Bramwell, Series VI
Oh dear. Where do I begin? What a perfectly dreadful ending to a much-loved saga.
In this series (available on a 3 1/2 hour 2-DVD set) Dr. Eleanor Bramwell (Jemma Redgrave) has none of the courage and gaiety that made her Victorian character so remarkable when she and Lady Carstairs first opened the Thrift in the slums of London's East End. Her charm and enthusiasm are gone now. Apparently to the same place her virtue disappeared to. Yes, much to my dismay, writer Lucy Gannon has done away with Dr. Bramwell's high moral standards, as she comes under the influence of a Major Quarrie (David Bark-Jones) who is stationed in London.
It is during the Boer War and Eleanor is giving physicals to the new young army recruits. Believe it or not. Which is actually about the most interesting thing Eleanor does. So much that we loved from the original seven episodes is missing, like the excellent opening musical score with Eleanor walking from her home to the Thrift, the lovely little "Yes, Miss" housekeeper Kate (Keeley Gainey), the one-footed porter, and there is little mention of her father, Dr. Robert Bramwell (David Calder).
And hold on to your scalpel! As if by magic the Thrift is in an entirely new location under the administration of Eleanor's cousin, Mrs. Bruce (Jenny Agutter). Eleanor also lives with Mrs. Bruce although that is never explained either. We are also expected to believe that the delightful Dr. Joe Marsham (Kevin McMonagle) is not only in love with Eleanor but has become humorless, cold and eventually ruthless in the advancement of his medical career. We are also expected to swallow that Dr. Marsham visits a brothel regularly. I could have done without the harshness of beatings and child prostitution.
One bright spot is Nurse Carr (Ruth Sheen) who finds romantic happiness.
Series IV is sadly dimmer. Just a ghost of its former self.
The superbly acted Bramwell series is "Class A," "top notch," with one chief exception: some of those oh-so-brassy later installments (whatever happened to discretion?)
The over-abundant sex scenes are much too overstated for Eleanor. This is not due to any inherent prudishness (presumed) on her part, but because the drama was hitherto masterful at subtlety, with a powerful script, a diversely talented cast and more than a touch of class.
The second flaw lies with the protagonist's utterly tragic downfall. It is not so much a problem that she falls, somewhat mindlessly, for the enterprising, scheming O'Neill, but that she behaves, time and again, in a manner that is truly out of character. Strictly my imagination, you say? Impossible, when three or four seasons' worth of episodes repeatedly taught us as much! I don't blame Eleanor's father for being at his wit's end. Now, here she goes welcoming this brute back into her life, risking all she has worked so hard for, and in the process, allowing herself (a groundbreaking, independently affluent, level-headed professional) to be sadistically -- ah, so viciously -- controlled by her mismatch!
Viewers occasionally root for the unpredictable, but intelligent viewers know when they've had enough. While it is not out of character for a woman like Eleanor to fall in love, perhaps with every fiber of her being, it is bizarre and preposterous that she should repeatedly throw herself to the wolves with such abandon. How could we possibly admire her for this?
I miss not the protean Eleanor of late, but the old, indefatigable Eleanor, the one who is massively stronger, more resilient, in fact more believable. I recommend a continuation of this otherwise superb series in the exemplary style of seasons I, II and III, and what segments were tolerable thereafter, showing Eleanor's subtle change of heart through the ups and downs, the trials and errors. Here, in the midst of love, she shows a fitting repentance -- for want of a better term -- for so inexplicable a rift in self propulsion; and we see her long overdue return to persons who (and pursuits which) will always mean more to her than a love outmoded.
It's been a long time since the Bramwell series ended, but I'm glad that I finally read The Forum. As another viewer said, now I know I'm not alone in what I thought and felt about the final season. Every once in a while, I remember it and I'm angry all over again! It was such a complete departure from the other seasons and totally out of character. I would not look for a "happily ever after" conclusion, but there would have been so many ways to accomplish that -- ones that would have been true to the characters we had come to know. The episodes presented instead looked as though they had been cobbled together at a moment's notice, and by people who disliked the Bramwell series and its viewers, and thought they'd have a bit of revenge. Very strange...
Having watched and enjoyed the entire Bramwell series, I looked forward to the final episode. I was dismayed by what I saw. It was a complete departure from the plots, themes, and mood of the other seasons. Even the lighting and music were completely different! And I couldn't figure out why the location of the clinic and some of the characters had changed with no explanation. The familiar characters of Dr. Bramwell and Dr. Marsham that I had come to know from previous seasons were nowhere to be seen, and strange new personas were in their places. Overall, I would prefer to forget I ever saw the last season. Normally I enjoy every program Masterpiece Theatre has to offer, but I'm afraid it fell short with this one.
I'm so relieved to see in this forum that I'm not the only person who was let down by the way the Bramwell series ended. As I was watching the last two episodes I kept thinking that I must've missed something along the way. To have spent the better part of six seasons building a strong-willed woman who was unafraid to buck convention, and then to have turn her into a blubbering idiot was unforgivable, and maybe even a tad misogynistic. Most people get wiser and more even-tempered with age. How could the writers have let such an intelligent woman become a hysterical cow? By the end of it all, I couldn't have cared less what happened to her. And how could her father have been completely left out of it when he'd been such an important figure in her life?
I hope the people responsible realize what an utter mess they made of the ending.
I found the 2-hour Bramwell movie highly disturbing. What a relief to discover this forum and see that I'm not alone.
The Quarrie affair was particularly upsetting. A desperate passionate fling was cobbled by a writer's pen into True Love. But it didn't make sense! Quarrie disrespected Eleanor's engagement to Dr. Marsham, he had negative views of the very people to whom Eleanor had dedicated her life, and didn't even think to propose until she became pregnant. More pointedly, he didn't display a single redeeming virtue besides "saving" Eleanor from marrying Dr. Marsham, a dubious feat since his motives were clearly self-serving. Having him marry Eleanor at the end was just short of sickening.
Nearly as upsetting, was the torrent of hypocrisy. Eleanor, pregnant by a man she didn't even intend to marry, raged at Dr. Marsham for visiting a prostitute. Dr. Marsham, in turn, sniped at her because of her pregnancy. Mrs. Bruce raged at Eleanor for neglecting the Thrift, Eleanor raged at Mrs. Bruce for not caring about Dora, and I raged at them all for being so judgmental. Ironically only Ethel Carr, the most puritanical of them all, showed any real compassion.
I was hoping for some sort of reconciliation between Drs. Bramwell and Marsham -- because of everything they've been through together. It was awful to have them estranged. Though marriage wouldn't have been right for them, I felt deeply sorry for Dr. Marsham. But Lucy Gannon seemed determined to vilify him here: besides making it clear that he visited brothels while his wife was still alive, she portrayed him as completely unconcerned for Dora, which was inconsistent with his solicitous care for her mother. I was behind Eleanor in her guilt ridden search for Dora, but grew tired of her preaching to everyone else about it. Her confrontation of an important benefactor was absolutely ridiculous, she seemed more interested in her own self-righteous quest than the Thrift, which, after all, depended on charity -- a fact she seemed to forget. Finding Dora dead was a convenient plot device, but no one ever explained where or how she was found or even why anyone would want to kill her.
Russell Baker's comments at the end about the class difference between Marsham and Bramwell were illuminating, but he said at the beginning of the episode that their wedding plans were continuing. He was wrong.
By the end of the episode, I hated everyone, except for Nurse Carr. If this is indeed the last episode, how sad to leave things in such a state.
San Francisco, CA
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