'The Scandalous Lady W' Is Scandalously Derivative of Better Dramas

Carl Wilson

The new "prestige" drama from the BBC is a by-the-numbers mish-mash of 50 Shades, period drama, and Game of Thrones guaranteed to please no one.

The Scandalous Lady W

Cast: Natalie Dormer, Aneurin Barnard, Shaun Evans, Jessica Gunning
Network: BBC2
Air date: 2015-08-17

Figuratively speaking, I imagine that somewhere in the underground vaults of the BBC there must have been a creative team meeting where, hooked up like the precogs from The Minority Report (2002), experts with algorithms popped out pristine spherical orbs, each one etched with the names of popular shows and formats. The job of the British Tom Cruise then, is to combine this data and anticipate where future hits might occur. He's tired, what with all the BBC budget cuts that the British government are threatening; so he needs to demonstrate that his organization is both traditional: it can still deliver prestige products which do rather well abroad, and progressive: it can still remain relevant to the license fee payers.

In this meeting, three globes roll down a Perspex tube and come to rest on a soft satin cushion: Period Drama, Fifty Shades of Grey, and Game of Thrones. Looking at these statistical gifts, Tom remembers that period dramas have always been moderately successful. "Mr Darcy sexily strolling out of the lake in the 1995 BBC version of Pride & Prejudice did rather well with the female demographic, and the 2008 film The Duchess -- in which Keira Knightley played Georgiana Cavendish, a feisty Duchess from the late 18th century, also seems quite empowering and modern in it's own way. We'll take those parts and ditch the boring wordy bits. Also, I'm not sure how much a woman can be sexually objectified, but if we throw in a scene where she discusses Alexander Pope and writes some poetry, then our heroine might still look like she's secretly in control because she's intelligent."

"Furthermore," Tom continues, "if we also add in several garbled and jarring references to Lady Worsley being a 'modern' with a 'new kind of love based on liberty [and] free will', then the viewer at home will hopefully think to themselves: "Wow, this is just like those modern reality shows that I watch, which I can totally relate to, but with more tight britches and lace being dropped to the floor. Nice." At the least, they might not consider how shallow a male character that can only robotically spout 'do my bidding' is when juxtaposed with a wife whose dastardly idea of revenge is primarily to spend lots of money on pretty hats and ribbons."

"To add legitimacy to the show," Tom considers, "we should also add the title card: 'This is a true story', because in abridging Hallie Rubenhold's novel, Lady Worsley's Whim: An Eighteenth-Century Tale of Sex, Scandal and Divorce, some of the motivations might appear … somewhat incredulous." Thinking for a moment, Tom also realizes: "It would probably serve us much better to turn our tale into a mini-series", but then he remembers: "We don't have the budget of ITV's Downton Abbey, and won't have their audience; especially when we air at 9pm on a Monday. But we might catch some headlines and gain quick cultural traction if we air a one-off TV film at the exact moment that the government is examining how we spend our funds."

Picking up the next ball, and thumbing over the name in his sweaty palm, Tom gives a jolt. "Fifty Shades might be a bit too strong for our television audience," he laughs to himself; but "it's okay; we'll have a riding crop in several scenes (kinky naughty!), people using the adjective 'fuck' in the 1780's (historically naughty!), and a husband masturbating outside of a bedroom door whilst peeping on his wife who is having sex with any number of other men ('Is this a period drama or porn?' naughty!). Just to be safe, we'll present every one of the sex scenes in softly-lit montages whilst harp music plays over the top; that way, when we cut to shots of writhing torsos, it will look super classy, and is surely what women want to see despite the later matrimonial prostitution context."

"Anyway, we'll be fine with the sex if it's titillating," mused Tom, "especially if we use comically dampening British expressions such as 'He has us by the nutmegs' and 'Married, my arse' to counterpoint the most introspective lines from the script. Phrases such as 'Are you not satisfied with looking upon me through the keyhole?' might seem quite Blackadder the Third (1987), but I'm certain that nobody will laugh out loud when they hear it spoken with absolute solemnity. With all of the explosive keyhole action, the viewers might also consider that the show is positioning them as hypocritical voyeurs of forced/cajoled sex scenes, which again, we might want to avoid making too obvious. The tensions between sexuality/pleasure and ownership/power are still very interesting -- like in Secret Diary of a Call Girl (2007-present) or Belle de Jour (1967), but it might be presented in a confusing fashion within our story, because like Mary Antoinette probably said in Sofia Coppola's version of events: 'Let them eat sexy yet judgmental cake.'"

As for the last sphere, Tom thought hard and debated with himself: "Yes, Game of Thrones is the most successful show on television at the moment, and it does contain it's fair share of bed-hopping, which people like, but we simply don't have that kind of budget." Tom paces around the room; the other creatives look anxiously at him whilst the precogs on the floor inaudibly murmur to themselves that their visions are often quite fallible. Nobody cares. Then Tom has an idea -- a flash of budgetary inspiration. "Instead, we'll simply get the actress that plays the headstrong Margaery Tyrell from Thrones. Natalie Dormer. She was also the headstrong Anne Boleyn in that other period drama, The Tudors, and the headstrong Cressida in those Hunger Games films. She didn't take her kit off for the kid's film, but she might for us when she finds out that she'll be playing another headstrong woman. If we also employ Aneurin Barnard, the Welsh chap who played King Richard III in the BBC mini-series The White Queen, then it'll look like a bona-fide prestige production. A brilliant idea would be to have him dressed up in militia regalia at first, exactly like Mr Wickham did in the BBC's adaptation of Pride & Prejudice, and then echo his elopement with Lydia Bennet. In doing so, we can use the visual shorthand set-up by better stories, and then we can twist the plot later on." The last suggestion seems quite convoluted, but the room erupts into applause nevertheless.

"Which is just as well," Tom interjects and sighs to himself, "because after the first third of the script, in which the viewer can take a good look at some of the grand estates of Britain (Clandon Hall, Chiswick House, and Ham House), we'll have to spend the remaining two thirds locked into one set for budgetary reasons. We'll use a courtroom because when we combine that with the period drama, it will make our show look like a feminist version of Belle (2013), where Lady Worsley can cheer on the court, proving that she is literally worthless in the eyes of the law and no-one will feel at all conflicted about what that type of statement actually means. Luckily, if we include phrases such as 'my misfortune [was] to live in an age of men, I will not belong to any man ever again', then the audience might infer that despite being shown to have birthed (then lost custody of) a 'bastard' baby, obtained a number of venereal diseases through being pimped out by her 'rantum scantum' loving husband, and having been exiled to France, she is still all about female empowerment and so can also be shown to be rather enjoying her subjugation to at least 26 men."

Tom knows that the limited budget means that Lady Worsely's tale will be cut too short to actually make his last thought make perfect sense, but again, he finds two quick and easy solutions: "We'll have her power walk out of her husband's house and towards the screen -- very meaningful -- and then we'll have the end titles state that 'She married again, a musician 21 years her junior, but she didn't take his name. He took hers." Tom muses, "With this, it will appear as though 'Woman' has finally defeated 'Man' and that will make everything okay somehow. And if we finish with a slow tracking-in shot of the actual portrait of Lady Worsley, hanging in Harewood House, Yorkshire, then if we end up producing a hollow, pretty looking, but absolutely confused piece of entertainment, at the very least we've also done our part in boosting the tourist economy of the North of England; something which the government oversight committees will be very happy about. So let's make it!"

Figuratively speaking.

To be a migrant worker in America is to relearn the basic skills of living. Imagine doing that in your 60s and 70s, when you thought you'd be retired.

Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century

Publisher: W. W. Norton
Author: Jessica Bruder
Publication date: 2017-09

There's been much hand-wringing over the state of the American economy in recent years. After the 2008 financial crisis upended middle-class families, we now live with regular media reports of recovery and growth -- as well as rising inequality and decreased social mobility. We ponder what kind of future we're creating for our children, while generally failing to consider who has already fallen between the gaps.

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Very few of their peers surpass Eurythmics in terms of artistic vision, musicianship, songwriting, and creative audacity.

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame nominating committee's yearly announcement of the latest batch of potential inductees always generates the same reaction: a combination of sputtering outrage by fans of those deserving artists who've been shunned, and jubilation by fans of those who made the cut. The annual debate over the list of nominees is as inevitable as the announcement itself.

The Hall of Fame has been harshly criticized for some of its more inexplicable exclusions and for neglecting certain subgenres of music. Cynicism and negativity over the Hall's selection process and membership is fairly widespread. That said, despite the controversies and legitimate gripes, induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is still widely viewed as a career milestone. The Hall's stature feeds its surrounding controversies: after all, nobody would care to argue so vehemently about the merits of one artist over another if it wasn't important. Very rarely will a newly inducted artist miss the opportunity to appear at the star-studded ceremony to accept their honor.

The criteria for nomination is as follows: "Artists -- a group encompassing performers, composers and/or musicians -- become eligible for induction 25 years after the release of their first commercial recording. Besides demonstrating unquestionable musical excellence and talent, inductees will have had a significant impact on the development, evolution and preservation of rock and roll." Specifically for performers, "This category honors bands or solo artists which demonstrate musical excellence. Such a descriptor includes (but isn't limited to) influence on other performers or genres; length and depth of career and catalog; stylistic innovations; or superior technique and skills."

These standards allow the selection committee wide latitude with their choices, and generating a list that would create zero controversy is an obvious impossibility. As for those deserving artists yet to be included, their time will surely come. There has purportedly been an emphasis on increasing diversity among the nominating committee and voters in recent years, and the list of contenders for the class of 2018 reflects this.

Radiohead, as expected and deserved, are nominated in their first year of eligibility, and there is little doubt they will be inducted. Other nominees include Bon Jovi, Kate Bush, the Cars, Depeche Mode, Dire Straits, Eurythmics, J. Geils Band, Judas Priest, LL Cool J, MC5, the Meters, the Moody Blues, Rage Against the Machine, Nina Simone, Rufus featuring Chaka Khan, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Link Wray and the Zombies. It's a strong and varied group.

Perhaps the most pleasant surprise on the list, however, is the British duo Eurythmics. Even though they've been eligible since 2006, this is their first nomination. Dave Stewart and Annie Lennox certainly deserve recognition for their important contributions to the musical fabric of the last 40 years. While Eurythmics have always been generally respected, they've never been darlings with the critics like some of their contemporaries. It's puzzling as to why. Very few of their peers surpass Eurythmics in terms of artistic vision, musicianship, songwriting and creative audacity. Lennox is second to noone as a vocalist, not just in her lead parts but also in the creative, often rhythmic way she uses her voice as an instrument. This nomination could boost the stature and perception of Eurythmics' body of work immeasurably.

Although Eurythmics are often consigned strictly to the synthpop genre, that designation fits only a portion of their repertoire. Each of their nine studio albums has its own unique vibe while retaining the duo's core identity. Eurythmics never repeat themselves, often taking bold risks and swerving in unexpected directions. Unlike many of their contemporaries, Eurythmics didn't "sell out" or compromise by chasing after obvious Top 40 hits. Even their most popular singles aren't commercial in the traditional sense, and they've always sounded like nobody else on the radio.

Despite the sudden emergence of their 1983 single "Sweet Dreams (are made of this)" as an MTV staple and international smash, Eurythmics are far from an overnight success story. Their story begins in London, 1975, when Stewart fortuitously encountered Lennox at the restaurant where she worked as a waitress. The Scottish singer had recently dropped out of the Royal Academy of Music, which she felt didn't suit her musical interests. Stewart and Lennox strongly connected over their love of music, and they quickly became a couple who were inseparable. Along with singer/ songwriter/ guitarist Peet Coombes, Stewart and Lennox formed a short-lived group the Catch. After one failed single, they added two members and renamed themselves the Tourists.

Coombes was the dominant creative force and primary songwriter behind the Tourists. Lennox and Coombes shared vocals on the band's dour and melancholy power-pop. The Tourists released three albums and managed a handful of chart appearances in the UK. Two of their singles, a peppy cover of Dusty Springfield's "I Only Want to Be With You" and the hard-rocking "So Good T\to Be Back Home Again", made the UK Top 10. The band toured extensively, but their success was fleeting. The Tourists' third album, Luminous Basement (1980), tanked badly despite containing their strongest material yet, and the group dissolved shortly thereafter.

Lennox and Stewart also endured a painful ending to their sometimes tumultuous romance, but they recognized the power of their musical chemistry and decided to continue working together as a duo. They were a pair "who couldn't be together, and who could not be apart", as Lennox reflects many years later in the song "17 Again". History has shown that they made the right decision: Stewart and Lennox compliment each other intuitively through a shared passion for music, the thrill of experimentation, and the need for emotional release that songwriting and performing allows.

The name Eurythmics was derived from a technique used to teach music to children based on sensory and physical methods of learning rhythm. The newly-christened duo signed with RCA Records and in early 1981 headed to Germany to record their debut album with highly-respected krautrock producer Conny Plank.

Plank already had a long string of acclaimed albums to his credit, including collaborations with Neu!, Can, Ultravox, Kraftwerk and Brian Eno among others. The sessions for what would become Eurythmics' debut album, In the Garden, were held at Plank's studio in Cologne. He brought several of his regular collaborators into the proceedings, including bassist Holger Czukay and drummer Jaki Liebezeit of avant-garde rockers Can, Blondie drummer Clem Burke and D.A.F. electronics whiz Robert Görl. Stewart has described the sessions as a learning experience that helped expand his perception of what pop music could be and how it could be created without following any rules, a perspective that served Eurythmics well.

Eurythmics' austere and hypnotic debut single "Never Gonna Cry Again" was released in May 1981. They filmed a low-budget video and landed a couple TV slots to promote the track, but the song's haunted nature did not translate to mainstream success: it barely scraped the lower reaches of the UK singles chart. A second single, the dreamy guitar-rocker "Belinda", followed in August but failed to chart.

In the Garden was finally released in October 1981, but without a hit to generate momentum it was barely noticed. Despite scant sales figures, the album's gloomy psychedelic guitar-pop makes for a rather strong debut. In the Garden exists in late summer shadows, densely atmospheric and shrouded in a veil of dread. Lennox's vocals are understated, subtle and lower in the mix than on subsequent albums. Sound effects, odd vocalizations and bits of sonic experimentation fade in and out like flashes of hazily repressed memory.

RCA wasn't eager to invest in a follow-up to In the Garden after its disappointing reception, so Stewart financed Eurythmics' second album largely through a personal bank loan. Faced with a minuscule budget, they worked in a London warehouse to avoid spending money on studio time. They were able to purchase cheap second-hand equipment for the sessions, including the basic TEAC 8-track on which most of the album was recorded. Adam Williams, former bassist for the ska band the Selectors, helped the duo learn the equipment while co-producing some of their earliest tracks.

The primitive set-up was the ultimate blessing in disguise. Since they were financing the sessions and self-producing, Eurythmics had the freedom to experiment with no oversight. As both Lennox and Stewart were enduring periods of deep personal strife at the time, the sessions evolved into an emotional and creative catharsis that helped shape the mercurial nature of the music. It was out of this environment that a classic was born.

Despite appearing only a few months after their debut album, the first single to emerge from the new sessions proved radically different than any of Eurythmics' prior work. Released in April 1982, "This Is the House" is a flamboyant, horn-driven spectacle on which Lennox belts out a vocal more confident and brash than any of her prior work. The song's odd mix of synthpop, R&B; and latin influences renders it completely unique, but despite its infectious ingenuity and beguiling loopiness (or perhaps because of it), "This Is the House" failed to chart.

The follow-up single that landed two months later is even better. Entrancing and soulful, "The Walk" exudes the anxiety, drama and innovation that became Eurythmics' hallmark. The vocal arrangement is ingenious, and Dick Cuthell (known for his work with Madness, the Specials, Fun Boy Three and others) lets rip a blistering trumpet solo. As in many of their songs, "The Walk" slowly ratchets up the tension through hypnotic repetition and the gradual addition of more layers of sound until it reaches a haywire frenzy. Although a brilliant recording, "The Walk" fared no better than its predecessor.

With the duo's second album Sweet Dreams (are made of this) completed, RCA began a strong promotional push, issuing the opening track "Love Is a Stranger" as a single in November 1982. Lennox's dazzling vocal ranges from icy cool to fiery passion over a relentless electric groove bracketed by sinuous lines of synth. "Love Is a Stranger" rose to #54 in the UK, their highest placement yet, and momentum was finally building for the duo thanks in part to the single's provocative video.

The first significant chapter in a series of visually arresting promotional clips that Eurythmics generated over the span of their career, "Love Is a Stranger" showcases Lennox's dramatic presence and her innate ability to command the viewer's attention. She plays multiple roles, ending the clip with her red hair slicked back and dressed androgynously in a man's suit. Image was quickly becoming an important part of the Eurythmics' equation, with Lennox always compelling no matter which character she inhabits, and Stewart often appearing as her sort of mad-scientist counterpart.

Sweet Dreams (are made of this) hit the shelves on 4 January 1983, along with its title-track, a single that continues to reverberate through pop music nearly 35 years after its release. Suddenly everything changed for Eurythmics. An obscure British duo, barely managing to survive in the music business, soared to the top with one of the more unconventional songs ever to scale those lofty heights.

"Sweet Dreams (are made of this)" has an unusual structure, with no real verses or chorus. Lennox has described it as a mantra, and indeed it is. The lyrics, which Lennox rattled off spontaneously in a matter of minutes, are a simple but profound statement about the human condition: "Everybody's looking for something," the search for meaning and fulfillment, the ephemeral "this" of which sweet dreams are made.

Lennox begins the song with a single line of vocal, then starting with "some of them want to use you" at the 0:24 point it doubles. From there the song gradually builds intensity, with the vocals increasingly layered. A masterful finalé combines all the sonic elements before fading to black, the mantra repeating endlessly, the "this" still stubbornly undefined. The booming minor-key bass riff and the epic string-motif solo starting at 1:31 are played by Lennox on a Roland Juno-6 synthesizer. The main riff (improvised by Lennox while listening to Stewart working on a drum-machine pattern), is a simple two-bar arpeggio that loops throughout most of the song. Two parts were recorded separately and panned on opposite sides of the sound spectrum, creating a richly resonant effect. "Sweet Dreams (are made of this)" is no dated relic from the early days of MTV burdened by the limitations the time. Its massive waves of synth flood out of the speakers with enormous power, as inexorably as the tide.

The music video, which became wildly popular on MTV during its heyday, is forever entwined with the song in listeners' collective consciousness. The iconic image of Lennox in her masculine suit and flaming orange flat-top helps to define the new wave era. Her forceful demeanor, nervy confidence and the subtle nuances of her facial expressions amplify the song's inherent tension. She confronts the viewer directly by pointing right in our faces at the 0:24 mark. At 1:56, she offers a sly half-smile with, "some of them want to abuse you", and at 2:15 she pounds her fist just as the song reaches its dramatic apex. Stewart appears throughout the video stoically pecking away on the drum machine he used in the recording of the song, the Movement MCS Drum Computer MK1 (except for that part where he and the cow have, well, a moment… It's all in the eye contact).

After a slow climb up the US pop chart, "Sweet Dreams (are made of this)" was finally able to derail the Police's "Every Breath You Take" from its seven-week reign at the top during the week of 3 September 1983. It would be Eurythmics' only chart-topping pop hit in America, and it reached #2 in the UK. In the wake of Eurythmics' new-found fame, "Love Is a Stranger" was re-released, this time becoming a major hit on both sides of the Atlantic.

The album's deep cuts are every bit as strange and fascinating as its better-known singles. The ghostly "Jennifer" is a narcotic reverie of keyboard swells and spectral atmospherics. "I've Got an Angel" and "Somebody Told Me" are serrated neurotic fits, swerving dangerously off-the-rails from anything that would normally be considered pop music. A long and mesmerizing exploration of urban isolation, "This City Never Sleeps" is a powerful finalé. Sweet Dreams (are made of this) is an examination of the human psyche fraught with turmoil, a series of jagged recurring nightmares and anxiety attacks set to music that is soulful and experimental, melodic but eccentric, a stark electronic soundscape that bristles with horns and unexpected sonic jolts.

Next Page: Potent and Ferocious

This film suggests that all violence—wars, duels, boxing, and the like—is nothing more than subterfuge for masculine insecurities and romantic adolescent notions, which in many ways come down to one and the same thing.

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Love You To Life

Label: Self-released
Release Date: 2017-08-11

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