Basically, it sank – a Review of the Defeat of the Spanish Armada by Garrett Mattingly

As a Brit you grow up with the belief that Philip II’s failed 1588 invasion of England is one of the most heroic and glorious events in our history. The story goes something like this:

Thousands, no, millions of huge Spanish ships, armed to the teeth, descended on our tiny island laden with cannon and scary spanish corsairs! Everyone in England was going to die, and certain death was, well certain. And who delivered us from this mortal peril? None other than Francis Drake, who fought them off singlehandedly, armed with only a dinghy and a wooden paddle! All the spanish ran away screaming and died and sank and the ships were burnt and eaten by seamonsters, and then Francis Drake rode home in glory in a chariot of fire and from that day forward all of Europe cowered at the might of the English navy, and that is why we  used to  never actually did  rule the world. Rule Britannia, god save the queen, etcetera etcetera.

Okay, so I may be exaggerating a little (just a little). But you have to admit the defeat of the armada is nothing if not hyped.

The reality, as it tends to be with this sort of thing, is slightly less impressive. *massive sadness* I mean, for starters, Drake wasn’t even Lord Admiral. Who was Lord Admiral? Some bloke called Howard. Well, I’d never even heard of him before!

The odds against the English fleet were not in fact overwhelming in the slightest either, even though the sheer number of Spanish ships may have made it look that way. The Spanish fleet was actually woefully unprepared for the venture. This seems fairly dumb; when trying to invade a country, you’d think you’d at least have the good sense to plan a campaign with major chances of success….eh Philip?

The answer, strangely enough, is no…

There were not sufficient ships of standard, in fact there weren’t really enough full stop. The majority were undergunned – while this was also the case for the English, they at least were playing at home, were they could receive reinforcements of powder, shot, and crucially, water. Lots of the Spanish weaponry had been cobbled together so that some ships were laden with cannon whereas others were almost empty. In fact loads of the Spanish ships were not even warships, they were just random boats that had been brought along to look scary… or something. The idea of ‘overwhelming by sheer weight of numbers’ is not, shall we say, a guaranteed method for victory, as Philip discovered.

The most important failing of the armada was that the English ships were lighter, and more manoeuvrable. The Spanish plan relied on them getting close enough to the English ships to board them, and attack them hand to hand. The thing was, the English ships were perfectly able to dart around the lumbering Spanish hulks, and keep them at sufficient distance that they never were in any danger of being boarded, and could fire on them at leisure.

There was also the hooha with the Duke of Parma, who was supposed to reinforce the armada from Holland. What Philip II had failed to grasp despite Parma telling him many, many times was that Parma didn’t have any warships. None. Zilch. Barges, yes. Pedlos, maybe. Probably some tulips. But the fact that the armada’s success depended on a back up which did not exist shows what seemed to me as a reader a ridiculous lack of foresight and preparation. This is I think probably because that in Philip’s obsession with launching a catholic crusade, he casually forgot to make sure all the details were intact. Still, it seems totally dumb miscalculation from the ruler of vast swathes of Europe.

Despite all this, it’s possible that the armada might have gotten lucky and destroyed the English, if they’d managed to get them into hand to hand combat. But was there really ever hope that that would happen? They had pretty fair weather most of the way up the channel. However, once the armada had been put on the retreat up the side of England, all hope was lost. I almost laughed when I discovered that they literally went all the round the British Isles. They were battered by storms all the way up the country, round Scotland, back down, and many were wrecked off the coast of Ireland.  Contrary to popular opinion, the Irish who massacred the marooned sailors did not do so because they were crazy Celts but were actually because they were under English pay… lovely bunch that we are.

A few ships limped home, and protestants breathed sighs of relief everywhere. If I was Philip, I’d have been cursing, and I’d never have risked another embarrassing and expensive invasion fail again. So after this ridiculous debacle, I was astounded to learn (from Horrible Histories no less) that he tried again not once… not twice… but three times! That’s some major dedication to a lost cause, hats off to him.

Okay now I’m going to try and find some things to analyse. This is difficult, since I’m not exactly a font of knowledge on the subject, and basically everything I know has come from this book.

A question was raised as to whether Queen Elizabeth’s suspiciously just-too-let note to Drake telling him that he was not allowed to sack Cadiz in 1587 was down to political deviousness, or the dithering of a poor decision maker. Mattingly argues the former; I’ve read another book which claims that her general inability to find a course and stick to it was due to terrible leadership. I’m inclined to agree with Mattingly though – Elizabeth spent her entire reign keeping people at tenterhooks on whether she would marry, and this was down to smarts on her part. She was clearly extremely devious in several respects, not least her ability to avoid paying for pretty much everything, a useful skill when the royal coffers weren’t exactly chock full. Therefore I think she knew exactly what she was doing by not sending an emissary until too late, it seems far too coincidental to be down to luck. The outcome was certainly good, as the armada was delayed and a huge shipment of barrels burnt which crucially led to the armada later running out of fresh water.

So, in conclusion, the defeat of the armada, while definitely an epic story, is not quite as much as an epic win for England as it first appears. As for the legacy of the defeat, obviously the prevention of an invasion was pretty major. However it didn’t exactly spell the end of Spanish domination, or the beginning of any sort of English power – it’s the Spanish navy that then went on to become bigger and better.

I guess it’s a bit like Agincourt – everyone remembers Henry V’s incredible victory in that single battle… and fails to recall that England then went on to lose the 100 Years War to the French. LOL! Similarly, though the Spanish armada failed, but everyone fails to mention that in 1589 Queen Lizzy sent her own armada to Portugal, which, well, also failed – equally embarrassing for her as Philip’s failure was to him the previous year.

However, I think it’s far more fun to to pretend I didn’t mention that, and hail the Spanish armada’s defeat as the victory of the people of a tiny little island who miraculously managed to hold off invasion by a continental superpower.

I mean, it’s part of national pride, innit?

😀

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‘Do you think me handsome?’ No, and neither does my invisible pet moose – a Review of Cary Fukunaga’s Jane Eyre

In one word, this film was brilliant. In another word… Magneto. ;D

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Love me, Jane, damn you! Love me or I’ll… I’ll lock you in the attic with Bertha!

Ahem… *puts on serious reviewer face*

I know I’m here to talk about the movie, but I have to say a little about the wonderful book it’s based on, or I’ll bust.

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I reckon this poster sums up the simplicity and raw beauty of the movie perfectly.

Let’s get this down flat: I absolutely adore Jane Eyre. I was astonished to discover this while reading the complete and unabridged version of the book. I didn’t think I’d like it, because it is:

1) incredibly long 

2) primarily a romance, and I have an irrational fear of romance novels. (Consider me scarred by Mills and Boon.)

3) it seems to float around in the same literary circle as certain other books I really don’t like… naming no names. Ahemprideandprejudiceahemwutheringheightsahem.

Suffice it to say that it had me utterly gripped from start to finish. It is probably my favourite of all the classic novels I’ve ever read… and in my humble opinion definately trumps *by a zillion miles* the other two of what I like to call ‘The Big Three’ of period romance. You have two guesses.

Literary politics aside, I’m here to review the film, not the book. So I’m going to try really hard not to compare the two, though my expectations for this film were high because of the brilliant reviews, wonderful cast (Judie Dench, Sally Hawkins, Jamie Bell), and the fact that it’s apparently one of the most faithful adaptations ever made.

I was actually lucky enough to go see this on a starry night in the grounds of Sudbury Hall.

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It definitely added to the atmosphere, let me tell you!

My first thought was, hold on a minute, surely Mia Wasikowska’s too pretty to be Jane? And Fassbender? Seriously? Isn’t he just massively too a teensy bit too handsome to play Rochester?

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Casting director: Yeah, but, this is HOLLYWOOD…where EVERYONE is pretty.

I mean, come on, everyone knows that Jane Eyre is supposed to be plain, and that Mr Rochester isn’t supposed to be handsome in the slightest. Can’t they even get that right? Honestly, at least in the BBC adaptation I’ve seen of Jane Eyre, they got it right and found some really unnapealing lead actors…

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…OH, WAIT…

(I watched in anticipation of what they would do to ‘uglyfy’ the leads. They gave Wasikowska a terrible hair cut and some boring dresses, and Fassbender just got a terrible haircut.)

The reason this movie was so brilliant was that it was all about supressed emotions. This was partly down to the wonderful acting and dialogue, and partly down to the skilled camerawork. This movie wasn’t just a fun movie to watch; it was fantastically well made. The understated shots of the bleak, barren moors, the subdued colours, the long periods of no dialogue, Jane’s silent tears, they all added to the undercurrents of passion which simmered just beneath the surface of the entire film.

As it turned out, my sister and I were so engrossed that we actually forgot our plan to start humming the dubstep part of the X-men First Class theme when Mr Rochester came on.

So, now for the characters in the film – I can honestly say that all the lead parts were brilliant.

I utterly adored Jane – while she seemed quite and demure, this disguises an intelligence and wit. Jane is a woman of incredibly strong will, the 19th century version of a bad ass herione. Though she’s trapped in the role of a governess, she longs to be independent, free and strong. She says as much, and the expression of her face as she watches Mr Rochester march around his house, doing what the heck he likes like the Boss that he is, is one of pure envy. Her performance is understated yet she conveyed huge amounts of emotion – she was brilliant. There were moments, such as the death of Helen, and when she takes off her wedding dress, that I was crying along with her.

Mr Rochester was suitably brooding for most of the film, though this isn’t really his fault, because he has a mad wife in the attic. Normally, this would annoy me, but there was something touching and sensitive about the way he and Jane interacted, and I really empathised with him. He’s a douche for trying to marry Jane while he’s still, er, in a relationship on Facebook, and he was cruelly standoffish around her when Blanche turned up, but I genuinly rooted for him and Jane. You could tell he really cared underneath his mardy exerior, and this was entirely due to the quality of Fassbender’s acting.

Jamie Bell as Sinjin was brilliant – Sinjin is an utter twit for throwing a way his chance of happiness with the girl he loves, and Bell portrayed this extremely well with his stilted speech, and his awkwardness around Jane. There was also a lot of fire there I wasn’t expecting, when she decides to return to Thornfield, he loses his cool and it’s absolutely terrifying – it was also the most explosive display of emotion in the entire film. Though for a moment this meant it didn’t feel quite right with me, it brought again to light the huge contrast between what the characters are saying, and their tortured feelings behind.

Judi Dench’s matronly housekeeper actually provided a bit of comic relief in the film, she was warm and becomes almost a mother figure to Jane. Though she keeps herself apart from the relationship between the governess and her master, she can’t help but worry for the safety of both parties involved. Romy Settbon More’s Adele was spoilt, charming and completely disarming, and Sally Hawkin’s Aunt Reed was subtely and bizarrely scary, hiding an evil stepmother behind the mask of a beautiful lady. The child actors in the film were also extremely affecting, most notably Jane’s friend Helen, who stole the few scenes she appeared in.

 

Now for the romance:

Mr Rochester meets his match in Jane, who refuses to be sidelined or patronised, and as their relationship slowly progresses from guarded insults, to amusing and touching banter, and finally to love, you can’t help rooting for them. They make a wonderful couple – they understand eachother down to their very souls and complement, or even complete, eachother. Yes, that was over the top, but allow me this one moment of melodrama. 😉

They don’t get off to the best start, it has to be said.

‘Do you think me handsome?’ Rochester asks.

‘No,’ Jane replies.

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Not only this hippo, but every alive member of the audience, begged to differ.

It  was their exchanges like these that drew me to both the characters, and got me caught up in the romance. Ah, here was another thing Rochester said I couldn’t help snorting at:

‘I know that I am no more handsome than you are beautiful…’ he says.

SORRY didn’t quite catch you there Mr Rochester… I was distracted by the herd of flying pigs going past the window…

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Trolololol

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olololol

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olololol!

Anyroad, moving swiftly onwards…

Now, this is the part where I digress wildly and start taking the mick in earnest! 😀

Mr Rochester’s Beard and other Hairy Scarys

I wondered how they were going to ‘injure’ Mr Rochester after the fire, as in the book he gets him arm all withered. However, chopping the limbs off Hollywood’s current golden boy must not be allowed, because what they went for was this:

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On anyone else, I would have been laughing my head off at this delightful aquisition to their facial hair. Inexplicably however, Fassbender pulled it off. Though I couldn’t help thinking that his final kiss with Jane must have been horrendously prickly. All that beard. Urgh.

I also just have to draw attention to Blance Ingram because really, what on earth was wrong with her hair? Not to mention clothes…

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This isn’t what it looks like, Jane… Honest! Even though I’m only holding a feather…

I’m taking this opportunity to bitch about Blance, because she made some horrible catty remarks about my lovely Jane. Therefore it is my solemn duty to humiliate her to her fictional grave.

I was also mildly disappointed by Jane’s wedding get up.

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I guess it was on purpose, to make her seem young and out of place – and I’ve no idea what weddings really looked like at that time – but still, I’d been hoping she’d let her hair down.

A Few Random Cameos

One of Britain’s rising young talents, someone who after years I still only know as ‘Robin from Young Dracula’, entered the film as John Reed, to be promptly beaten up by mini-Jane. Oh wait, his name is Craig Roberts.

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One of Sinjin’s sisters is Holliday Grainger, someone I’m fairly confident I recognise from the (thankfully short-lived) ITV show ‘Demons’. She was also in Merlin, Robin Hood and an ancient episode of MIHigh – the BBC like to recycle actors. 😉

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The reason I’ve put in this little random section is, I admit, purely an excuse to fangirl…

Imagine my internal squeals of joy, when half way through the movie none other than Harry Lloyd turned up! In fact you don’t need to imagine them; here they are: Squeeee!

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His photo is extra big…because of reasons.

He played the mad wife’s brother – you know, the one who ruins Jane and Rochester’s happiness, and fulfils my life’s ambition to run down an aisle at a wedding yelling ‘I object!’ Well, he doesn’t quite do that, but it has the same effect.

So what if he only had three scenes, for one of which he was drooling on a bed with a big chunk having been bitten out of his chest by vampire-Bertha. Maybe you’ll understand my excitement if I tell you there’s been a poster of him on my wall since I was fourteen. That’s right, Game of Thrones fans, yours truly here saw him FIRST. 😛

Random Harry Lloyd trivia: he’s descended from Charles Dickens, and he went to Eton, yes, James Bond and top hats Eton. As did, coincidentally, Tom Hiddleston and Eddie Redmayne.

Eton, it appears, is the place to be if you wish to become an actor nowadays. I bet there’s a Posh Eton Actors club somewhere…! That must be so epic: Harry will be trying to take over the world in a silver wig, while Eddie blubs into camera close ups of his face, and Tom runs around playing pranks on everyone yelling ‘LOKI’D!’

I’m going to find it…and stalk it…. eheheheh.

>:D

And on that exceedingly immature note… I end this review. ;D What did you think of this version of Jane Eyre? Was it worthy of the novel – or did you hate the novel? Whatever you think I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Gilbert and Sullivan in Zero G – a Review of A Confusion of Princes by Garth Nix

Once again, I was lucky enough to be able to read this novel early after picking up a test copy (complete with typos) from my work experience. Haw haw haw, smug face.

The combination of ‘Garth Nix’ and ‘space’ and ‘some badass looking bloke’ meant that this cover literally jumped up in my face screaming ‘Read me! READ ME!’ Then I started jumping up and down screaming, because I love Garth Nix, and I love space operas… so understandably, I was incredibly excited. (Who doesn’t love space stuff, really? Even all those people who pretend that they hate sci-fi SECRETLY watch Battlestar Gallactica or Trek, and pretend to be Jedi when no-one is looking.)

And for people who freely admit to loving sci-fi novels, Peter F Hamilton himself approves of this book. Oh yes. It has, he says (and I quote): ‘kicked off a whole new Golden Age of SF.’ I seriously hope so, because that would be blimming awesome!

Ha! Our cover is way better than the Ozzy one, even though they got it earlier of course.

Now, I’ve had ‘Garth Nix Megafan’ stamped on my conciousness since I read Mr Monday, but I’m ashamed to say I’ve never really been able to get into any of his other series’. No, not even the Old World Trilogy! But trust me – after reading Confusion of Princes, I’ll be going straight back to the library to try them agian. Because Confusion of Princes had my heart pounding (being mortal as I am, and unable to self-regulate my physical responses).

Khemri is a Prince of the Empire, meaning he’s an augmented superhuman destinied to become ruler of (hopefully) several systems, and with a bit of luck, perhaps even the next Emporer. What Khemri doesn’t realise (after having lived for the first sixteen years of his life in a temple), is that there are about a squillion other Princes, most older, wiser, and even more ambitious than him…and all out to kill eachother. So begins a rip-roaring, swashbuckling adventure which I thouroughly enjoyed every minute of.

Khemri is the best hero I’ve read in a while, possibly so far this year. He is arrogant, superior, and spoilt as hell. Yet he is also intelligent, quick to learn, and utterly relatable. The other characters are equally sharply observed, and it’s definately a mark of a good novel when characters who don’t have much ‘screen time’ seem as real as the protagonist – which here notably includes Raine and Tyrtho.

The surprisingly large number of laughs in this book often came from Khemri’s shrewdly observed and sardonic narration, and his equally amusing remarks – he definately tells it how it is. Some of my personal favourites include:

“You mean I’ll have to join the Navy.”

“Yes, your Highness.”

“Shit.”

This is soon followed by:

“Okay, damn it. I’ll join the Navy.”

Khemri goes on a massive personal journey through the novel. He starts off thinking he is literally the Empire’s gift to the universe, and he neither understands or values the meaning of friendship – let alone love. Very quickly, however, (starting on about page 3) he is given a large kick up the bum to slowly start down the path of ‘Not Being an Obnoxious Douchebag.’ As he is forced to mingle with commoners, mortals and all sorts of other scum, he begins not only develop emotions but start to wonder if maybe being a high and mighty Prince isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Perhaps commandeering a fleet of spaceships and bedding loads of courtesans is not the meaning of life after all?

The story rollicks along wonderfully, with some hair-raising and highly inventive action sequences which had me on the edge of my seat. Nix is, to my extreme joy, equally adept at the character-interaction based scenes as he is at the all-guns-blazing fanboy moments. He has created a gloriously intricate universe, considering that this is just a stand alone novel (fingers crossed he’ll change his mind!). It’s full to bursting with all sorts of weird and wonderful technology, and the potential for what he could do with it is pretty much endless. I only wish that this novel had been slightly longer, and had lingered on all the fabulous detail a little more.

The ending does not go out with quite as big a bang as the previous action sequences, and I was a little disappointed that we didn’t get to see the Big Reveal, ie. the moment when ‘Khem’ reveals to the Puny Humans that he is in fact Prince Khemri. This pathetic moaning is however utterly beside the point: the point being that the whole book was amazing, and there was simply just nothing else I could possibly pick holes in.

Whether you’re a Garth Nix fan or you’ve never even heard of him, you love sci -fi or you refuse to read anything but handbooks on rearing sheep: go buy this novel now. No seriously, it’s wonderful. It’s well written, original, and has the perfect blend of action, humour, and yes even romance.

Hats off to Nix, because it’s probably the best space opera I’ve ever read – and I’ve read Star Wars novelisations. ;D