Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Review: The Way We Live Now

My mom bought the Anthony Trollope Collection at Amazon one day that included three miniseries: The Way We Live Now, The Barchester Chronicles, and He Knew He Was Right. We watched The Way We Live Now over a couple of weeks first. It was one... interesting miniseries. Now, how do I define "interesting"? Well, read on and decide for yourself.

Talk arises over London when the mysterious, rich, and very strange Mr. Melmotte (David Suchet) arrives with his wife and daughter. Meanwhile, the Carburies have fallen on hard times: Sir Felix Carbury (Matthew MacFayden), the son of Lady Carbury, a gambler and a ladies man, has spent all of his mother's saved money leaving his mother and sister, Hetta, to dodge creditors. Hetta does not like dodging from creditors, but she obeys her mother. When Sir Felix meets the rich Marie Melmotte (Shirley Henderson), Marie falls in love with Sir Felix, while Sir Felix is only marrying Marie for her money. Lady Carbury wants Hetta to marry her cousin Roger Carbury, who has the Carbury estate and money, but Hetta has fallen in love with Paul Montague, Roger's friend who has a mysterious past. Many Subplots follow in The Way We Live Now.

If I could pick one word to describe most of the characters excepting Hetta and maybe a few others (and that's a big maybe), it would be "weird". I never read the book, but seriously, could they have found weirder actors to play these very bizarre characters? I honestly don't think so. First off, you have Marie Melmotte, who you would think "maybe she's a little shy and awkward, but she might turn out to be a little normal", but then you hear her voice. Out of this woman comes the voice of a very nasal, high pitched child -- the sound did not fit the picture. Melmotte himself was a very wierd character; between his bad table manners, his temper, and how he wormed his way around business, he was just a very odd character. Another character, Paul Montague, I at first thought that he was a somewhat normal character, but then they dug into his past, and let's just say, he's not as innocent as I initially thought. Lady Carbury, again, another weird character. She was a flirt (determined by her behavior and her attire) and was encouraging Sir Felix to marry Marie Melmotte for her money. The list goes on, leaving only a few characters somewhat "normal" and only one that really is "normal".

Hetta Carbury (Paloma Baeza) looking at Sir Felix
and Lady Carbury with disgust.
While most of the characters were very weird, it was still comical; when my mother and I were watching, we had to laugh at the very odd body language that was before us. But at the same time, it was just plain weird

The only one that was truly innocent was Hetta. I would have to say that she must have been the only "normal" character throughout the whole miniseries: she had what I would say "a good head on her shoulders"; as cliched as that sounds, it is true. She didn't have a mysterious past with deep, dark secrets and she had strong morals (and actually stuck to them). She was a breath of normalcy in the midst of all the odd characters that appeared on the screen. It is my opinion that in order to like something, whether it is a book, movie, or television show, there must be at least one character that you like. Here, Hetta fills the requirement: she gives the audience someone to relate to.

As normal for BBC productions, the country side is pretty. In The Way We Live Now, dark colors are utilized in order to highlight the dark overtones of the story. The hallway in the Melmottes' home, though mostly white, still appears to have a dark atmosphere. Melmotte's study in itself was dark, fitting to Melmotte's scheming, dark character. I personally do not care for dark overtones to movies, but I would say that it did fit for this film.

I did like the costuming. The costumes featured bustles, which were popular at the time (in fact, the miniseries is supposed to take place in the 1870's, the first era of bustles). The ladies dresses did fit their personalities: Hetta had dresses that were modest and pretty which fits with her sense of morality; Lady Carbury had more revealing dresses which fits with her flirtation; Mrs. Hurtle, a woman from Paul Montague's past determined to marry Paul and will take revenge if he double crosses her, is dress in dark colors, appropriate for her. So, the costumes were well done.

Overall: 3/5
I did enjoy watching this: the plot was very complex and kept you wanting more, and even though most of the characters were very odd, they did provide some comical moments. However, there are some faults which might not be very easily overlooked. Firstly, I would not recommend showing this to children: there are some adult situations, that, though short, were still enough to make most people (even adults) blush. Another one of the faults was that the three episodes that lead up to the forth/final episode were building up to something big, but then the forth episode came and it was a bit of a let-down and it left you hanging. It almost felt like there should be more of the story, but the writers were either short on time or didn't have enough time to fit everything into the allotted time. Lastly, though the plot was interesting, it was still very complex with a couple of different subplots going on simultaneously with the main plot. This is not something that you can watch while doing something else and understand what's going on. You actually have to sit down without many distractions and watch what is going on in order to understand what is going on.

The Way We Live Now is made up of four one hour and thirty minute episodes. It is available on DVD either on it's own or in The Anthony Trollope Collection with two other miniseries.


  1. Ya David Suchet. He is the same guy who plays Poirot

  2. Nice review, I agree it is a mish mash of unusual actors. Would you mind going into more detail about the mature scenes? Is there plenty of warning so I can have the remote ready to fast forward? I am very curious about the plot but am afraid those scenes will ruin the experience.



  3. Antimacassar,
    It's been a long time since I've seen this, but I think I can remember. If I remember correctly, I think you can see when the scenes are coming. Mostly, I think the mature parts are implied (a scene will imply something has happened, but you don't see a mature scene), but there are a couple of scenes where you might want to skip that are mature. The ones that I remember are: 1. where Sir Felix goes into the forest (the second time, I think) in the first episode 2. Sir Felix upsets a girl at a bar in the last episode and she runs out. Those are the scenes that I can recall. I can't remember any other scenes that are mature. There's also a review blog/website called Charity's Place that lets you know about what mature scenes there are in a movie like this; you may want to also take a look there. Let me know if you have anymore questions that I can help out with. :-)


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