Gentleman Jack

GentlemanJack-posterThis is another fascinating TV series that I am compelled to introduce to my readership. HBO has finally realized what PBS knew for a long time: well produced costume drama British TV series can be very popular in America too! They are now starting to co-produced Brit TV series in order to bring them over this side of the Atlantic, but their choice of titles is more edgy or controversial than what PBS is doing. And I am very grateful for that.

Gentleman Jack tells the story of Anne Lister, a landowner and industrialist from Halifax, West Yorkshire. She is known for being the first well-documented “modern lesbian”, as she left coded diaries chronicling in details her daily life, including her romantic relationships and the workings of her Shibden Hall estate and business. Set in 1832, the series mostly tells about her venture in coal mining and her relationship with Ann Walker. It started mainly for the challenge of the conquest and partly for financial interest, but she quickly becomes quite fond of the wealthy heiress. First, I was shocked by how she was planning to win her affection, but I quickly realized that if a man would have been doing the same thing it would have appeared totally normal! 

The acting is excellent (Lister is played by Suranne Jones and Walker by Sophie Rundle) and the story (created by Sally Wainwright) is well written and quite funny. The series is interesting not only because it displays the beautiful English countryside and makes us discover the eccentricity, boldness and modernity of Anne Lister, but above all because it opens a window on the way of life of the English country folks and small nobility at a time when everything is about the change. 

Gentleman Jack is an excellent historical drama that deserves your attention. It was well received by the critics (with ratings of 8.0 on IMDb and of 87% / 93% on Rotten Tomatoes). The first eight-episode season just ended, but it is still streaming on HBO. A second season has already been announced. I can’t wait to hear again the ending credits’ catchy tune by O’Hooley & Tidow!stars-4-0

To learn more about this title you can consult the following web sites:

[ GoogleHBOIMDbOfficialWikipedia ]

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Chernobyl

Chernobyl_2019_MiniseriesI really must bring this TV mini-series to your attention. Chernobyl is a superb five-part historical TV drama co-produced by HBO and Sky UK. It is about the events that led to and the aftermath of the nuclear reactor disaster that occurred in north Ukraine on April 26th 1986. The story focuses mostly on the scientist Valery Legasov (played by Jared Harris) who is sent to the site of the disaster, along with the Council of Ministers’ deputy chairman Boris Shcherbina (played by Stellan Skarsgård), to assess the damage and oversee the cleanup effort. Legasov also ask his colleague Ulana Khomyuk to investigate the cause of the reactor explosion. 

The storytelling is surprisingly accurate (although a few facts were tweeked for dramatization purpose). It tells a dark, somber story but, on top of that, the ambiance of the show itself (the sets that look like you were really in the 80s soviet era, the solemn music, the slow pace of the show) create a dark, oppressive (almost horrific) feeling that is quite depressive. However, that’s what makes the show so spot on. 

The accuracy is such that even the selected actors looks like the part (although they are — and speak — mostly British English, but the acting is so good that you don’t really care). The only character that didn’t historically exist was Ulana Khomyuk (played by Emily Watson) which was created as a composite character representing all the scientists that worked along Valery Legasov. They even shot in Ukraine and Lithuania to get the soviet vibe of the location. The last episode concludes with a “where are they now”-style epilogue that explains what happened after and shows real footage of the characters and events (on a backdrop of gloomy Russian chorus). It is really chilling!

It is an incredible miniseries, very well crafted, visually stunning in how everything look so drab and grey, quite compelling and that rings so true. It shows the extent of the human stupidity and the deep flaws of the USSR society and political system. However, the message is also extremely pertinent for today as it poses the question “What is the cost of lies?” (in an obvious reference to the Trump White House)… A must see.

I am not the only one who greatly appreciated this series as it was very well received by the critics (ratings of 9.6 on IMDb and of 96% on Rotten Tomatoes). To learn more about this series you can check the accompanying podcast where screenwriter Craig Mazin discuss the production (available on Youtube, Spotify or Apple) and the series is still available for streaming on HBO.stars-4-5

To learn more about this title you can consult the following web sites:

[ GoogleHBOIMDbWikipedia ]

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Cabinets of curiosities

My nephew, Sébastien, has just started a blog (in French) about how he is building and assembling his own cabinet of curiosities. It is very interesting. He is suggesting lots of crafty and thrifty ways to create such cabinet. I particularly like his entry about old books. He is very creative (he is a writer after all) and has a very strong background in science (molecular biology); he really succeeds to combine both aspects with great ingenuity. With this blog he is sharing his passion for the scientific wonders and natural oddities of the past. I am quite impressed. It is fascinating and I recommend to have a look.

My nephew also reminds us that my great friend Mario Tessier, the venerable and learned scholar known as the “Futurible”, had introduced us to the history of the cabinet of curiosities in one of his famous “Carnets” published in Solaris #191 (p. 111-125). It is quite an edifying article that I encourage you to read if you want to push further your knowledge on this subject.

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Athenian Tetradrachma (5th c. BCE)

I have myself been collecting such curiosities since I am a child. When I settled in my home I placed a glass case in the center of the library room where I gathered a few of those items collected over the years. Unfortunately, for lack of space, it is a small display and most of my collection is still in boxes, spread around the house on top of bookshelves or even (for my most precious items like my Athenian tetradrachma, my Marc Antony or Lucius Verus denarii or my Leo I the Thracian solidus) in a safe. I have already introduced my collection in an entry about old books. However, inspired by my nephew, let me now elaborate a little more about my own cabinet of curiosities.

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Aesope’s Fables [1593]

Of course, most of my collection is articulated around books — mostly old ones. However, as a kid, I started collecting stones, minerals, fossils and coins (very few of those are displayed). At some point, because I was studying the origin of metallurgy in ancient Mesopotamia, I started collecting metal cups (mostly in silver and tin — choose wisely your graal!) and my roman studies prompted me to acquire many greek, roman and byzantine coins. Whenever I can I try to add some antiquities (pseudo or authentic) or pieces of old technology (but those are rare and expensive, so I’ve acquired them so far from family or friends). But I am mostly into old books and metal stuff… Here is the core of my cabinet of curiosities:

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Left side

Top: my collection of cups and (plated) silver plates; note the authentic 4th c. roman terracotta on the left. Bottom: my oldest books (16th-17th c.), some fossils, amethyst and native copper samples, a few coins, more metal cups and some Japanese-style tea cups (on top of a portable Go board).

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My oldest books

Detail of the fossils and old books (Svmma Omnivm Conciliorvm et Pontificvm [1633], Lucien [of Samosata] [1664], Valerius Maximus Factotum ac dictorum memorabilium libri IX [1659], Qvinti Horatii Flacci Poemata [1643], Aesopi Phrygis: Fabulae [1593], and [Iustiniani Augusti] Digestorum sev pandectarum (Pars quarto [liber XX-XXVII]), De Pignoribvs et hypothecis [1581]).

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Right side

More old books (18th-19th c.), metallic gobelets, non-metallic cups (the smallest is in walrus ivory), a pair of small wooden masks of unknown origins (Balinese? Malaysian?), an (half-hidden) incised Malian knife with leather scabbard, some Inuit art, a false skull (an ashtray in pottery) and various mementos.

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On top of the shelves: a metronome, my grandpa’s French horn, an 18th c. tradesman’s balance scale, Chinese art reproductions, fake katanas, an original Rubik’s Cube and an authentic (undated) Chinese ding (ritual bronzes).

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On top of the shelves: a 70s helicopter’s pilot helmet, an (African? Undated) bronze mortar & pestle, a transportable Lumex microscope, an old 1-A Kodak Jr folding camera [1912] and a terrestrial globe (60s or 70s).

I have many more interesting items that I could display. Following my nephew’s example, I will do my best in the future to find clever ways to share them with visitors (and seek to acquire — or make — new ones; although I am far less creative than Sébastien). And you, do you have a cabinet of curiosities?

To be continued?

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