Tag Archives: Masterpiece Classic

Malkovich makes Crossbones arrrr-fully entertaining

John Malkovich in 'Crossbones.'

Don’t call him Blackbeard! John Malkovich gives a rich, flamboyant performance as Edward Teach in NBC’s new pirate adventure series ‘Crossbones,’ which premieres tonight.

Most broadcast networks rely on a heavy lineup of unscripted “reality” programs during their summer months, so it’s especially encouraging to see NBC rolling out the lavish and almost unlawfully fun pirate saga Crossbones tonight, with Emmy winner John Malkovich as the legendary Blackbeard.
Whoops, sorry. Make that “The Commodore,” because the B-word is frowned upon on the secret Caribbean island where Edward Teach (Malkovich) holds court, some 11 years after his reputed death during a 1718 sea battle. “We don’t use that name here,” he purrs quietly yet dangerously to each newcomer who finds himself in Teach’s presence. His logic? If Blackbeard is “dead,” no one is likely to come looking for him.
From his tropical hideaway, Teach dispatches crews of pirates to retrieve precious treasures that have caught his eye. As the story opens, his latest fixation is the Longitude Chronometer, a new invention that allows ships at sea to stay unerringly on their course. When Teach sends out a massive attack on the English vessel entrusted with delivering the chronometer into royal hands, however, his pirates are in for a jolt: The supposedly mild-mannered medical officer aboard the vessel is actually Tom Lowe (Richard Coyle, Coupling), a spy whom the ruthless governor of Jamaica (Julian Sands) has charged with protecting the invention – and, oh yeah, also assassinating Blackbeard at this earliest opportunity.
Lowe is able to destroy the chronometer during the attack, but the pirates retrieve the inventor’s encrypted notebook containing instructions on how to build another of the devices. In a very ballsy move, after Lowe and his loyal cabin boy, Fletch (Chris Perfetti), are captured, Lowe memorizes the key to the encrypted book, then burns it, ensuring his own continued well-being at Teach’s hands.
As Crossbones unfolds, Teach and Lowe discover a grudging respect for each other, although the old pirate is determined to secure his prize at any cost. Meanwhile, Lowe falls in love with Kate Balfour (Claire Foy from the 2008 Masterpiece Classic miniseries adaptation of Little Dorrit), the pretty and very resourceful quartermistress entrusted with buying and selling supplies in their island community.
Malkovich, as always, is absolutely fascinating in the principal role, sketching in a characterization that is both fiercely intelligent and quirkily eccentric. Coyle, who starred as Piper Perabo’s secret lover in Season 3 of Covert Affairs, makes a splendidly cool foil for Malkovich’s sometimes over-the-top flamboyance.
Crossbones is one of those international co-productions (like NBC’s recent failed series remake of Dracula), so don’t expect to recognize that many other faces among the cast. Special effects are just so-so (the CGI looks, well, computer-generated), but the set and art direction in some of the scenes is absolutely stunning.
Crossbones is no masterpiece, but it has enough energy and imagination to qualify as perfect summer entertainment.
Richard Coyle in 'Crossbones.'

Richard Coyle co-stars in NBC’s new pirate drama ‘Crossbones,’ premiering tonight.

Lady Mary mired in grief as Downton Abbey returns Sunday

Michelle Dockery and Joanne Froggat star in 'Downton Abbey' Sunday on PBS.

Lady’s maid Anna Bates (Joanne Froggatt, right) tries in vain to help her mistress, Mary Crawley (Michelle Dockery), get over her grief in the season premiere of ‘Downton Abbey’ Sunday on PBS.

As Downton Abbey returns for its fourth season on PBS’ Masterpiece Classic Sunday night, a chilly day in February 1922 is dawning. Outside, a dense, clammy mist clings to the estate, while inside her bedroom, Lady Mary Crawley (Michelle Dockery) sits in an emotional fog of her own. It’s been six months since her devoted husband, Matthew, met his death in a ridiculous plot contrivance motoring accident, and Mary is still numb with grief, clinging to her widow’s weeds like armor against further heartache. Worse, she acts completely disconnected from George, her infant son, referring to the boy as a “poor little orphan.”
Understandably, Mary’s refusal to rejoin the living is a matter of concern for both the family and staff of the house, a situation that may have dire repercussions for Downton Abbey. At the time of his death, Matthew had begun to make progress in converting the Crawley estate from a money pit into a self-sustaining business, but without his influence, Mary’s father, Robert (Hugh Bonneville), is inclined to return to his previous, regressive business plans.
Elsewhere in Sunday’s two-hour premiere, the usually woebegone Lady Edith (Laura Carmichael) appears finally to have found happiness with London publisher Michael Gregson (Charles Edwards), who, alas, is trapped in a marriage with a mentally ill wife whom British law will not allow him to divorce. He may, however, have found a loophole, one that demonstrates his deep devotion to Edith.
Also stirring things up for the Crawleys is headstrong young Lady Rose MacClare (Lily James), a visiting cousin from Scotland who has taken up temporary residence at Downton Abbey.
The opening episode features encore guest appearances by supporting characters who appeared fleetingly in past seasons. First, Charlie Grigg (Nicky Henson), Mr. Carson’s (Jim Carter) old music hall partner who tried to blackmail the Crawley butler way back in Season 1, returns with a completely different agenda. Edna Braithwaite (MyAnna Buring), the housemaid who last season was sent packing by Mrs. Hughes (Phyllis Logan) after she tried to become too familiar with widowed Crawley son-in-law Tom Branson (Allen Leech), also resurfaces, looking to cause more trouble.
PBS made available seven of the eight episodes in this season, enough to demonstrate that Season 4 is far sharper and more focused than last season was. One of the more interesting recurring subplots in these new episodes finds many of the characters “in service” fearing for their jobs as the changing social order motivates homeowners to reduce the size of their household staffs, not to mention new electrical appliances that also reduce the demand for as many servants.
In its fourth year, Downton Abbey is starting to repeat itself in some respects, and the coming and going of household staff – which begins with the departure of mean-spirited Miss O’Brien in the opening minutes of the premiere – hits such a frenetic pace that at one point an exasperated Robert wonders aloud whether he and his wife (Elizabeth McGovern) are living under a curse.
For the most part, though, there’s still plenty of life in Downton Abbey, which already has been renewed for a fifth season. The show is more of a dessert than a substantial meal, but as the Dowager Countess (Maggie Smith) once observed, “It seems a pity to miss such a good pudding.”
Sophie McShera and Lesley Nicol play members of the 'Downton Abbey' kitchen staff.

Assistant cook Daisy Mason (Sophie McShera, right) turns to Mrs. Patmore (Lesley Nicol) for romantic advice in season four of ‘Downton Abbey.’