In the Enemy Camp, June 19, 2010

As we covered the battles leading up to Waterloo (Quatre Bras, Ligny), we eventually came to Le Caillou, where Napoleon slept the night before the battle.

This is how it usually looked, but on the weekend of the 195th anniversary of the defeat of Napoleon, the museum here and the grounds were chock-a-block with French reenactors for the Sunday battle.  They seemed amazingly upbeat though the outcome had been known for almost two centuries.
Some examples of rather sloppy marching.

Now they’ve got it!

That’s Napoleon in the gray.

 
I suppose this poor steed had to bear Napoleon into retreat.
Poor old Field Marshal Ney, above and below, tried his darndest and for his efforts, he was shot for treason by the French after Napoleon was sent to St Helena. But he had a very fancy uniform.
Actually there were quite a few fancy uniforms among the French forces.
Inside the museum, a mannequin stood watch over the bed in which Napoleon supposedly slept the night before Waterloo.
Outside the French attempted to uphold their reputation for exceptional cuisine.
The soldier does not seem to appreciate the lady’s cooking!
Déjeuner.

Look smart, boys.
Above a few civilians who were at the French encampment.  When I suggested to the mademoiselles they looked like characters from Jane Austen’s novels, they were aghast.  “Oh, non, non,” they exclaimed.
Tres amusant!

The Young Victoria – My two Cents Worth

And here I thought that spending an inordinate amount of time researching the Duke of Wellington and Queen Victoria was a good thing . . . it seems not, since all that I’ve learned gets in the way of my enjoying films like Young Victoria. It was a visual delight – the sets, the costumes, the interiors – but I felt that the story itself was disjointed. I followed it with no problem, but I can see that anyone who doesn’t know the full story of Victoria’s early life would be lost. Here are just a few points that grated on my nerves:

We see Victoria with her doll collection, it’s referenced in a conversation between Princes Albert and Ernst, but there’s no explanation of what it means. Why insert it into the film if you’re not going to make a point?

Why show King Leopold getting all pissy over Albert’s neglecting to correspond with him if you’re not going tell the film goer the importance of this?

We see a somber, dark clad woman in attendance on Victoria in a few scenes – then we see her being sent away in a carriage and Victoria telling Albert, “I needed her so much at one time.” Needed who? Do you think the average viewer would have cottoned on to the fact that this Lehzen, Victoria’s nurse and rock through most of her life?

Albert takes a bullet . . . . . I won’t comment.

As I said, these are just a few points. Imagine how my head was spinning while I actually watched the film. I’m surprised it wasn’t more historically accurate, or cohesive, what with Sarah Ferguson being one of the producers. As she is quick to remind us, she’s an authority on Queen Victoria.

I thought the casting was spot on in some places and way off the mark in others. Baron Stockmar, Prince Leopold and Sir John Conroy were excellently cast, as were the Duchess of Kent and Queen Adelaide. Rupert Friend could have been the young Albert reincarnated. On the downside, Emily Blunt did a fine acting job but was too dark, IMHO, to play Victoria. And where was the slight Germanic accent? And Julian Glover as the Duke of Wellington? The fake hookey nose was good, but his body type was miles away from that of the real Duke and I just wanted to scream every time he was on screen.
So, after venting I shall now put my money where my mouth is. Were I to cast the part of the Duke of Wellington in a film, I would choose either Adrian Brody, Daniel Day Lewis or Pierce Brosnan (with prosthetic nose) to play the Duke. Do you agree? Which would be your choice? Or do you have another suggestion? I’m looking forward to your comments . . . . .

London and Waterloo Tour – Kensington Palace

Kensington Palace has been home to the royal court, on and off, since William and Mary took up residence at Kensington House, as it was then known, shortly before Christmas 1689. The accession of George I was celebrated at Kensington with a bonfire in the gardens, where the household servants and courtiers toasted their new king with six barrels of strong beer and over three hundred bottles of claret. It was George I who set about making extensive renovations to the property, though he didn’t spend much time at the Palace. George II, on the other hand, loved the Palace, but didn’t entertain lavishly. After his sudden death at Kensington on 25 October 1760, the Palace would never again serve as the seat of a reigning monarch.
Now the story heats up – George III’s fourth son, Edward, Duke of Kent, was given two floors of rooms in the south-east corner of the Palace in 1798, below the State Apartments. The Duke undertook extensive renovations of the main rooms of the Palace with Wyatt as his architect before hastily moving to Brussels to escape his debts. In 1817, Princess Charlotte, who was the only legitimate heir to the throne, died in childbirth. The Duke of Kent (and all of the other unmarried royals) realized that it would behoove him to find himself a bride and set about the business of begetting a legitimate heir. In 1818 the Duke married Victoire, Dowager Princess of Leiningen, the sister of Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg – the late Princess Charlotte’s husband. Kent was cleverer than most of his brothers when he chose a wife. Victoire of Leiningen was a widow and already had proved her fertility by having had two healthy children.
Victoire, Duchess of Kent
The Duke of Kent and his bride moved into Kensington Palace and Princess Victoria was born there on 24 May 1819 and christened the following month in a private ceremony in the Cupola Room. Unfortunately, the Duke lived only nine months after the birth of his daughter but the Duchess of Kent and her daughter continued to live at Kensington until the accession of Queen Victoria in 1837. On 20 June 1837, very early in the morning, Princess Victoria was awakened and told that her uncle William IV had died and that she was queen.  Throughout the 19th century, the Palace was slightly neglected, its rooms doled out as grace and favour homes for minor royals or loyal retainers. A bit of glamour was restored to the Palace when Princess Margaret took up residence there, and of course the Palace will forever more be linked to its most glamorous resident, Diana, Princess of Wales.
An installation called “Enchanted Palace” is on now and running through January 2011. It’s a combination of fashion, performance, storytelling and film that runs throughout the palace and tells the story of its former residents. Installations in the state apartments are by designers including Vivienne Westwood, William Tempest and Stephen Jones and illustrator/set designer Echo Morgan who, working alongside Wildworks Theatre Company, take inspiration from the palace and the royals who have lived there. Contemporary designs are displayed alongside historic items from the collection, including dresses worn by Princess Diana. Each room tells a story about a former resident.  A somewhat maudalin tone is set by the Room of Royal Sorrows, focused on the emotional torment of Queen Mary II as she tried in vain a produce an heir. It is set in her bedchamber, giving the display an unsettling authenticity. The focus of the room is a ‘dress of tears’ created by Aminaka Wilmont, while on the bed is a figure of the queen, dressed in blue, face hidden. “The first time you walk into the room, it has an aura of sadness, but also incredible beauty,” said designer Marcus Wilmont, part of the team that decorated the room and came up with the outfit worn by the mannequin representing Queen Mary. “She tried really hard, but she had many miscarriages. She was a very loved queen, and we wanted to try to capture her spirit.” There are dozens of antique glass bottles known as “tear catchers” in the room, once used during times of mourning. It was thought that bottling the tears would catch and contain sorrow. Visitors are encouraged to leave a handwritten note about the last time they cried.

Wildworks’ interactive ‘wishing throne’ is the centrepiece of the King’s Presence Chamber, while the theme of dance is reflected in the Council Chamber, where dresses belonging to Princess Margaret and Princess Diana are displayed within a silver birch forest installation. The Independent calls the installation “so
peculiar it is as if you’ve stepped into Tim Burton’s ‘Alice in Wonderland.” Read the entire article here.

One can only wonder what Queen Victoria would have thought of these avant garde goings on in her childhood home. . . . . Would she be amused?

After touring the interior of the Palace and the gardens, Victoria and I will be taking tea in the Orangery. In addition to the Royal Champagne Tea, the Orangery is featuring an Enchanted Palace Tea featuring chocolate ganache and raspberry shortbread. To see all of the Orangery’s menues, click here.

Kristine

The London and Waterloo Tour – Victoria and Albert: Art in Love at the Queen's Gallery

Victoria and I are looking forward to the Victoria and Albert: Art in Love exhibit at the Queen’s Gallery, Buckingham Palace. The Exhibition features 400 items from The Royal Collection including gifts exchanged by Victoria and Albert such as drawings, paintings, sculpture, furniture, musical scores and jewellery and encompasses their mutual love of music and art. The display also touches upon Prince Albert’s work on ‘The Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of all Nations in 1851’ as well Queen Victoria in the years after Albert’s death in 1861.

Works by the couple’s favorite artist, Franz Xaver Winterhalter, are on display, as are photographs taken of the Royal couple. A German painter first recommended to Queen Victoria by Louise, Queen of the Belgians, Winterhalter came to England in 1842 and subsequently worked regularly for the queen and her family over the next two decades. Winterhalter was granted the largest number of royal commissions and produced numerous formal portraits, including the one pictured above, which Queen Victoria commissioned in 1843 as a surprise for her husband’s 24th birthday. The artist presents the Queen in an intimate pose, leaning against a red cushion with her hair half unravelled from its fashionable knot.

Winterhalter (at left) was born in the Grand Duchy of Baden in 1805. He excelled at painting and drawing as a teen and went to Munich where he studied at the Academy of Arts. By the late 1830’s he drew attention as a painter of royal subjects. He traveled and painted in almost every court of Europe until the last few years of his life. Though art critics were never very enthusiastic about his work, his portraits were well executed and conveniently flattering.

Costumes are also displayed in the exhibit, including Queen Victoria’s costume for the 1851 Stuart Ball  designed by French artist Eugène Lami. The French silk gown is rich in lace and brocade.
You can take a really in-depth video tour of the exhibition here and/or visit the Royal Collection website.

Winterhalter’s The First of May 1851, at right,  shows the Duke of Wellington presenting a casket to his one-year-old godson, Prince Arthur, Duke of Connaught, who is supported by Queen Victoria. Behind these figures and forming the apex of a pyramidal composition is Prince Albert, half looking over his shoulder towards the Crystal Palace in the left background. Both the Duke of Wellington and Prince Albert are dressed in the uniform of Field Marshal and wear the Order of the Garter. The painting derives its title from the fact that both the Duke of Wellington and Prince Arthur were born on 1 May, which was also the date of the inauguration of the Great Exhibition in Hyde Park.

 The painting was commissioned by Queen Victoria, but Winterhalter clearly encountered some difficulties in devising an appropriate composition. In the queen’s words, he ‘did not seem to know how to carry it out’ and it was Prince Albert ‘with his wonderful knowledge and taste’ who gave Winterhalter the idea of using a casket, instead of the gold cup the Duke had actually presented to the child. The painting hangs at the Duke’s country home, Stratfield Saye.

Above, Victoria and Albert with their children in 1846, Buckingham Palace

The Young Victoria

Victoria H. (as opposed to Victoria R) loved this film when she saw it in London in May 2009. And she will buy a copy as soon as it comes out on DVD. It’s still in Kristine’s Blockbuster queue.

We’d love to know what you think of it, so if you’ve already seen it, do tell us all. Wasn’t Emily Blunt wonderful? She even looked the part.

Victoria H. has this warning.  Do not expect the film to be entirely historically accurate. They played a little fast and loose with a couple of aspects.  For the benefit of the drama, of course.

 For example, Prime Minister Lord Melbourne was almost 60 when Victoria came to the throne. He might have had a long history of being a ladies’ man (and he had been married to Lady Caroline Lamb, remember), but  he was not the studly figure that Paul Bettany presented in the film, see left. Not that anyone could complain about Paul’s looks.  And Prince Albert did not take a bullet for his bride — he was as uninjured in the attack as she was.

Kristine tells an amusing bon mot regarding Patty Suchy of Novel Explorations . . One year we went to England to do a Queen Victoria tour and arrived a day or so early. The movie Mrs. Brown had just come out and we both wanted to see it, so we went to a cinema in Baker Street, where after buying our tickets we were presented with a floor plan and asked to reserve our seats. And what seats they were – plush red velvet, deep and supremely comfortable. Well, it also happened to have been the day we landed in Merry Old. And you know what air travel does to one. So, here we settled into our seats, the picture started and sometime later I turned to Patty in order to impart some witty aside or other, only to find her fast asleep! She missed the entire film. However, Patty embodies true friendship and after she’d awoken, she said, “Well, as long as you enjoyed it.”  Have you ever!?