing it partially just after being thrown out of Oaken’s. I did find it funny throughout the film when he would speak on Sven’s behalf and the reindeer would make the appropriate facial gestures. It was probably one of the things I found most enjoyable about it and I hope we have more of it in the sequel instead of Olaf who sadly doesn’t really work though he is obviously the more popular mascot.

Post credits sceneMarshmallow the ice golem takes the tiara/crown. It’s a pointless bit of fluff but nice they added it so people didn’t question if s/he ‘died’. Logically when Elsa’s magic receded, including Olaf melting, the same would have happened to Marshmallow although you could argue that the much colder conditions of the mountain meant s/he didn’t melt. I assume it is a male but maybe that was the ‘stinger’ that actually it was female and the tiara/crown made her feel feminine. A nice little clip to send you on your way if you have got used to such end of credit stingers from the Marvel films recently.


The 4 loves are present in the film although Disney chose to excise other Christian aspects of the story:

Storge – fondness through familiarity: Elsa and Anna, Kristoff and Sven, Kristoff and the trolls, Oaken and his family.

Eros – the romantic love: This is how Disney usually defines ‘true love’ so it was refreshing to see and alternative in this film even if they still have Anna and Kristoff pair up at the very end. Anna confuses Hans actions as this, as it is the normal progression for Disney princesses, but only in the closing do we have this when Kristoff and she kiss after time has passed and presumably she has grown to know him better.

Philia – The love between friends: This is the love that Anna and Kristoff have for most of the film and is definitely there between Kristoff and Sven (even if it is commented on a little odd by others). In earlier drafts when Hans was not a villain he would have shown this and so his ‘true loves kiss’ would not have worked because of it unlike for example the versions seen in ‘Snow White’ or ‘Cinderella’.

Agape – Charity or the unconditional love brought forth regardless of circumstances: This we see most evidently when Anna throws herself in front of Hans’ sword as he is about to strike Elsa but it could easily be seen in how far Anna goes to be there for Elsa in earlier parts of the film though Elsa cannot reciprocate. Arguably the same could be said in reverse that Elsa sacrifices her own happiness to protect Anna from her but in doing this we ignore that isolating herself in fact is a selfish act (albeit endorsed by her parents) which denies the love between the sisters. If anything Elsa’s open display of remorse towards what has happened to Anna in the finale shows she has finally ‘let it go’ but now in the true sense as she doesn’t hide herself away from others, as she was doing in the mountain ice palace, but now shows her actual true self (unlike the version of her ‘true self’ she has through self imposed exile isolated on the mountain) and now demonstrates her love for her sister by embracing Anna’s frozen form weeping without concern of what others think.


No doubt there are many mistakes above but this has become quite the rambling essay. I may go back and read over it and edit it a bit better soon but it’s been quite the task to create it in such a brief time.

I may go back and take a better look at how the alternative scenes would have changed the story in any significant way and how I believe they would have been implemented. Certainly I am aware that many of the Christian aspects of Hans Christian Andersen’s original story were removed but we still have the four loves represented as I briefly address above.

Comments, Likes and discussion are welcome.