Friday, July 10, 2020

Miniseries Review - Life in Squares

Life in Squares
Starring: Phoebe Fox, Eve Best, Christian Brassington, Eleanor Bron, James Clay, Lydia Leonard, Catherine McCormack, James Norton, Rupert Penry-Jones, Ed Birch, Ben Lloyd-Hughes, Jack Davenport, Sam Hoare, Andrew Havill, Elliot Cowan, Edmund Kingsley, James Northcote, Deborah Findlay, Anton Lesser, Al Weaver, Guy Henry, Jenny Howe, Charlie Appleyard, Maximilian Scull, Finn Jones, Louis Fisher, Edmund Digby-Jones, Rosie Ede, Lucy Boynton, Simon Thomas, and Emily Bruni
Release Date: July 27th, 2015 - August 10th, 2015
Rating: ★★
To Watch

Siblings Vanessa, Virginia, and Adrian Stephen have been liberated from societal, conventional, and parental expectations with the death of their father. Though Virginia's mental health remains delicate a hovering Aunt is no match to their desire to freely express themselves and break free of the assigned rolls expected of them. If they use only one spoon for the entire household, so be it! Dishes take up so much time that could be used productively in the pursuit of art! In an effort to give the girls a glimpse of the greater artistic community Adrian invites over his college friends for salons. At first Vanessa and Virginia feel that they are still constrained, being the hostesses of these evenings, but slowly they become equals to the Cambridge and Oxford educated boys. Thus the Bloomsbury Group came to exist, but their relationships would often be fraught. The love triangles were endless and endlessly discussed. Virginia was forever concerned with losing her sister to marriage, the state to which their hovering Aunt approved above all others! The art critic Clive Bell seemed the most likely candidate to whisk Vanessa away. And after the heartbreaking death of their brother to typhoid Virginia lost her sister to Bell and her sisters newfound love of copulation which soon brought about her first child, Julian. But five years later Virginia would marry Leonard Woolf, though wouldn't take as much joy in copulation as her sister and sadly would have a bad breakdown resulting in a suicide attempt. She was able to come back from this and her first book was published in 1915. With war on the horizon a significant portion of the Bloomsbury Group decamped from Bloomsbury. Vanessa, Duncan Grant, and Duncan's lover David Garnett moved to the Sussex countryside where Vanessa and Duncan could paint while Duncan and David worked the land instead of serving in the army. But this move to the countryside would complicate everything, as Vanessa realized that the homosexual Duncan was the love of her life and she decided that they would have a child together, which they did. Years pass in which no one talks about all their trysts and on the eve of another world war everything starts to break apart. 

Dorothy Parker famously quipped that the Bloomsbury Group "lived in squares, painted in circles and loved in triangles." The squares and the circles of this adaptation are pitch perfect. The atmosphere, the rooms with every visible surface decorated, the feeling of a lived in artistic space is spot on, so much so that I've started to look at my door jambs and think that they are lacking something in being painted a flat white. I wanted to walk through those rooms and just absorb the creativity. Unfortunately this miniseries is all about the triangles. And I have a feeling that watching the background as I did wasn't the intended purpose in making this promiscuous miniseries. Comprising of three episodes the first two episodes are all about graphic copulation while the third is the Group clumsily dealing with the fallout of said copulation. Now I'm not one to be a prude, I just feel that graphic sex needs to be in aid of something, in particular, the story being told. Here it just seemed to be shorthand for their freedom, both intellectually and sexually. Yet there was a line that struck me as odd, Vanessa receives a letter from Virginia who is on her honeymoon saying she doesn't think sex is all it's cracked up to be and Vanessa blithely replies that the Duckworths messed Virginia up. This sent me down a Wikipedia rabbit hole learning about Virigina's sexual abuse at the hands of her stepbrothers, the Duckworths. I'm sorry, what!?! There's a real issue here that should be dealt with instead it's glossed over or made bawdy, more copulation please! This was the turning point for me. And this doesn't even cover Vanessa's daughter marrying her father's ex-lover! If something so important could be shoved aside as nothing then how could I enjoy anything I was seeing? This disconnect was made "easier" by the switching of the cast between the second and third episodes. In the first two episodes we see glimpses of their future selves played by different actors, and these glimpses were fine and were meant to cushion the blow of switching to the older actors. The problem was I was invested in the younger actors and their relationships, the older actors, once on their own, had no chemistry. None! Nothing at all, it was horrid. And as for Eve Best as the older Vanessa, do they do Razzies for television?


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