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The perfect film for me because it includes:

a)      Beautiful scenery – this is the kind of film you’ll watch over and over for the escapism factor.

b)     Writing – I love creative heroines, and I identify with Frances’s need to get away in order to find her muse again.

c)      Renovation – one of my own passions; my properties in both Kent and France were wrecks when I bought them, and I very much enjoyed making them into homes.

d)     Passion, romance, love, love, love!

Diane Lane plays Frances Mayes, an American writer who’s struggling to put her life back together after the breakdown of her marriage. When a friend offers her a free holiday in Tuscany, Frances grabs the chance to get away from it all, in the hope that some Italian sunshine can shake her out of her gloom and her writers’ block.

And so the action of the film moves to beautiful Tuscany – so many wonderful panoramas to behold! During her holiday Frances indeed finds a way out of her depression: by means of extending her holiday into permanent residency, when she purchases a dilapidated villa and hires a crew of workers to renovate it. Over time, Frances settles into her Tuscan life, making friends with some interesting characters, and she helps a local Romeo and Juliet encountering obstacles in their love by offering her home as a wedding venue.

And does Frances find love herself? Well, to tell you that would be to ruin the ending! Suffice it to say that, soft-hearted romantic that I am, if I’m recommending this movie, you know you can expect to have a smile on your face come the end.

Watch with a glass of fine Chianti Classico in hand for a true Tuscan taste. (Don’t be put off by the Hannibal Lector connotations of Chianti wine: he liked it for a very good reason! It comes from the Chianti region, in central Tuscany, and is made with the delicious Sangiovese grape, so called for the Latin sanguis Jovis – ‘blood of Jove’; Jove being the king of the Roman gods, Jupiter.)

And if you enjoy the movie, be sure to check out the memoir on which it is based. As well as evocative writing, the book contains some wonderful Italian recipes.

Top of my ‘to see’ list for films is the new movie Saving Mr Banks, which just premiered at the close of the British Film Institute London Film Festival and is released in cinemas in late November. The film tells the story of the making of Disney’s seminal film Mary Poppins; specifically, the battle of wills between the author of the Mary Poppins novels, PL Travers (played by Emma Thompson), and Walt Disney (played by Tom Hanks).

Having read the news coverage of the premiere, I’m fascinated by the story. I had no idea that Travers held out to Disney for 20 years for the rights to make a film of the first in her Mary Poppins series, and then so hated the film that was eventually made that she refused right up until her death to sell the rights to her other Mary Poppins books. Emma Thomson told the BBC: ‘What was fun was inhabiting someone who refused to let the fairy dust work. I loved her belligerence, I loved playing her rudeness, and her honesty.’

I have to say, I feel rather inspired by so resolute and principled an author! In today’s world, I’m sure most writers would jump at the chance to see a film made of their book – and all the associated merchandise. What integrity for her creative work Travers showed with her reluctance to sell.

I remember reading the original Poppins books, and I quite see how Disney’s children so fell in love with them that he was determined to bring them to life on the big screen. But a look at Travers’ bibliography shows again what a different kind of writer she was to the modern, prolific generation. Her writing career with Poppins was greatly spread out:  Mary Poppins (1934); Mary Poppins Comes Back (1935);  Mary Poppins Opens the Door (1943); Mary Poppins in the Park (1952);  Mary Poppins From A to Z (1962); Mary Poppins in the Kitchen (1975);  Mary Poppins in Cherry Tree Lane (1982); and finally Mary Poppins and the House Next Door (1988). Travers was born in 1899, and died in 1996, which means she wrote her final book in her late eighties. Inspirational indeed!

What do you think? Are you keen to see the film too? Here’s the trailer; I would love to hear your thoughts.

A new British film adaption of Romeo and Juliet opens in cinemas in the UK and the US on 11 October:

Will you go to see it?

Are you swept away by the thought of a new interpretation of the romance (which does not stick to Shakespeare’s dialogue)? Are you excited to see the chemistry between two young actors, Douglas John Booth and Hailee Steinfeld? Do the costumes and the setting (Renaissance Verona) appeal?

Or, alternatively, are you wondering what more director Carlo Carlei can bring to the story; what novel and powerful new edge he can find to move his audience? Are you an ardent fan of the Baz Luhrmann or Franco Zeffirelli version? Are you steering clear of the film for the same reason I’ve never watched Titanic more than once: because you find the ending unbearably tragic? You may, in fact, prefer works inspired by the plot and characters, rather than following them too closely. West Side Story, for example – or even the animated Gnomeo and Juliet!

Is Romeo and Juliet the ultimate love story? Ought we to re-imagine it each few years, or has it all been done before? Should we stay true to the Shakespearean original, or get creative and explore new interpretations and inspirations? Could anyone make a version in which the ending is not so tragic; and if so, would that even work? Whom would you cast as the perfect Romeo and Juliet?

I would love to hear your thoughts.

A large part of my new book, The Echoes of Love, is set in Venice, Italy. What better excuse to riffle through the DVD collection and watch some classic films to fire up the imagination, all in the name of research?

If, like me, you love the backdrop of Venice and find it wonderfully cultural and romantic, you’re bound to enjoy these movies:

  1. Summertime (1955): The beautiful Katharine Hepburn falls in love with Venice, and a handsome antiques dealer.
  2. Brideshead Revisited (1981): Laurence Olivier turns his back on Britain for Venetian freedom.
  3. The Wings of the Dove (1997): A wonderful costume drama with sweeping scenes of grand palaces and quaint little side streets.
  4. Dangerous Beauty (1998): A tale of 16th-century Venetian love and lust.
  5. The Children of the Century (1999): Two French literary icons in Venice: George Sand and Alfred de Musset. Worth watching for the 19th-century Venice setting, which is beautifully recreated.
  6. Bread and Tulips (2000): An Italian take on Venetian romance, where a woman finds herself in the city of love.
  7. The Italian Job (2003): For the views afforded by a boat chase through the canals.
  8. William Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice (2004): Decadent renaissance Venice plus a wonderful cast including Joseph Fiennes, Jeremy Irons and Al Pacino.
  9. Casanova (2005): Featuring the late, great Heath Ledger and sultry Venetian scenery.
  10. The Tourist (2010): A romantic thriller that’s worth watching solely for the Venetian backdrop.

Would you add any films to this list? Which movie most shouts ‘Venice’ to you? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

 

The ultimate feel-good romantic film. I defy anyone to watch this without misting up at least once!

Sophie (Amanda Seyfried) and her passionate Italian chef fiancé Victor have come to Verona, Italy, for a ‘pre-honeymoon’. Only, lovely as he is, Victor is more interested in sourcing Italian supplies for his new restaurant than spending time with Sophie. Left to her own devices, Sophie stumbles across Juliet Capulet’s courtyard. There, beneath Juliet’s balcony, women pin letters to Juliet, asking for advice on all matters romantic. And there, Juliet discovers a sisterhood exists, called the secretaries of Juliet, who diligently answer letters in Juliet’s name each day.

Joining them, Sophie discovers this letter, left in a crack in the wall many years ago:

I didn’t go to him, Juliet. I didn’t go to Lorenzo. His eyes were so full of trust. I promised I’d meet him and run away together because my parents don’t approve. But, instead, I left him waiting for me below our tree, waiting and wondering where I was. I’m in Verona now. I return to London in the morning and I am so afraid. Please, Juliet tell me what I should do. My heart is breaking, and I have no one else to turn to. Love, Claire

She responds, and to her surprise a week later Claire (Vanessa Redgrave) herself arrives, an old English lady, with her over-protective and, apparently, unromantic grandson Charlie (Christopher Egan) in tow. What follows is a quest, led by Claire and followed by a fascinated Sophie and most reluctant Charlie, to find the long-lost Lorenzo. Fact-checker Claire has traced several in the area, and one by one the threesome travel across Italy in an attempt to reunite the estranged lovers. It’s a journey full of learning for all three of them, during which all manner of locked-away passions are released.

There is so much to love in this film. The dialogue is both witty and moving. The characters are played superbly, and are likeable and attractive. The story is wonderful – with the very happiest of endings. But for me, several things set this movie apart:

The setting

The cityscapes and rural country landscapes are simply stunning. After watching the film, I find myself yearning to book a plane ticket…

The Juliet connection

I love the Romeo and Juliet connotations in the film – not overdone, but really adding to the romance factor. I also love the concept of the letters to Juliet. What a lovely means of self-expression, and how generous of the secretaries to help so many women.

The writing connection

Sophie is a professional fact checker, but she dreams of being a writer. And during the course of the film, that dream is realised. Most heart-warming for a fellow writer.

The romance

Ah, the romance! At both levels – Sophie and Charlie, and Claire and Lorenzo – this love story is deeply affecting. There is much meaning conveyed surrounding what love means: that it has no expiration date; that when you love someone, you’re meant to want to be with them all the time (unlike Victor and Sophie); that it’s never too late; that finding love requires courage. One of my favourite lines in the film is by Charlie; he says of Juliet: I would have grabbed her from that blasted balcony and been done with it.

But the part that always has me sighing is the reading, at the end, of Sophie’s letter to Claire – that fateful letter:

Dear Claire, “What” and “If” are two words as non-threatening as words can be. But put them together side-by-side and they have the power to haunt you for the rest of your life: What if? What if? What if? I don’t know how your story ended but if what you felt then was true love, then it’s never too late. If it was true then, why wouldn’t it be true now? You need only the courage to follow your heart. I don’t know what a love like Juliet’s feels like: love to leave loved ones for, love to cross oceans for, but I’d like to believe if I ever were to feel it, that I’d have the courage to seize it. And Claire, if you didn’t, I hope one day that you will. All my love, Juliet

Simply beautiful!

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