Romancing History

Category: Historical Films

My Favorite Downton Abbey Movie Zingers

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Photo courtesy of the Irish Examiner


I don’t know about you, but I’m a HUGE Downton Abbey fan. I had the opportunity to go see the movie a few days ago with some friends who are also big time fans. I have to say, as soon as the movie score began it felt like I was going home to a wonderful reunion of old friends.

Besides being an impeccably researched period drama, one of my favorite aspects of the show was the brilliant writing replete with zingers and witty banter. Anyone familiar with the show knows the “queen” of Downton zingers is Violet, the Dowager Countess played by the incomparable Maggie Smith. And let me tell you, the movie didn’t disappoint.

The following is a list of my favorite cheeky one-liners from the movie.

“The day has dawned and the weather proves conclusively that God is a monarchist.” —Lady Mary (Michelle Dockery)

“Will you have enough clichés to get you through the visit?” —Violet (Maggie Smith), needling Isobel about the impending royal visit
“If not, I’ll come to you.” —Isobel (Penelope Wilton)

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Maggie Smith as Violet, the Crawley family matriarch. Photo courtesy of Indie Wire

“Sarcasm is the lowest form of wit.” —Violet (Maggie Smith)

“I am an expert in every matter.” —Violet, (Maggie Smith)

“A shy royal? Is that an oxymoron?” —Lord Grantham (Hugh Bonneville)

“Royal women are not meant to grin like Cheshire cats.” —Violet (Maggie Smith)

Historical Epic, The Promise

Last weekend, my husband, oldest son and I saw the new historical epic, The Promise. Based on the trailer, I warned my men ahead of time that it was a historical romance but since it was set on the eve of World War I, I assured them there would be enough action to make the film bearable. The film centers around Mikael (an Armenian medical Student), Ana (an Armenian woman raised in France who has returned to her homeland), and Chris (an American journalist working for the Associated Press). Although the central figures in the film are engaged in a love triangle, The Promise is less a story about a tragic romance during the last days of the Ottoman Empire than the fate of the these characters and a group of orphans as the Turkish government begins a systematic holocaust of its Armenian population.

As a student of history (I have a B.A. Social Studies education as well as an M.Ed. in History education), I’m wondering how I  managed four years of undergrad and two years of grad school without ever hearing of this atrocity. We left the theatre wondering how we could not have known about this tragedy. Now that my curiosity had been peaked, I decided to find out how accurate the history depicted in the film was.

Here is what I learned.

On April 24, 1915, the Turkish government began a systematic effort to eliminate the Armenian population, the largest Christian minority within Turkey at the time, from within its borders. Many Armenians had become voices for social and political reform within the country, pressing the government for equality with their fellow Muslim citizens. Following a series of devastating losses in the Balkan Wars, a distorted nationalism spread over Turkey, infesting the government and its citizens with the misguided sentiment that the Great Ottoman Empire could only be revived if Turkey was purified of its Christian population.

Picture of a Turkish village circa 1915 as troops belonging to the Ottoman Empire round up its Armenian citizens. Photo courtesy of The Telegraph, April 22, 2017.

Turkey’s Armenian citizens had their property confiscated, intellectuals were rounded up and imprisoned if they were lucky or executed if they were not, and others, including entire villages, were force marched to concentration camps in the Syrian dessert. According to  the University of Minnesota’s Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies, there were 2.1 million Armenians living in Turkey in 1914 and 387,800 by 1922.

According to Peter Balakian, who won the 2016 Pulitzer Prize in poetry for Ozone Journal, his book of poems recounting his experience excavating the bones of Armenian victims in the Syrian desert with TV journalists in 2009, “It’s a watershed event in the history of modernity,” because it’s the first time that the nation-state uses technology, its advanced military communications, legislation and the nationalist ideology for the purpose of eradicating a targeted ethnic group in a certain period of time.”

Photo released by the Armenian Genocide Museum-Institute dated 1915 purportedly shows soldiers standing over skulls of victims from the Armenian village of Sheyxalan in the Mush valley, on the Caucasus front during the First World War. Photo: STR/AFP/Getty Images

Photos of this atrocity are hard to view so I have chosen to limit what I post here because I would rather you at least read about this event then turn away because of graphic images. Click here to see photographs smuggled out of Turkey  at great risk to reporters John Elder and Armin Wegner depicting the Armenian genocide. According to this article in the U.K. Daily Mail, these images have been used to build the international human rights case against the Turkish government.

History has shown that Adolf Hitler saw the tragic events in Turkey for what they were. In an official Nazi government document used during the Nuremberg Trials, Hitler argues for the annihilation of the Polish people. He writes “Accordingly, I have placed my death-head formations in readiness — for the present only in the East — with orders to them to send to death mercilessly and without compassion, men, women, and children of Polish derivation and language. Only thus shall we gain the living space (Lebensraum) which we need. Who, after all, speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians?”

Today, in Germany, it is a crime to deny or minimize the holocaust in public and is punishable by up to five years in prison.

Although 18 countries (including Germany, Greece and France) recognize the events in Turkey as genocide, to this day the Turkish government stands by its story that the deaths were not intentionally perpetrated against its Armenian citizens but instead, were lives tragically lost during war as the government attempted to relocate them for their own safety. The U.S. House of Representative Committee on Foreign Affairs has yet to recognize the atrocities committed against the Armenian people as genocide. President Barack Obama did refer to the horrific events in a speech for Armenian Remembrance Day (April 24) as “the first mass atrocity of the 20th century,” but failed to keep his campaign promise to call the killings “genocide.”

Perhaps at this point you’re wondering why it matters anymore. After all, it was more than a hundred years ago, the perpetrators are long since dead and well let’s face it, bad stuff happens every day in this world. True. However I would strongly urge you to consider the words of Spanish-American philosopher and poet, George Santayana, who wrote, “Those who cannot learn from the past are condemned to repeat it.”

Or put another way, Balakian argues that the truth about the Armenian genocide matters because “Unresolved history is too big a burden to carry.”

I hope you will consider seeing, The Promise. It is a story well told and definitely worth learning about.

Your turn: Have you heard of the Armenian genocide before reading this post? Do you think unresolved history is a burden?

Seven Little Known Christmas Movies to turn Your Heart toward Christmas

Some Christmas movies earn a coveted spot on everyone’s list. You know the one’s I’m talking about. The one’s you eagerly anticipate rescuing from the boxes of Christmas decorations. Titles like A Christmas Carol, It’s a Wonderful Life, Miracle on 34th Street, and A Christmas Story.

Below is my list often overlooked movies that are worth your viewing time this Christmas season. I’ve made it easy for you to purchase the movie for yourself or as a gift. Just click on the cover to go to Amazon. I guarantee you won’t be disappointed with any of these Christmas selections.

Do yourself a favor. Make a plan right now to make yourself a cup of tea, sit down and put your feet up, and enjoy at least one of these heart-warming holiday movies.

One Special Night–Julie Andrews, James Garner. This is by far one of my favorite holiday movies! Julie Andrews and James Gardner are at their very best in this charming holiday tale of two lonely people finding their way to each other after the loss of their respective spouses to Alzheimer’s and heart disease. Julie plays a fiesty surgeon who values her independence. James plays a construction foreman with a few old-fashioned notions about what women can/can’t do, and the clash is inevitable! It’s funny, sweet, and touching all at the same time.

Silent Night–Linda Hamilton, Cassian Bopp, Michael Elkin. This is a fantastic movie, a well told story and wonderfully acted. Based on real events on a snowy Christmas Eve in Germany’s Huertgen Forest during that brutal winter of 1944-’45,  Silent Night tells the story of American GI’s who take refuge in a cabin inhabited by a German woman and her son trying to escape the carnage of the Battle of the Bulge. She allows them in but requires them to keep their weapons outside. Before long they are joined by several Nazi soldiers but Frau Vincken also denies them entry unless they, too, leave their weapons outside. For one night, the war weary soldiers agree to a truce and discover the true meaning of courage, as well as the true spirit of Christmas.

Joyeux Noel–Guillaume Canet, Benno Furmann, Daniel Bruhl, Diane Kruger and Gary Lewis headline this amazing international cast. Similar to Silent Night, Joyeux Noel is based on true events that occurred on Christmas Eve, 1914 when a spontaneous, unauthorized truce among German, French and British soldiers took hold in various sectors along the front lines. Soldiers exchanged cigarettes and alcohol, played football (soccer), and allowed the removal and burial of dead soldiers from the frozen tundra of no mans land. The movie is a moving tribute to men of three nations who saw past hate and political intrigue long enough to share in their humanity and embrace the spirit of Christmas.

The Christmas Shoes–Rob Lowe, Kimberley Williams. You’d better have the Kleenex handy for this one. Adapted from the book by Donna VanLiere, Robert is a successful attorney who has everything in life-and nothing at all. Focused on professional achievement and material rewards, Robert is on the brink of losing his marriage. He has lost sight of his wife, Kate, their two daughters, and ultimately himself. Eight year old Nathan has a beloved mother, Maggie, whom he is losing to cancer. But Nathan and his family are building a simple yet full life, and struggling to hold onto every moment they have together. A chance meeting on Christmas Eve brings Robert and Nathan together-he is shopping for a family he hardly knows and Nathan is shopping for a mother he is soon to lose. In this one encounter, their lives are forever altered as Robert learns an important lesson: sometimes the smallest things can make all the difference. The Christmas Shoes is a universal story of the deeper meaning of serendipity, a tale of our shared humanity, and of how a power greater than ourselves can shape, and even save, our lives.

I’ll Be Seeing You–Ginger Rogers, Joseph Cotten and Shirley Temple. I’ll Be Seeing You is a  tender wartime love story about two troubled strangers who meet by chance and try to crowd a lifetime of love and laughter into eight days. After serving half of a prison sentence for accidental manslaughter, Mary Marshall (Rogers) is allowed a holiday furlough to visit her family. Keeping her history a secret, she falls in love with a kindhearted GI (Cotten) who’s struggling to overcome shell shock. Both long for a normal life. But can they have it if he learns the truth about her?

A Merry Ingalls Christmas–Michael Landon, Karen Grassle, Melissa Gilbert. Okay, don’t judge me. If you read my About page, you’d have seen this coming. This DVD contains two Christmas episodes from the beloved series, “Christmas at Plum Creek” (Season 1) and “A Christmas They Never Forgot” (Season 8).  “Christmas at Plum Creek” tells the story of the Ingalls family’s first Christmas in Walnut Grove. With a lack of funds, each member of the family finds a unique way to make/give Christmas gifts to each other. In “A Christmas They Never Forgot,” the Ingalls are snowed in at Christmas and share stories of Christmas’s past with each other.

Come to the Stable–Loretta Young, Celeste Holm I haven’t seen this film but it’s on my list of movies to watch so I thought I’d share this one with you. A heartwarming family film concerning the exploits of two French nuns who come to America, setting up operations in a local stable, in order to raise money for a children’s hospital.

Want more ideas? Explore the entire list of classic holiday films and period dramas at Willow & Thatch.

Do you have a little known Christmas movie you treasure in your home?

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