Sunday, March 30, 2014

NBC's Dracula Review

When this show first came out, I wasn't exactly sure how I felt about it. 10 episodes later and a few weeks to sit and think about it, I think can finally offer an opinion on this new series.

For myself, there was a bit of anticipation going into the premier for NBC's Dracula. The story of Dracula itself is something that fits into the realm of the Victorian gothic and is one of the more well-known pieces of classic literature, originally written by Bram Stoker. The fact that Jonathon Rhys Meyers (King Henry VIII from The Tudors) was cast in the lead drew me in even more.

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When I finally got around to watching the first episode though, I was more than a little disappointed. To start, the story does not follow its literary counterpart (although I have not read the book, I'm still familiar with the plot), and many of the characters have been expanded upon to the point that they're almost unrecognizable in some cases. One example, Van Helsing is now working with Dracula.

Now if I had gone off this single episode, I would have left an overall scathing review of this series. Instead, I opted to keep going and keep watching - and I'm glad I did. Several other plot points were introduced, including Mina Murray (Jessica De Gouw) studying to be a medical student and the mysterious Order of the Dragon. There are still remnants of the original piece of literature, but the changes have definitely made things more intriguing. As of the final episode for this season, I'm now looking forward to a second season to see how things turn out.

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Two things I must nit pick at though. The one thing I can't get over is Dracula's impersonation of an American industrialist. Believable from the story standpoint, but not with Rhys Meyers in the role. As a British actor, I'm used to seeing him in British roles with a British accent. When a very distinctly American accent issues forth from him though, it's very offsetting. In some cases, it doesn't even sound like Rhys Meyers and I'm almost wondering if they had another actor dub these sections of the series (have yet to find any proof).

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The largest bone I have to pick though is with the costume designer of the series. Dracula takes place during the 1890s of the Victorian era, but I have yet to see a dress from this decade on any of the main characters. A lot of modern-looking bustier type dresses, a few wannabe 1910s outfits, some weird Edwardian/pin-up mashups, but that's about it. Usually the extras are dressed more period accurate.

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I know that things can be subject to interpretation, but this has gone far beyond that point. After a while I was just watching the costumes to see what kind of ludicrous outfit they came up with next.

It's very hard to go into too much detail about the series simply because there is so much. A good summary of it is that although it departs from the original story, the changes help to make the story more interesting. The new elements add a different dimension and a new level to the relationships amongst all the characters. Still can't get over Rhys Meyers changing accent and the costumes, but the story is what ultimately pulls me along to keep watching.

Overall rating - 4 out of 5
Costumes - 1.5 out of 5

Update 5/28/14 - Unfortunately it was recently announced the show was canceled after only one season. Bummer!

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Secrets of... series review

I've been so busy with sewing that I've fallen horribly behind on my reviews. In addition, I kind of had to work my way through this series before I could actually write a review. The first video I remember watching sometime last year (before I even started this blog), and the most recent was only a couple weeks ago.

Each of the episodes are between 60-90 minutes long, but chock full of history and information. I'll try to highlight the main subject of each and the topics of interest they cover.

Secrets of the Manor House
This takes an in-depth look at the country manor houses of England's aristocracy around the turn of the century. Good for those who are interested in Victorian and Edwardian history, the American Buccaneers, or the TV shows Upstairs Downstairs and Downton Abbey.

Secrets of Highclere Castle
Following in the wake Downton Abbey is this episode which covers the history of Highclere Castle (the real-life estate that stands in for Downton) and its inhabitants. It covers the history of the castle's designs and changes, the lives and adventures of the owners (both prior and most recent), and of the people who help to maintain the property in the modern age. Recommended viewing for anyone loves Downton Abbey, or those who like manor house history.

Secrets of Chatsworth
In the same strain of English manor houses is this episode about Chatsworth. Home of the Devonshire family, this also covers the history of the property and its occupants, touching upon notable individuals such as Georgiana Devonshire (the Georgiana of The Duchess). Good for those with interests in Georgiana or manor houses.

Secrets of Althorp: The Spencers
This episode focuses on the Spencer family, which still resides at the estate. Charles, the 9th Earl, narrates most of the program and goes over its history and prior inhabitants. Most notable is his sister Diana, the late Princess of Wales. This episode is best for those with an interest in the Spencer family or manor houses.

Secrets of Henry VIII's Palace: Hampton Court
Another house, but an entirely different one. Jumping back further in time to the 1500s, this episode visits one of King Henry VIII's favorite residences which still retains much of its original architecture. Great for those with interests in Tudor History and the English Renaissance.

Secrets of the Tower of London
It's hard to cover the entire history of this famous location in one hour, but they do a good job of catching the highlights of its history, inhabitants, and operation. It even influenced how the modern day London Bridge was built! Will interest those who like London history and Tower history in general since it spans a multitude of years.

Secrets of Selfridges
So I watched this one before I had any idea what it was and still loved it. The subject of this is pretty self-explanatory - Selfridges department store in London - and goes over the history of the store and its owner. Good bonus material for anyone watching Mr. Selfridge or even The Paradise. I haven't seen Mr. Selfridge yet, but now I want to!

Secrets of Scotland Yard
I don't know much about this topic, so it was good to help add to my knowledge base and is included since it's part of the series. This focuses on Scotland Yard's history and some its more notorious cases including the assassination attempt on Queen Victoria and Jack the Ripper, as well as modern cases. Good for those with an interest in London history, police crime, and watchers of the series Whitechapel and Sherlock.

All cover images are from

Some of these have more focus than others on topics that are related to Victorian and Edwardian history, but each touches upon these periods (even if it is only briefly). While I don't know yet if this is an actual "series" verses stand alone documentary episodes, I believe they're still great watches for those with the above mentioned interests and to just learn a few more secrets about some of these already famous locations.

Overall review - 4 out of 5

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Saga of a Bodice

So before starting a project, it is advised that you check your fabric stash rather than assuming you have what you think. Why? Because "I'm pretty certain I have almost two yards" quickly becomes "Crap, I only have chunks of fabric that are maybe a yard."

Remaining chunks of flocked taffeta from the prior projects
Yeah, and the brown shantung fabric that the fabric store usually carries? Guess what they discontinued a couple months ago? So all I have is maybe 2/3 of a yard that is going to have to be used very wisely. So for now, my modifications to the existing unfinished bodice are going to have to wait. Grrrrr.

However, the crafting gods were on my side and answered my pleas in the form of Etsy. While browsing for other stuff, I found someone selling a 1 1/2 yard remnant of the blue flocked taffeta. I quickly bought it and once it arrived and I was able to ensure that the fabrics matched - they did! - I got started with drafting.

My go-to pattern is 1885 Cuirass Bodice (TV460) from Truly Victorian since it's easy to adapt and make adjustments to. The modifications I made this time was to make the bodice back-closing and with a rounded neckline. I also extended the length of the front bodice point.

The mockup went together easily, and from there it was just making adjustments to match my waist and lack of bust. The back pieces I reused from prior projects and are therefore already adjusted to my measurements.

If there is one thing I have discovered over the years, it's that mockups are important. Because of my chest measurements, I usually end up having to take the bustline in 1"-2". Since I'm dealing with limited quantities of fabric, there really isn't a lot of room for a fudge factor.

Remapped my changes...

Rulers everywhere!
And hopefully I'll only have one more mockup to do before getting started on the project. Down to the wire now since the challenge is due Saturday.