IF YOU’RE LUCKY, you’re a friend of Pamela Bowen, who with her husband Charlie Bowen wades through a ton of cultural and historical online offerings every month and—this is the important part—keeps a running tally of what’s been watched or listened to and what they’ve learned therefrom.
But if you’re reading this, you’re a friend of MyLittleBird, and that’s all to the good because we’re going to start running outtakes from Pamela’s voluminous annotated lists on a regular basis. Here’s a first taste, four series or shows that are currently available through Amazon Prime (three of which are part of a Prime membership and one of which has to be rented; additional channels of availability are also noted).
Future Bowen lists will incorporate lectures on history and art, plus travel itineraries led by seasoned travel guides.
England’s Forgotten Queen, by British historian Helen Castor, tells the story of Queen Jane’s nine-day reign as the first queen of England. It’s a three-part documentary piecing together the astonishing story of 15-year-old Lady Jane Grey in an epic tale of dynastic rivalry, intrigue and betrayal. Castor interviews other historians (many of them female; not much research has been done on Jane, perhaps because most previous historians were male) and uses video of actors portraying the main characters along with visits to the historical sites to provide added interest. We recommend all of Helen Castor’s documentaries. This one is on Prime.
Terrence Malick’s A Hidden Life is the true story of a World War II conscientious objector in Austria. A reviewer said, “The situation is one that a lesser film would milk for easy feelings of moral superiority—it’s a nice farmer vs. the Nazis, after all, and who doesn’t want to fantasize that they would have been this brave in the same predicament? But A Hidden Life isn’t interested in push-button morality. Instead, in the manner of a theologian or philosophy professor, it uses its story as a springboard for questions meant to spark introspection in viewers. Such as: Is it morally acceptable to allow one’s spouse and children to suffer by sticking to one’s beliefs? Is that what’s really best for the family, for society, for the self? Is it even possible to be totally consistent while carrying out noble, defiant acts? Is it a sin to act in self-preservation? Which self-preserving acts are acceptable, and which are defined as cowardice?” It’s on HBO, Hulu and Prime.
The Booksellers explores the world of antiquarian and rare-book dealers and their bookstores, primarily in New York City. It’s a charming documentary about the book world—or more specifically the book-as-object world, with antiquarian booksellers trying to reinvent themselves and their industry in a digital era. The book dealers philosophize about the emotional impact of “collecting,” which is fascinating. “Book experts” include Fran Lebowitz and Gay Talese. It’s on Prime and Pluto.
Ladies in Lavender assembles those two great Dames, Judi Dench and Maggie Smith, and sends them off to play sisters sharing a cozy little cottage on the Cornwall coast whose lives are quite routine until one dark and stormy night, a strange young man is washed up on their shore. The critics weren’t kind, particularly to the young man (but he’s so cute, his lack of acting skills can be forgiven), but we both enjoyed it. It’s on Prime and Pluto.