Introducing Petticoats & Poppies: History Girls at the Movies

I'm so thrilled to announce that my friend Maggie and I have just launched a new podcast called Petticoats & Poppies: History Girls at the Movies. On it, we will discuss period dramas from the perspectives of two women who have experience working in both history and film. I'm so excited to be able to share it with you all now and especially to have something that we can create and spread from home, responsibly social distancing during this pandemic. 

Our first episode is called "Emma.: Costume Design and...Butts?" We discuss the new film "Emma." which is based on my favorite Austen novel and how it fares both of an adaptation of a book and as a historical period film.

You can listen now on Spotify and Libsyn and we're coming soon to Apple Podcasts. Make sure to follow us on Twitter and Instagram!

A Love Letter to Amy March (Guest Post by Hannah Ackman)

Back in December on the night that I first saw Greta Gerwig's "Little Women," I wrote a love letter to Jo March. I detailed all the ways in which she had shaped me as a person and how Greta's adaptation perfectly brought her, and all the March sisters, to life. My 16-year-old little sister Hannah has long been a fan and avid defender of Amy March, way before it was cool to love her. She asked if she could write a piece for me to post on this blog about her relationship with Amy March. Of course (because I am part Meg March too), I said yes. 

I grew up being told I was Amy March. While most people would take offense to that, I was thrilled. I don't remember a specific moment that I saw a film of "Little Women" for the first time. I probably watched it long before I could understand half of what was being discussed. It seems it has been a part of me from my first moments. I still find myself in the story, specifically in the character of Amy.

However, in every adaptation I had seen, Amy March is portrayed as a spoiled brat who doesn't deserve anything she gets. She has "a way of getting out of the hard parts of life." Everyone always hates her, but I've never understood that. I saw her as ambitious and charming and, yes, a bit jealous. Growing up with a sister like Jo or Meg isn't easy; I would know. (Nicole is perfect, trust me.)

Even in my childhood, Amy was everything I wanted to be. I understood her frustration with her sisters, especially Jo, and her jealousy. My family couldn't understand it and honestly still can't today. They say burning a manuscript is terribly petty, but it is consistently among my favorite moments from the story in any version. I actively declare Amy as my favorite and it's useless to try and argue with me because it just makes me love her more. (Perhaps, that's another thing that Amy and I have in common.) The more I learned about her, the more I idolized her and the more I realized the faults in the movie adaptations. After all if she's as bad as people think, what does it say about Laurie that he would marry someone like her?

Upon watching the trailer for Greta Gerwig's adaptation, I couldn't believe her view on the story matched mine. I must have replayed it around six times before I had to return to my school day, but I couldn't stop thinking about it. Greta portrays Amy as determined, refined, and perhaps a bit spoiled. I had never related more. Beyond that, Florence Pugh is talented, dramatic, and a little sister herself - making her the perfect fit to portray my beloved Amy March.

I had heard of Saoirse Ronan, Laura Dern, and Timothée Chalamet and already loved Meryl Streep. But brilliant as they all are, it was Florence who I knew from the start was perfect for her role. I couldn't understand why, but I felt secure that I was going to love it.

Months later, the day after Christmas, I finally got to see Greta Gerwig's masterpiece. As predicted, I was stunned by Florence Pugh's performance. She perfectly embodies Amy in the tilt of her chin, her whining voice, her ignoring Meg's advice, and most importantly her evident adoration of Jo. I had never thought of Jo and Amy as being similar in any way, but it turns out that they're practically twins. Laura Dern really shows how Marmee herself is reflected back in each of the girls. She also gave me an insight into my own mother's life and how, like Amy, I have chosen a different path.

This new Amy has such a clear purpose to her actions from the very beginning. She loves fiercely, fights for her place bravely, and has to stay refined throughout anything. She is spiteful and petty as a child, but grows up to be remarkable and experienced in the ways of life. Florence may have made me love the manuscript burning scene even more (although Nicole told me not to get any ideas). I am only sixteen years old, but I find myself agreeing with Amy's views on love especially. I have never been a romantic like my sister; I just want to have some sort of say in the matter.

It is Amy March who justifies that life will continue when passion ends, that impulses can be good, and that sisters are forever. Luckily, Nicole is the Jo to my Amy which I think shows that we're closer than we can even imagine. 

By Hannah Ackman

Review: Starry Concept Album

RATING: ★★★★

One of my favorite films of 2018 was Julian Schnabel's "At Eternity's Gate," which stars Willem Dafoe and explores the last years of Vincent van Gogh's life. I was particularly fascinated by how it delved into the relationship between Vincent and his younger brother, Theo van Gogh (played by Rupert Friend). So when my friend Lexi told me that there was a new musical written about the van Gogh brothers, I had to check it out.

The concept album for "Starry" was released at the end of January and they held concerts at 54 Below in New York at the end of February. The show's music and lyrics were written by Matt Dahan, with book and lyrics by Kelly Lynn D'Angelo. Obviously, as with any concept album, I have a lot of questions about how the show would function outside of just the music, but it does a great job at giving a decent idea of the action of the show overall.

The show is largely about the relationship between the two brothers: one a painter, the other an art dealer. Vincent and Theo exchanged hundreds of letters during their short lifetimes (neither lived to the age of 40) and many hundreds of Vincent's were published by Theo's widow after his death. The show also showcases the brothers' relationships with many of the other French Impressionist artists of the day, including Degas, Pissarro, and Paul Gauguin.

The music is in a contemporary musical theatre style. The beginning of the "Prologue" is a wistful piano and strings instrumental piece and it sets the tone of the show which is at times boisterous and at times more intimate, but always characterized by a sense of yearning. There are similarities to composers as diverse as Tom Kitt, Dave Malloy, and Alan Menken throughout the music. The ensemble numbers like "Impress Me" and "United in Distaste" are genuinely rousing, while ballads like "Something After All" and "The Red Vineyard" are beautiful and melodic.

Dylan Saunders is a great Vincent with his beautiful vocals making "The Starry Night" one of the best songs in the whole show. Joe Viba is his perfect counterpoint as Theo with his smoother voice. The two blend together perfectly in "A New Horizon," one of my personal favorites on the album.

Mariah Rose Faith plays Theo's wife, Jo, and her solo "Enlightenment" is easily one of the highlights. She has the sort of voice that gives you chills when she hits the final soaring lines. Jeff Blim is easily the standout of the ensemble as the prickly playboy artist Paul Gauguin, bringing his parts a rock sound that reminds me of a young Adam Pascal. (Someone, cast him in "Aida" immediately, please.)

If you love van Gogh's work, are interested in his life story, or just love contemporary musical theatre, you should definitely check out "Starry." It's a show that I would love to see fully staged one day (think about the opportunities for production design or even projections to match van Gogh's work!). You can use this link to find out where to purchase or stream the album.

February Favorites

I decided to start a monthly favorites series here on the blog to track some of my favorite books, movies, albums, and anything else that I have loved every month. I know these sorts of posts and videos were really popular at one point. Does anyone else still do them?

rebecca by daphne du maurier
I finally got around to reading "Rebecca" in honor of an upcoming podcast and to prepare for the new adaptation with Lily James coming to Netflix later this year. I was absolutely floored by it in all its thrilling Gothic glory. In addition to the main plot and romance (if you can call it that), I think there's some fascinating social commentary by du Maurier in it. This feels like one that I will reread again in years to come and it's definitely made me want to read more du Maurier.

fleabag seasons 1 and 2 
With Oscar season over, it felt like it was time to catch up on some of the television that I had missed while trying to watch as many 2019 films as possible. For my first series, I chose "Fleabag" largely because each season is only three hours long. I rarely watch shows with half-hour episodes (in truth, I rarely watch TV at all) so it felt like I absolutely flew through this. I enjoyed Season 1, but Season 2 absolutely tore my heart out. Phoebe Waller Bridge is so incredibly talented and clever and Andrew Scott is a babe.

what if
This 2013 film is confusingly sometimes called "What If" and sometimes "The F Word." I can't explain that one, but what I can say is that it's one of the most delightful and heartwarming rom-coms I've watched in a while. Similar to "When Harry Met Sally," it is about two friends who end up falling in love. While Daniel Radcliffe and Zoe Kazan are charming, I honestly watched it because Adam Driver plays a supporting role in it and he did not disappoint. Yes, I am meant to be watching every Saoirse Ronan movie this year and instead seem to be watching every Adam Driver film. (No regrets.)

to all the boys: ps i still love you 
The first "To All the Boys I've Loved Before" movie is one of my favorites and the trilogy of books by Jenny Han are also favorites of mine. So to say that I was excited for the release of "To All the Boys: PS I Still Love You" was an understatement, especially after the casting of Jordan Fisher. I went over to my parents' house to watch it with them and my little sister on the night it came out and we had the best time. I'm totally #TeamJohnAmbrose and Jordan Fisher was perfect in the role. You can check out my full review here.

mr jones
I was lucky enough to get a screener for "Mr. Jones" to review it for In Their Own League, which was great because it's out in the UK now and I didn't want to wait until April to see it when it releases here in the States. (You can read my review here.) The film tells the story of Welsh journalist Gareth Jones who traveled to the Ukraine in the early 1930s and discovered the man-made famine that was the Soviets were inflicting upon them. It stars James Norton and Vanessa Kirby and is well worth a watch even if it's not perfect.

birds of prey 
I certainly didn't expect to love "Birds of Prey" as much as I did. (I now own a Harley Quinn t-shirt and sweatshirt.) Margot Robbie delivers an insane and kooky performance and the whole film is just so much fun. It's a great example of girl power that doesn't feel forced or fake and it's also an ode to the perfect breakfast sandwich. You can hear me talk about it on the Next Best Picture podcast review.

starry: original concept album 
I'm hoping to have a full review of this album posted soon, but when my friend Lexi recommended that I listen to a new concept album for a musical about Vincent van Gogh, I was immediately intrigued. The group of very talented vocalists bring to life the story of two brothers, Theo and Vincent van Gogh, and their struggles with art. You can listen to the album on Spotify.
pure barre 
I started doing Pure Barre classes about a month ago now and I was shocked to discover that I really like them. I grew up dancing ballet so the way that Pure Barre uses your muscles feels familiar to me and I like that having to sign up for the classes ahead of time forces me to actually go to them. I'm not very good at them yet (I struggle just to hold a plank) and I'm only going once a week, but here's to hoping I start improving soon.

What did you all enjoy during the month of February? Let me know in the comments below or on Twitter. x

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