Landscape of the Heart: The Comfort and Serenity of Period Films

Only connect!  That was the whole of her sermon.

Only connect the prose and the passion, and both will

Be exalted…Live in fragments no longer…

  —E.M. Forster (Howards End, 1910)

  Brenda Blethyn, Rosamund Pike, Carey Mulligan, Talulah Riley, Keira Knightly and Jena Malone in “Pride and Prejudice”

Brenda Blethyn, Rosamund Pike, Carey Mulligan, Talulah Riley, Keira Knightly and Jena Malone in “Pride and Prejudice”

I close my eyes and hear the clip-clop of the horses’ hooves upon the road in the opening of “Sherlock Holmes,” the click-clack of Miss Marple’s knitting needles or the 17th century rousing trumpet fanfare of Jean-Joseph Mouret’s “Rondeau” that is the theme from Masterpiece Theatre.  In a few beats of my heart, I’m gratefully carried aloft with a Divine swoosh—transported in a finely tuned personal time machine—and probably as close to the Rapture as I’ll get to experience.

Today let us praise the simply abundant bliss of the period film.  Let us rejoice and riff upon the parallel reality of historical fiction instead of the raucous, rowdy, rude here and now.  Let’s celebrate another time, another place:  a costumed life at the pace of Grace.

  Julian Sands and Helena Bonham Carter in "A Room With A View"

Julian Sands and Helena Bonham Carter in "A Room With A View"

Lavish sets, hushed hallways, fringed drapes, secret passageways. French doors that open on to the terrace.  Forbidden love.  Perfect manners.  Veiled hats, flushed cheeks, silk corsets, voluminous petticoats.   Vintage parasols, kid gloves, pearl buttons, hat pins and haberdashery worth a queen’s ransom.  Ruffled necklines, cascading curls, sinister plots, paisley shawls, burgundy tufted leather fire fenders.  Sherry and chintz, a roaring fire and a decanted 1924 port--excellent year--so glad we made it.

  Emma Thompson and Anthony Hopkins in "Howard's End"

Emma Thompson and Anthony Hopkins in "Howard's End"

Drawing room, morning room, conservatory, mud room, butler pantries; no servants at breakfast, help yourself from the sideboard and aren’t you glad you know this coded behavior and won’t be embarrassed at your next Saturday to Monday invitation at the Great House.  Hold my hand and we’re halfway there, somewhere there’s the twilight elegance of Paradise Lost and we’ll find it.

  Matthew Macfadyen and Keira Knightly in "Pride and Prejudice"

Matthew Macfadyen and Keira Knightly in "Pride and Prejudice"

Shooting parties, riding to hounds, hunt balls, galloping glorious women in black riding habits on sidesaddle, men in white flannels swinging bats and bowlers, billiards and badminton.  

  Mia Wasikowska and Logan Marshall-Green in "Madame Bovary"

Mia Wasikowska and Logan Marshall-Green in "Madame Bovary"

Pimm’s and punts, tennis anyone, we need a fourth?  Meet you on the lawn.  Strawberries, clotted cream, cucumber sandwiches and champagne.  Sophisticated conversations in cut glass accents,  clipped phrases, lengthened vowels and crisp consonants, punctuated by wicked irony, endearing eccentricity, subtle nuance, the arched eyebrow and tea, not at three, but at four—twenty in the afternoon to be as precise as Her Majesty, the Queen.  No matter what today’s conundrum or shock, sweet tea in paper thin porcelain cups is the rescue remedy.

  A scene from "A Room with a View"

A scene from "A Room with a View"

But for the deep, intense and medicinal immersion necessary after pulling the plug on “Breaking News 24/7, I need a powerful antidote and I’ve found it, cherished readers.  One of my new discoveries is the website Willow and Thatch (www.willowandthatch.com) which delights in gathering historical, costumed period movies and TV and lets you know where to find them.  I swooned at the gathering of their film archive of period cinema available on Netflix, Amazon and cable television.

There is also something wonderful new to our shores, the Britbox (www.britbox.com) which is the largest British streaming collection from the BBC and ITV.   You’ll just have to go there for yourself, I get light-headed when I see so many choices to transport me for a few hours back to  historical periods that I know better than the one I’m living through today, even if I can’t quite nail down the era.

“Studying movies for their mystical message empowers us.  We gain insight and greater self-awareness,” Marsha Sinetar suggests in her fascinating book Reel Power:  Spiritual Grown Through Film.  “So much of today is centered on problems, recovery, and the painful struggles of trying to meet the unrelenting demands of twenty-first living.  Unfortunately, by dwelling only on problems, and thus failing to see ourselves and our dilemmas in a heroic, promising light, we limit ourselves.  Movies elevate our sights, enlarge imagination.  Film, like poetry, is one our heart’s most subtle agents.  It reminds us of what we know, helps us stretch and change, and provides us with a sensory catalyst for creative, cutting edge change.”  The art of “reel power” is the ability to dig out and use, whatever is spiritually valuable in a movie.”  

Personally I think we all need the uplift provided by films that inspire, encourage, affirm and celebrate the human spirit—and if we ever needed home-grown serenity and heaping portions of comfort it’s now.

“Movies mirror us and invite us to go beyond the obvious.  Their themes and images can powerfully equip us to see ourselves as we are at our worst, and our best, or help us invent new scripts about who we hope to be,” Marsha Senetar believes.  “Everything placed in our path can help us…Certain films—like certain lovely people, glorious works of art or music, and special instances of prayer—seem a grace expressly given for our edification.”

Here’s hoping you find a heaping dollop of comfort and contentment this week, Babe. Sending dearest love and always, blessings on our courage.  

XO SBB