East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai


The joys of embezzlement

It all started because, while we were recording a podcast about the 1992 TV movie Ghostwatch, with my friend Lucy we started rambling – as we do – and ended up talking about dame Maggie Smith (yes, we tend to ramble far and wide). I mentioned how it always breaks my heart that most viewers know Smith as the old lady in the Harry Potter movies and in Downton Abbey.

I’ve always had a desperate crush for Maggie Smith, and after that chat, I decided to go back and re-watch the movies in which I first found out about this beautiful, extraordinarily talented actress. Travels with my aunt, of course, and Murder by death, the two Peter Ustinov Poirot movies, The Honey Pot, and also a small strange quirky thing called Hot Millions, that I had last seen in the mid ’90s, on the telly, on a long autumn afternoon, and I re-watched last night.

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One evening with Epifania Ognisanti di Parerga

Sometimes we need to get away from it all. From the writing and from genre fiction and everything else.
The fans, the other writers, the social networks.
Just get away from it all.
Maybe it’s the heat and the humidity, or the tiredness of too many months spent working full tilt, or the fact that I always get melancholic on the weekend.
Anyway, yesterday I went looking for something different, and found (again) Epifania Ognisanti di Perega, the main character in The Millionairess, a comedy written in 1936 by George Bernard Shaw that was, at the time 80 years old.

The plot in a nutshell, courtesy of the usual IMDB:

Epifania is the richest woman in England. She’s also strong-willed, highly intelligent, fiercely determined and an expert at Judo, which makes her hard to live with. She’s also married, but her husband is now in love with another woman. She’s also seeing another man socially, but he seems to be more interested in his food than her. Will or can this poor little rich girl ever find true happiness? A chance meeting with an Egyptian doctor may prove interesting‚Ķ

So yes, it is basically a romantic comedy, featuring a formidable central character. The story was not new to me. There is an adaptation, filmed in 1960, starring Sophia Loren in the title role and Peter Sellers as the Egyptian Doctor.

I saw it many years ago, as part of a cycle of movies starring Sellers, and found it insufferable. I found it sad and downbeat, and particularly hated the main character portrayed by Loren.

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Travels with Graham Greene’s Aunt

I watched George Cukor’s Travels with my Aunt again, last night.
I had a chat with a friend about Graham Greene, his books and entertainments, and the movies that had been made from those stories, and Travels came back to me.


I did not remember the movie opened at a sparsely-attended funeral, but I remembered very well Maggie Smith in the title role.
And being a Graham Greene story, it is of course a caper movie, a story of less-than-straight individuals doing less-than-legal things.
It’s great fun, and highly melancholic in spots, and it takes place in London, Paris and parts south around the Mediterranean, in the sixties. And it features an eccentric, non-conformist, absolutely scandalous woman. I had to watch it again. Continue reading