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MOST BRITISH HERITAGE readers don’t travel to London to go shopping. There’s perhaps an obligatory look at Harrod’s, Fortnum &Mason, Liberty or Foyles, and maybe a short bob along Oxford Street. Generally, though, our interests are less commercial and more purposeful. After all, we’ve got the mall at home.
And then, there’s the Westfield Shopping Centre. No, this probably doesn’t resemble your hometown mall. Opened in 2008, Westfield is among the largest in Europe. Some 250 stores share more than 1.6 million square feet of retail space—the size of 30 football fields. Westfield is easily accessible; just take the Central line to Shepherds Bush, where the center is right outside the Underground station. If you’d like to drive, they do have valet parking.
One quarter of the mall is known as The Village, replete with stores including Prada, De Beers, Dior, Tiffany, Gucci, Versace and the like. Take your piggy bank. Better still, take your bank.
Shopping sometimes involves picking up more mundane necessities certainly, and Westfield does include a huge range of more serviceable shops like Marks & Spencer, Boots and Debenhams, home-wares, furnishings, toys, electronics and virtually everything imaginable. On the third floor, a 14-screen cinema can play to an audience of 3,000.
When it comes time for a bit of lunch, yes, there’s a food court. Don’t expect McDonalds or KFC. Range around the world, though, with tapas, a creperie, Indian street food, sushi, pho and more. Along the “Southern Terrace” of Westfield, a string of more substantial restaurants has a similar range: Brazilian BBQ and Greek, French and Wagamama.
No, Westfield is probably not the place to pick up souvenir T-shirts, plastic Bobby helmets or other memorabilia and take-home gifts. It is, however, an amazing place to look around for a while and get a picture of London life far removed from the timeless West End—yet just a few minutes away with your Oyster card.
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North and South starring Patrick Stewart and Rosalind Shanks, 2-disc set, Acorn Media, Silver Spring, Md., 4 episodes, approx. 207 minutes, $39.99
FOR AMERICAN READERS, it is often difficult to get beyond our association of “North and South” with the American Civil War. In Great Britain, however, the North and South represent a divide no less historic, and reverberating in differences of English regional culture and ethos to this day. Elizabeth Gaskell’s classic novel North and South brings alive the clash of these worlds in Victorian England. In the South, the pastoral, civilized, gentrified world of Hampshire, London and Oxford. In the North, the factory-class, fictional manufacturing city of Milton.
The new Acorn Media release of this illuminating love-story-in-the-soot is welcome and worthy. North and South tells of Margaret Hale (Rosalind Shanks), who moves north from bucolic Hampshire and the excitement of London with her parents. Milton, the mill city, is for her life the society of hard-driven, wealthy mill owners—while about her swims a dark, urban misery that she has never seen. John Thornton (Patrick Stewart) is the severe mill owner who is drawn into her life. That’s the set up. Of course, they have an instant antipathy for each other. The rest of the story is Pride and Prejudice, and they all live more or less happily ever after.
As Elizabeth Gaskell intended, however, the love story is overshadowed here by the lessons in humanity, and in walking a mile in another’s moccasins, thrown up by the bifurcated world of class differences and social expectations. The production brilliantly showcases the contrasting worlds and world views of Victorian England.
This 4-episode series was broadcast on the BBC in 1975, but never aired in the States. Unlike some series of that age, the production holds up very well. It’s a delight to see Patrick Stewart in the role of romantic hero. Story, theme and cinematography come together in this North and South. It’s a real treat.
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The Plantagenets: The Warrior Kings and Queens Who Made England by Dan Jones, Viking, New York, 517 pages, hardcover, $36
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IT IS HARD TO IMAGINE a more sweeping topic in history than the family dynasty that reigned in England for 350 years. Undertaking such a broad canvas in a single-volume narrative is a mammoth challenge indeed. There are bound to be illuminating details left out of the story. There are bound to be generalizations that would be fascinating to unpack. The nature of the results is an overview rather than a close examination. The Plantagenets is just that, an overview of England’s political and military Middle Ages. And it’s a great one.
Dan Jones has a deft touch for telling the story with just enough personal detail to make its characters seem like real people rather than cartoon characters. Of course, a lot happened between 1154 and 1399. The weakness of a canvas so broad is that it’s impossible to get close enough to the vast cast of historic players to know them well enough to sympathize or condemn.
It is difficult enough for us in the 21st century to comprehend the nature of life—or kingship—in these medieval centuries. Our human sensibilities are just so alien from theirs. If and when we perform a judicial execution in 2013, it is done in as “humane” and sanitary a way possible, with minimal witnesses.
In 1213, a rump court or a king’s whim could result in an instant public hanging, drawing and quartering to the delight of cheering crowds. Body parts were publicly displayed on pikes, or left to rot in gibbets in public view. Oh yes, and a good king was measured by how well he could marshal the resources of the country and use them to lead a warrior class and conscripted peasants into bloody battles fought hand-to-hand with edged weapons. We just don’t evaluate political leaders and heads of government by the same standard.
This is a book that shows England on the road between those sensibilities which governed society in the 13th century to the models of kingship, social sensibilities, public behavior and government of our present era. While the canvas is often annoyingly too broad, it tells the political and military story of England over three centuries. Ultimately, we describe that as progress—and the Renaissance is right around the corner.
Dan Jones is a story-teller, and a good one. He comes to a cliff-hanger conclusion with the usurpation of Richard II by Henry Bolingbroke in 1399. The sequel will be Jones’ next volume on the Wars of the Roses—for which there is an eager audience. The Plantagenets is a best-seller in Britain, and understandably so.
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Quartet starring Maggie Smith, Tom Courtney, Billy Connolly and Pauline Collins. Anchor Bay Entertainment, approx. 98 minutes, $19.95
IT IS IMPOSSIBLE to pass by such a cast. The new release of last year’s quiet Quartet deserves a mention to British Heritage readers. This is a delightful, if decidedly low-key, film, directed by Dustin Hoffman with a very artsy touch.
The story takes place at Beecham House—a retirement home for musicians. Music abounds throughout the beautiful mansion, gardens and parkland with elderly virtuosos launching into their art as soloist or ensemble performers—dreaming of performances and applause now long behind them. The residents are preparing and rehearsing for the House’s annual gala performance.
Against this backdrop, Maggie Smith, Tom Courtney, Billy Connolly and Pauline Collins are each delightfully eccentric as aging opera stars reunited at the home—but not all with happy memories. Can they patch up their differences to once again sing together their most famous performance, the quartet from Rigoletto, as the finale for the gala?
For all the thematic emphasis on music, this is a very visual movie. Hoffman directs the camera for long, atmospheric drawbacks and intense pauses. That makes the action seem a little slow at points. The pace is at worst a mild distraction. The focal point here is on the quartet of individuals, who each after decades have something individual to gain and lose by once again becoming a Quartet. The result is poignant, tender and heart-warming.
Midsomer Murders Set 22, starring Neil Dudgeon and Jason Hughes, 4-disc boxed set, Acorn Media, Silver Spring, Md., 4 episodes, approx. 372 minutes, $49.99
FOR HARD-CORE FANS of Midsomer Murders, it has been an open question whether the popular series would feel quite the same with the departure of John Nettles as the eminently likeable DCI Tom Barnaby. After all, we had gotten to know Tom and his long-suffering wife Joyce and their daughter Culley. Would his replacement on the job by Tom’s cousin John Barnaby (Neil Dudgeon) leave Midsomer Murders with the same flavor we know and love?
Midsomer is Midsomer still in this new Acorn Media set from the first season with DCI John Barnaby in charge. It marks the North American debut for these four free-standing mysteries, never shown on American television.
Sergeant Ben Jones (Jason Hughes) stays on as Barnaby’s deputy, and the murderous county continues to rack up the bodies. Yes, it is still Midsomer Murders, and lots of fun. John Barnaby is a personable fellow like his cousin, with his own set of traits and mannerisms. Actually, it works rather well, and Midsomer’s murder rate seems to continue unabated.
Whether or not the place feels the same, we will let viewers decide for themselves.
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