"A Monstrous Regiment of Women"
Marc Ruby? | Warren, MI USA | 07/05/2002
(4 out of 5 stars)
"This BBC presentation is based on the third novel in the Wimsey/Vane series. Harriet, motivated by her memories of Oxford as an escape from worldly concerns (such as her involvement in two murders and persistent proposals from Lord Peter), attends a student reunion or gaudy night. In the course of this she allows herself to be drawn into the mystery of a poison pen writer who has crossed too far into the realms of bad taste and threats. Gradually she realizes that the matter is getting out of hand, and turns again to Wimsey for help and guidance.There is no question but that the saboteur intends harm to Shrewsbury College itself, as well as the dons and students who are part of it. Ugly notes escalate to burnt effigies, and finally to attacks on properties and persons. Everyone, from Senior Common Room to the least student is under suspicion.Harriet must labor under the triple complications of the crimes themselves, a mixed reception from the dons of Shrewsbury, and the ever-increasing complexity of her relationship with Lord Peter. This latter is the reason for Sayers decision to gradually shift the focus of these three novels from Lord Peter (in 'Strong Poison') to Harriet Vane. In the book, lesser characters appear more often than Wimsey does as the narrative focuses in on a woman who is struggling to find herself and who fears being overwhelmed by what Peter has to offer.'Gaudy Night' has the best acting of the three BBC presentations, and the most interesting setting, the only women's college at Oxford. It is easy to fall into the plot and enjoy the intellectual byplay among the characters. Unfortunately, this production shares the same fault as its companion efforts, only this time it is much worse. Whereas before the director (Christopher Hodson) limited his deviations from the novels to providing romantic segues from video to video, this time he had made significant deviations from the novel in order to overemphasize the relationship between Harriet and Wimsey.I hate to get up on a soapbox, but Dorothy Sayers had very good reasons for writing these books as she did. Harriet Vane is an intelligent, determined woman, who is facing one of the dilemmas of her times, how to be an independent woman and in love at the same time. In her society, precious few roles were available that permitted both behaviors. Thus, the primary subtext of 'Gaudy Night is the nature of these roles. But Hodson underplays this, and even goes so far as to create scenes in order to expand Wimsey's role, and thus weaken Harriet Vane's. Having read the book several times, I found this both distracting and irritating. Had I not read 'Gaudy Night' I would have found the screenplay very satisfying. With nearly seventy years between the book's writing and the present day, the number of Sayers readers has dwindled with time. Hopefully, the availability of the BBC productions will reverse that trend and more people will discover the works of one of the English languages most remarkable mystery writes."
A Deep Disappointment
S. Lev-Ami | JERUSALEM Israel | 05/07/2004
(2 out of 5 stars)
"Gaudy Night has long been my favorite Lord Peter Wimsey--or perhaps I should say, Harriet Vane detective story. There's no doubt Sayers recreated Oxford lovingly and with extreme vividness. Harriet Vane fully comes into her own in this story. The TV adaptation, however, is truncated, simplified almost beyond recognition. The various characters are cardboard stereotypes. The deepening relationship between Wimsey and Harriet is reduced to cliches. Why in the world were 4 episodes lavished on a much lesser story, "Have His Carcase" and only three on "Gaudy Night". This version simply doesn't do the original story justice at all."
An Unquiet Place
Doug Anderson | Miami Beach, Florida United States | 09/14/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)
""From women's eyes this doctrine I derive: they sparkle still the right Promethean fire; they are the books, the arts, the academes, that show, contain, and nourish all the world."
-Love's Labour Lost
This is the third Dorothy L. Sayers novel in which mystery writer Harriet Vane has been pursued by Lord Peter Wimsey, but this one has the added attraction of being set at Shrewsbury, an all-women's college at Oxford. Oxford is much more than just a backdrop, however, as it is one of the few places (c. 1930) where women live and are encouraged to live independent lives. Independence, namely her own, is one of the things that Harriet Vane want to preserve. When Harriet, an Oxford graduate, returns to her alma mater to attend a yearly celebration known as "gaudy night", she is re-visiting a stratified and stuffy world full of ancient traditions and customs that she knows very well. Although the university seems like a sanctuary from the concerns of an unquiet world, Harriet is soon informed that things are not as idyllic as they might seem to an outsider, and that something is amiss at Shrewsbury. Previous to her arrival, a series of poison-pen letters have been delivered to various faculty and an unfamiliar sense of menace and threat now intrudes upon the hallowed lives of the university's female fellows. The administration decides not to compromise the reputation of the college by alerting outside authorites, instead they have decided to try and discover the source of the letters themselves, with the help of Harriet of course. Although she's a mystery writer, some of the faculty have decided that being a woman, an Oxford graduate, and an imaginative writer are qualifications that make her their ideal investigator. But not all of the fellows agree, and some are openly hostile to Harriet. The thrill of this mystery is in gaining admittance to the cloistered world of women's higher learning and scholarship, and access to some very effectively and cleverly drawn dons. Every conversation had among their number is full of well articulated views carefully advanced with the support of a wealth of historical knowledge and steeped in rich literary allusion for good measure. Granted, the independent and freethinking female students (they casually smoke cigarettes and openly discuss their affairs) find the female dons to be "nutters". And even the freethinking Lord Peter Wimsey has his suspicions about this closed community of women scholars and he suspects that the anonymous author of the poison-pen letters may be one of their own. Peter expresses these suspicions to Harriet:
"Academically cloistered together, celibate, some sexually ambivalent, [the institution is] bound to throw out the odd hysteric."
But Harriet is not so quick to judge this community that his its own rigorously followed codes of behavior. While conducting her investigation, Harriet finds out many things about the college, as well as many things about her own temperament. She is adivsed by one colleague that her detachment is "disconcerting", and told that if she should ever meet a man that appreciates and respects her dispassionate nature that she should consider herself lucky. Of course, we all know that she has found that man in Lord Peter Wimsey. Much is made of women's instinct and nature and this gaurded community slowly comes to treat Harriet as one of their own and in solving this case she also comes a good deal closer to solving the mysteries that motivate women, as well as the mysteries that lie at the center of her own being. Peter Wimsey, with his razor sharp instincts, may be the one who ultimately solves the mystery(s), but he could not have done so had he not been inspired to do so by Harriet who is the source of the "Promethean fire" that warms his heart and sparks his mind.
Extremely literate and extremely enjoyable mystery!"
We came, we saw, they conquered!
laurinrose | Vancouver, WA | 02/17/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This series concludes in a most excellent way, with a challenging whodunit set amidst the antiquities of Oxford.
The way these characters were portrayed introduced me to the world of Dorothy Sayers' post-WWI England, and my only regret is that Talboys was not introduced as a subsequent episode.
Whenever I read (and reread) Dorothy Sayers, it will always be the portrayal of Peter Wimsey by Edward Peterbridge that I envision. Of all the actors who have taken on this role, *this* version is the finest I've seen."