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‘Masterpiece’: ‘Les Miserables,’ Jane Austen and Big-Screen ‘Downton Abbey’

Long a TV haven for beautifully produced drama — frequently, but not universally, suitable for middle-schoolers and up — PBS “Masterpiece” has more great literature and family drama in the pipeline.

Just don’t expect any of these to appear soon.

Let’s take a look …

“Les Miserables” (currently in production to air in 2019)

Victor Hugo’s classic novel has already been adapted into a hit musical, which also became a hit movie — both of which maintained the Catholic core of the 1862 story, which culminates in the 1832 anti-monarchist June Rebellion in Paris (not the French Revolution, that was from 1789-1799).

The six-part BBC/”Masterpiece” production stars Dominic West (“The Wire”) as Jean Valjean, whose minor misdeed runs him afoul of the authorities — especially the relentless policeman Javert (David Oyelowo). But the kindness of a bishop, which the desperate Valjean repays by stealing from him, sets Valjean on a winding path that ultimately leads to his transformation and redemption.

Also starring are Lily Collins as Fantine, whose child Valjean later adopts.

The writer is Andrew Davies, who has adapted many classic novels for the screen, including the BBC’s acclaimed 1995 version of Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice.”

The BBC has released some pictures. In order: Collins, West and Oyelowo.

Lily Collins as Fantine. Credit: BBC

 

Dominic West as Jean Valjean. Credit: BBC

 

David Oyelowo as Javert. Credit: BBC

“Sanditon” (begins filming in Spring 2019)

Andrew Davies is also adopting Jane Austen’s “Sanditon,” left unfinished at her death at the age of 41. He’s expanding the 11-chapter fragment into eight 60-minute episodes, produced by “Masterpiece” in partnership with ITV, and distributed by BBC Studios.

From PBS:

Written only months before Austen’s death in 1817, Sanditon tells the story of the joyously impulsive, spirited and unconventional Charlotte Heywood and her spiky relationship with the humorous, charming (and slightly wild!) Sidney Parker. When a chance accident transports her from her rural hometown of Willingden to the would-be coastal resort of the eponymous title, it exposes Charlotte to the intrigues and dalliances of a seaside town on the make, and the characters whose fortunes depend on its commercial success. The twists and turns of the plot, which take viewers from the West Indies to the rotting alleys of London, expose the hidden agendas of each character and sees Charlotte discover herself… and ultimately find love.

ITV’s Head of Drama, Polly Hill commented: “It’s a rich, romantic, family saga built upon the foundations Jane Austen laid. There is no one better to adapt her unfinished novel than Andrew who has an incredible track record for bold and original adaptations. We’re delighted to commission Sanditon from Belinda Campbell and her team at Red Planet Pictures.”

And, said Davies on assuming the task of channeling Austen:

Jane Austen managed to write only a fragment of her last novel before she died – but what a fragment! Sanditon tells the story of the transformation of a sleepy fishing village into a fashionable seaside resort, with a spirited young heroine, a couple of entrepreneurial brothers, some dodgy financial dealings, a West Indian heiress, and quite a bit of nude bathing. It’s been a privilege and a thrill for me to develop Sanditon into a TV drama for a modern audience.

“Downton Abbey” (feature-film sequel planned; not in production yet)

All the major stars from “Masterpiece’s” megahit “Downton Abbey” are returning for the planned feature-film version, including Maggie Smith (Violet Crawley, Dowager Countess of Grantham) — just confirmed by People on July 16; Michelle Dockery (Lady Mary Crawley); Laura Carmichael (Lady Edith Crawley); Joanne Froggatt (Anna Bates); Hugh Bonneville (Robert Crawley, Earl of Grantham); and Elizabeth McGovern (Cora Crawley, Countess of Grantham).

Directing is Brian Percival, who directed the series’ pilot; plot details are unknown. The writer is British Catholic Julian Fellowes, who’s also writing a 10-part series for NBC called “The Gilded Age.” Set in 1880s New York City, it follows the conflict as the city’s old-money families have to deal with a sudden influx of social-climbing nouveau riche.

Said Fellowes in the U.K. Guardian:

To write The Gilded Age is the fulfilment of a personal dream.

I have been fascinated by this period of American history for many years, and now NBC has given me the chance to bring it to a modern audience. I could not be more excited and thrilled.

The truth is, America is a wonderful country with a rich and varied history, and nothing could give me more pleasure than to be the person to bring that compelling history to the screen.

We’ll have to wait and see how many of these productions will be suitable for the whole family, but at least we know they’ll be intelligently written — and these days, that’s something.

Image: PBS/BBC

Learn more about Family Theater Productions’ upcoming, new and vintage productions as well as our Hollywood Outreach Programs; and, of course, you’ll find us on Facebook. Visit our YouTube and Ustream Channels for our contemporary and classic productions.

‘God Bless the Broken Road’: Catholic Screenwriter Jennifer Dornbush’s Movie Releases a Trailer

This September, “God Bless the Broken Road” hits theaters, telling the faith-based story of a young wife struggling with her husband’s death in Afghanistan.

From The Hollywood Reporter:

In the film, a young mother (True Blood and Hatfields and McCoys‘ Lindsay Pulsipher) struggles to hold onto her faith as she raises her daughter (Steve Jobs‘ Makenzie Moss) in the wake of her husband’s death in Afghanistan.

In the preview, her character is heard saying, “I tried putting my faith in God. I don’t understand why he would do that to us. If he wants me, he knows where to find me.”

Meanwhile, her daughter is convinced a mustard seed she planted in Sunday school will grow and she meets one of the men who served alongside her husband (played by Arthur Cartwright), who tells her that her husband’s faith “gave him the courage to do the impossible.”

The cast also includes former NFL star LaDainian Tomlinson, Jordin Sparks and Andrew W. Walker.

Here’s the official trailer:

Director Harold Cronk (“God’s Not Dead”) is listed as one of the screenwriters, along with Catholic screenwriter, author and forensic specialist Jennifer Dornbursh.

Last year, Dornbush spoke at Family Theater Productions, and beforehand took a few minutes to sit down with us for an interview. Take a look:

Image: Courtesy 10 West Studios/A Really Good Home Pictures

Learn more about Family Theater Productions’ upcoming, new and vintage productions as well as our Hollywood Outreach Programs; and, of course, you’ll find us on Facebook. Visit our YouTube and Ustream Channels for our contemporary and classic productions.

‘Last Man Standing’: Tim Allen Returns to America’s TVs on Sept. 28

Tim Allen returns to TV this fall — it’s ABC’s loss, and Fox’s (and America’s) gain.

TV networks are slowly realizing that if they want to be broadcasters — appealing to a broad audience — in an increasingly crowded marketplace of niche-programming suppliers, they’ll have to learn how to speak more to the middle of the country (or at least all those bits that aren’t major cities and university towns).

CBS has always kept a focus on that, but it’s been more of a challenge in recent years for the other three networks, who have worked harder appealing to young, hip and urban viewers.

With its cancellations of “The Middle” and its reboot of “Roseanne” (which is being reconfigured without its controversial star; we’ll see how that goes), ABC is having a particularly tough time. It didn’t help that the network also canceled Tim Allen’s popular comedy “Last Man Standing,” which ran from 2011 to 2017, despite high ratings.

The fall of the ax shocked Allen and his many loyal fans, who began with him in ABC’s “Home Improvement,” and came back to see him play Mike Baxter, a traditional man with conservative views, who works at a Denver sporting-goods store, and has a wife and three daughters at home.

The cancellation happened in part because the show is a production of Twentieth Century Fox Television, instead of one of ABC’s affiliated studios. But, Fox Broadcasting Company stepped in and picked up its sister studio’s show, which returns to the airwaves on Friday, Sept. 28, at 8 p.m. ET/PT.

Here’s how Allen reacted in a statement back in May:

“Excited? Team LMS was in the sixth inning, ahead by four runs, stands were packed, and then for no reason, they call off the game. It leaves you sitting in the dugout, holding a bat and puzzled. Now we get the news from Fox that it’s time to get back out on that diamond — hell yes, I’m excited!

When I heard the offer to create more episodes of Last Man Standing, I did a fist pump so hard I threw my back out. It’s the fans! I could not be more grateful for the fans who wrote petitions and kept up the passion and incredible support for the show. And a fist pump, ouch, for [Fox Television Group CEOs] Dana Walden and Gary Newman at Fox for not only listening to the fans, but for making the bold move to bring Last Man Standing back.

I’m sure audiences will be curious to see what we look like after all these years. Oh, has it only been one year? Well, just goes to show you — a lot can happen in a year.”

There will be some changes. Molly Ephraim and Flynn Morrison, who played Mike’s middle daughter Mandy and grandson Boyd, respectively, opted not to return. Both roles are being recast, but no word yet on the replacements (since production usually begins for the fall in July, they’d better hop to it).

The rest of the core cast is back, lead by Nancy Travis as Mike’s wife. Also on board is Hector Elizondo, whose competing pilot, “Guess Who Died,” got a pass from NBC. Show-runner/executive producer Kevin Abbott is also back.

“Last Man Standing” reflected Allen’s own conservative views, but it was known for presenting many different viewpoints.

From Tony Rossi of Catholic organization The Christophers:

One of the strengths of “Last Man Standing” is that it manages to give valid arguments to both its liberal and conservative characters. Not each one is right all the time – and it is a comedy so laughs are paramount – but the writers ably walk the fine line of political debate that still respects the humanity of its characters. In that sense, it’s a more successful entity than the United States Congress and many online comments threads. As a viewer, I appreciate the fact that I’m not being hammered with an agenda, but rather being told an entertaining story with some implicit relevance to today’s times.

The show is also faith-friendly. Mike Baxter is a churchgoer and a man of faith, as is Allen, in his own way.

Here’s Allen, who was raised an Anglican, in the transcript of an ABC News interview, quoted in this blog last June:

Allen’s father died when he was hit by a drunk driver when Allen was just 11. The comedian says that after that, he questioned whether if he had prayed harder or had been with his father that fatal day, he could have prevented his death.

“For years, I just did not like this idea of God, church,” he said. “(I was) still a churchgoer, but constantly a cynic.”

But the cynicism didn’t last. Today, he calls God, “The Builder.”

Allen also told Parade magazine that he and his second wife, actress Jane Hajduk — with whom he has a daughter — attend church on Sundays, and added:

On a philosophical level, I’m very religious. I call myself an intellectual Christian.

Here’s a Father’s Day video from last month with Allen, in character as Mike Baxter, talking about fathers and sons …

Image: Courtesy ABC/20th Century Fox Videos

Learn more about Family Theater Productions’ upcoming, new and vintage productions as well as our Hollywood Outreach Programs; and, of course, you’ll find us on Facebook. Visit our YouTube and Ustream Channels for our contemporary and classic productions.

‘God Bless America’: Boston Police Partners Make Sweet Patrol-Car-Karaoke Music

As America celebrated the Fourth of July yesterday, many law-enforcement officers were deployed to keep cities and towns safe for fireworks, parades and BBQs.

In Boston, the cradle of the American Revolution, two longtime patrol partners decided to take a page from the book of British-born latenight TV host James Corden, who does “Carpool Karaoke” singing duets with major stars for his “Late, Late Show” on CBS.

Officers Stephen McNulty and Kim Tavares — both musicians in their free time — filmed themselves singing “God Bless America” as they tooled around Beantown.

Have a listen:

Here are the full lyrics to “God Bless America,” penned by legendary songwriter Irving Berlin:

God bless America, land that I love.
Stand beside her and guide her
Through the night with the light from above.
From the mountains to the prairies,
To the oceans white with foam.
God bless America, my home sweet home.
God bless America, land that I love,
Stand beside her and guide her
Through the night with the light from above.
From the mountains to the prairies,
To the oceans white with foam.
God bless America, my home sweet home.
From the mountains to the prairies,
To the oceans white with foam.
God bless America, my home sweet home,
God bless America, my home sweet home.

We hope you had a beautiful holiday — and God Bless Us All!

Images: Courtesy BPDNews.com

Learn more about Family Theater Productions’ upcoming, new and vintage productions as well as our Hollywood Outreach Programs; and, of course, you’ll find us on Facebook.

Visit our YouTube and Ustream Channels for our contemporary and classic productions.

3 for the Fourth: ‘Lincoln,’ ‘Patton,’ the Pony Express and FIREWORKS!

Most of us are probably thinking about fireworks and cookouts right about now. But perhaps we should remember that it’s called, “Independence Day,” and not merely, “the 4th of July,” as we often call it.

While there aren’t really a ton of family-friendly viewing options available to stream that are about America’s founding itself, there are quite a few good options that have to do with other parts of our nation’s history.

(Last year, we highlighted “John Adams,” “1776” and “Last of the Mohicans” — click here for that)

So if you’re interested in celebrating the day our country declared independence with a little patriotic viewing in addition to your outdoor festivities, here are three options available to stream right now that can get you and your family in the American spirit.

Lincoln (2012)

I actually saw this film in the theater when it first came out, and it takes a lot of hype and excitement to get me to spend $12 on a ticket. This particular movie did not disappoint.

Starring Daniel Day-Lewis as a conflicted Abraham Lincoln trying to get Congress to pass the amendment that would end slavery, this 2.5 hour war movie is a little intense at times. Steven Spielberg directed the film, which was nominated for several Oscars (winning two), so you can bet it never bores.

While some of the war images (and some language) might be too much for younger viewers, it’s free of sexual content and gratuitous violence.

Lincoln is currently available to stream on Amazon Prime Video, iTunes, Google Play and Netflix.

Patton (1970)

For a more old-school style movie about America’s past wars, check out the 1970 film “Patton,” which is now streaming on Amazon Prime Video, iTunes and Google Play. Nearly three hours long, this winner of seven Oscars takes a look at the monumental personage of American General George S. Patton (George C. Scott) and the role he played in World War II.

The film is rated PG, but keep in mind that the PG of 1970 looks a bit different than today’s PG-rated movie. The film has a fair amount of realistic war violence, as well as some language.

Spirit of the Pony Express (2012)

Take a look back at an interesting point in American history, the precursor of our modern mail system, the Pony Express.

This G-rated documentary features a look at the actual trail that Pony Express riders used from California to Missouri as they delivered mail, and it discusses just why the Pony Express was so important during its short time of operation in the mid-1800s. It also has some pretty cool-looking reenactments, and plenty of horsies if your kids are as into them as mine are.

“Spirit of the Pony Express” is available to stream on Amazon Prime Video.

BONUS — Ambient Fireworks!

In case you can’t get out to watch some spectacular fire works tomorrow night, never fear, because YouTube has 10 hours of fireworks you can put on your TV. And the best part about these fireworks is that you can control the volume yourself!

About the author:

Adrienne is a freelance writer specializing entertainment, parenting, relationships, and other lifestyle topics.

Images: Courtesy Walt Disney Studios/20th Century Fox

Learn more about Family Theater Productions’ upcoming, new and vintage productions as well as our Hollywood Outreach Programs; and, of course, you’ll find us on Facebook.

Visit our YouTube and Ustream Channels for our contemporary and classic productions.