’The Pallisters’ still shines in re-release



Pallisters -- Many of us remember being entertained immensely for several consecutive weeks back in 1974-1975 by a PBS series called "The Pallisers." The 26 episodes were based on six of Anthony Trollope’s political novels: "Can You Forgive Her?" "Phineas Finn," "The Eustace Diamonds," "Phineas Redux," "The Prime Minister" and "The Duke’s Children," all written from 1865 to 1880.

In brief, they deal with the fortunes of the Palliser family and the demands for political reform by the English lower classes. I suppose the single sentence from the script that can sum all this up is spoken by the Duke of St. Bungay to the effect that the upper classes must grant reforms but slowly so as to retain always their rule over the country. This, to people like him, is axiomatic; and very little has changed since.

Well, Acorn Media has at last granted us a chance to see the entire series yet again, on eight DVDs, as the "40th Anniversary Edition." And what a joy they are -- yet again!

In a charming interview, star Susan Hampshire, who plays Lady Glencora Palliser, says she managed to whip through the six novels in preparation for this series by skipping every other chapter -- the ones about politics! So cleverly has Trollope woven the domestic with the political threads, that we can be grateful that dramatist Simon Raven seems to have skipped very little.

Whether or not you know a Whig from a Tory (and definitions for such terms are considerately inserted into the dialogue), you cannot help but enjoy the humor of Trollope’s situations, his characters and their way of speaking. Consider only some of the names: Lady Monk, Lady Fawn, Duke of Omnium, Sir Orlando Draught, Lady Dumbello, Patience Crabstick and above all Plantagenet Palliser.

Of course the acting is quite stylized and as such it is perfect for this material. None of this whispering below the threshold of hearing that seems to be demanded by directors today. And no need to show any couple in bed, while that seems to be absolutely obligatory in recent British offerings. This is old-style material and calls for an acting style appropriate to it.

Much of the budget went to costumes and décor, and you do get the feeling of it mostly being shot in a studio. But the story is enough to keep you coming back for more and the engrossing characters (even the villains have their good points) can keep you amused on their own. Philip Latham’s "Planty Pal" begins almost cartoonishly but soon develops into a very human character. And Hampshire is marvelous in her transformation from a reluctant bride forced into a loveless marriage to a loving and devoted wife. Even the minor characters, such as the corrupt Police Sergeant, are utterly convincing.

Acorn Media is to be even more highly commended for including a 32-page booklet which gives us the backgrounds of the novels and the televised series, a glossary of names and terms, and a complete cast listing. And thanks to Acorn Media for the new packaging which saves a deal of space on one’s shelf.

1921 -- The first 29 years of the last century had some really fabulous songs and fabulous singers to perform them. The Phonographic Yearbook series issued by Archeophone gives us two dozen recordings from some of those years, and I wish here to rerun an older report of "1921: Make Believe and Smile."

Here we have 25 original recordings from 1921 (not necessarily composed that year). No room to list them all, but we have in the non-vocal category Paul Whiteman’s Orchestra ("Wang-Wang Blues," "My Mammy," "Song of India," "Cherie"), the Benson Orchestra of Chicago ("San"), the Peerless Quartet ("My Mammy") and others.

As for singers, we have Al Jolson ("O-H-I-0"), Marion Harris ("Look for the Silver Lining"), Eddie Cantor ("Margie"), Nora Bayes ("Make Believe") and Van and Schenck ("Ain’t We Got Fun?"). This is a real time trip back to the start of what we call the Roaring Twenties, an ambiguous term if we judge by the photograph on the cover: a Tulsa street devastated after a race riot in 1921! There are many ways to roar, sadly.

The booklet is, as with the rest of this fine series, packed with photos and background information about the year and about each individual recording.

Frank Behrens reports on classical and Broadway music as well as recordings of books and plays for the Arts & Entertainment section.


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