War Horse

Acquired by Dream Works Pictures, Michael Morpurgo’s novel of the same name takes place during World War I and charts the extraordinary friendship between a boy and a horse who are separated but whose fates continue to intertwine over the course of WWI. The touching novel was made into a play by the same name, which has won the Olivier, Evening Standard and Critics’ Circle awards and has been a huge hit on the London stage over the past three years, and is set to transfer to Broadway next year. Currently playing at the New London Theatre until October 2011, it is notable for its innovative use of giant puppets to depict the horses.

When DreamWorks Pictures first optioned the book, Spielberg immediately came on to produce and eventually decided to direct the picture. The cast will include Oscar-nominated actress Emily Watson, David Thewlis, Benedict Cumberbatch and theatre actor Jeremy Irvine in the lead role. The film will also feature German actor David Kross, who co-starred in The Reader.

Spielberg said he knew from the minute he read the book that he wanted DreamWorks to make the film. “Its heart and its message provide a story that can be felt in every country,” he said. He will direct off a script by  Lee Hall (“Billy Elliot”) and Richard Curtis (“Four Weddings and a Funeral”). DreamWorks will release War Horse to theaters on August 10, 2011.

In addition, Spielberg is producing the Coen brothers’ “True Grit,” also for Paramount, and his own studio’s “Cowboys and Aliens,” which began shooting this summer.

Margaret Rutherford – A Truly Dramatic Life

Victoria’s post on Sir Alec Guiness prompted me to recall how much I’d always enjoyed the great character actress Margaret Rutherford and to do a bit of research. What I discovered was downright hair raising. Margaret was the only child of William Rutherford Benn and his wife, the former Florence Nicholson.

Wikipedia tells us that Rutherford’s father suffered from mental illness and had a nervous breakdown on his honeymoon, afterward being confined to an asylum. He was eventually released on holiday and on 4 March 1883 he murdered his father, Reverend Julius Benn, a Congregational church minister, by bludgeoning him to death with a chamberpot. Shortly afterward, William tried to kill himself as well, by slashing his throat with a pocketknife. William Benn was confined to the Broadmoor Aslyum for the Criminally Insane and was released several years later, reportedly cured. He changed his surname to Rutherford (no wonder!) and returned to his wife. The parents then moved to India with the infant Margaret, but the drama continued unabated – her mother committed suicide by hanging herself from a tree, three year old Margaret was sent back to Britain to live with an aunt, professional governess Bessie Nicholson, in Wimbledon and her father’s continued mental illness resulted in his being confined once more to Broadmoor in 1904; he died in 1921.

The intervening years must have been relatively peaceful, as Margaret eventually managed to secure a place at RADA, the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts, although she didn’t make her stage debut at the Old Vic until 1925 at the age of thirty-three.

She married the openly homosexual actor Stringer Davis in 1945 and they appeared in many productions together (right). They were happily together until Rutherford’s death in 1972. Davis absolutely adored Margaret, one friend noting: ‘For him she was not only a great talent but, above all, a beauty.’ Dubbed by bitchy colleagues as ‘String-along’, he rarely left her side. He was private secretary and general dogsbody, lugging bags, teapots, hot water bottles, teddy bears and nursing Margaret through her ‘bad spells’. These manic depressive episodes – often involving mental hospitals and electrotherapy – were hushed up.

As if their lives didn’t contain enough drama, in the 1950s, Rutherford and Davis adopted the writer Gordon Langley Hall, then in his twenties. Hall later had gender reassignment surgery and became Dawn Langley Simmons, under which name she wrote a biography of Rutherford in 1983. Hall was born at Sissinghurst, the estate of the writer Vita Sackville-West, in Heathfield, Sussex, England, and was the illegitimate child of Jack Copper, Sackville-West’s chauffeur (a grandfather was Rudyard Kipling’s gardener) and Marjorie Hall Ticehurst, who came, Hall always said, from a high social class. Hall said she was born with an adrenal abnormality that causes the female genitalia to resemble a man’s and was thus raised as a boy. She always maintained that she was — unequivocally — female. In 1950 she emigrated to the U.S. and in 1968, she underwent the sex change operation and the next year married her 22-year-old black butler, John-Paul Simmons. The publisher of ”Dawn: A Charleston Legend” was quoted as calling it the first documented interracial marriage in Charleston’s history. A bomb threat forced the couple to move the wedding from a Baptist church to the bride’s home, and the gifts were destroyed by a firebomb.

In England, Miss Rutherford was reported to have said, ”I am delighted that Gordon has become a woman, and I am delighted that Dawn is to marry a man of another race, and I am delighted that Dawn is to marry a man of a lower station, but I understand the man is a Baptist!”

Ironically, Dawn did a bit of acting herself – she became an extra in the ABC/Warner Bros miniseries North and South while visiting Charleston in 1985.

Margaret Rutherford and her daughter, Dawn

But back to Margaret herself – Rutherford made her first appearance in London’s West End theatres in 1933 but her talent was not recognised by the critics until her performance as Miss Prism in the play ‘The Importance of Being Earnest’ (1939). In summer 1941, Noel Coward’s “Blithe Spirit” opened on the London stage, with Coward himself directing. Rutherford played Madame Arcati, the fake psychic in a role in which Coward had earlier envisaged for her and which he then especially shaped. It would be Rutherford’s turn as Madame Arcati in David Lean’s ‘Blithe Spirit’ (1945) that would actually establish her screen success. This would become one of her most memorable performances, with her bicycling about the Kentish countryside, cape fluttering behind her. Interestingly it would also establish the model for portraying that pseudo-soothsayer forever thereafter and there have been about six remakes of the film.

Some of Margaret’s finest screen work was done when she was in her fifties. She was superb as Nurse Carey in Miranda (1948) and completely believable in the role of Professor Hatton Jones in Passport to Pimlico (1949). More success followed as she starred along Alistir Sim in ‘The Happiest Days of Your Life’ (1950). Then came along the role that she was so destined for, that of Miss Letitia Prism in Anthony Asquiths ‘The Importance of Being Earnest’ (1952). Incredibly, despite a whole string of very capable and distinguished performances – she had still not won a single film honour. More comic characters followed including Prudence Croquet in ‘An Alligator Named Daisy’ (1955).

Rutherford then played Mrs. Fazackalee in Basil Deardens ‘The Smallest Show on Earth’ (1957) with such notables as Virginia McKenna, Peter Sellers and Leslie Phillips. For much of the 60’s she become synonymous with Miss Jane Marple, making four Marple based films with a comedy bent that must have won Christie’s approval, as in 1962 Agatha Christie dedicated her novel The Mirror Crack’d: “To Margaret Rutherford in admiration.” Margaret was awarded an OBE for services to stage and screen in 1961 and won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress and a Golden Globe for The VIPs (1963), as the absent-minded Duchess of Brighton, opposite Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. She also played Mistress Quickly in Orson Welles’ Chimes at Midnight in 1966 and was raised to Dame Commander (DBE) in 1967.

Margaret suffered from Alzheimer’s disease at the end of her life. Sir John Gielgud wrote: “Her last appearance at the Haymarket Theatre with Sir Ralph Richardson in The Rivals, an engagement which she was finally obliged to give up after a few weeks, was a most poignant struggle against her obviously failing powers.” She died in 1972. Britain’s top actors flocked to the funeral, where 90-year old Dame Sybil Thorndike praised her friend’s enormous talent and recalled that she “never said anything horrid about anyone.”

You can watch a video tribute to Margaret Rutherford here.

Pride & Prejudice & Zombies

In Seth Grahame-Smith’s Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, Jane Austen’s classic tale of the tangled  relationships between lovers from different social classes in 19th century England was updated by the addition of an army of zombies. As if this (and sea monsters) weren’t enough, now they’re making a film version of the tale, with Natalie Portman both producing and starring as Elizabeth Bennett. The film, currently in production, is slated for release in 2011.

Results of the "Althorp Attic Sale" Christie's, London

It seems as though Earl Spencer has been cleaning the tat out of his attics, and oh, what tat it is. Here are just a few of the items sold last month at Christie’s Auction Room, King Street, London.


Mrs. Dora Jordan (1761-1816), mistress of William IV. Acquired at a sale of her effects by Frances Isabella, Lady Clinton (d. 1875) who placed it in the Dining Room at 28 St. James’s Place. By descent to her niece Lady Sarah Spencer (1838-1919) and by descent to Albert Edward John, 7th Earl Spencer (1892-1975), by whom removed to Althorp, Northamptonshire, in 1923.

Price Realized £775 ($1,178)

Silver-mounted tapering Doccia porcelain étui of round section, the porcelain body decorated with antique scenes moulded in relief, the cover decorated with sea shells and rocaille in relief, within hinged brown fitted leather case; together with, another porcelain étui of round section mounted in gilt-metal, the porcelain body decorated with painted flowers; together with, another gilt-metal mounted porcelain étui of oval section, the porcelain body and lid decorated with foliage and masks, centred with circular cartouches containing bows and arrows, the cover cartouche painted with ‘Souvenir’ and, on the body, with ‘d’amitié’, gilt borders and swags to both cover and base, together with, another gilt-metal mounted enamel étui of rounded reeded body decorated with diamond pattern with a flower depicted at the centre of each (4)

Price Realized  £5,625 ($8,550)


Undergown of cream silk taffeta applied with a heavily embroidered silk satin front panel, a short sleeved robe of crimson silk velvet, fitted and trimmed in miniver and embroidered with stylized ‘S’ shapes in gilt, and a train of crimson silk velvet with a short ermine capelet and gilt cordons to the shoulders; together with the remains of a peeress’ coronation train.

Possibly worn by Charlotte, Countess Spencer (1835-1903) wife of John Poyntz, 5th Earl Spencer (1835-1910) to the coronation of Edward VII in 1902.

Price Realized £6,250 ($9,500)

The later arms on the doors are those Spencer accoll with Spencer impaling Baring for Charles, 6th Earl Spencer, K.G., (1857-1922) and his wife Margaret (d.1906), daughter of Edward, 1st Baron Revelstoke, whom he married in 1887. These arms were possibly applied for the coronation of King George V on 22 June 1911, at which Earl Spencer presided as Lord Chamberlain.

Price Realized  £133,250 ($202,540)

Each comprising salmon pink breeches, scarlet tailcoat and salmon pink waistcoat, all set with silvered metal buttons embossed with the Spencer cypher, scarlet wool caped greatcoat and tricorn hat

Price Realized £4,750 ($7,220)
With two tiers of four bells dependent and bright-engraved with bands of trailing leafage, coral teething stick, engraved later with a viscount’s coronet below initial ‘A’, in later fitted box Brothers, 22 Old Bond St.

The initial is almost certainly that of Edward John Spencer, Viscount Althorp and later 7th Earl Spencer.

Price Realized £3,000 ($4,560)
You can see all 24 pages of the sale results at the Christie’s site.
In all, the sale realized just over two million pounds.

The Battle of Waterloo: The Video – Part Three

At the end of the Battle, Michael, a fellow tour mate, helped me down off the Mound and we proceeded to the pub mentioned earlier for a well earned coffee and fortifying brandy. On our way there, we were fortunate enough to get up close to the battlefield and witness some dashing derring-do by men on horseback, which I’ve edited in to the video below.  What the woman beside me was cackling about, I’ve no idea. Anyway, this is what I saw: