After the credits and the beautiful sounds of Strauss Waltz, a viewer is directed to a slightly gloomy image of drops of rain falling on the window glass. A famous composer having made his tournée through Europe is lying delirious in his bed. Already married to Anna, a nice and respectable girl, he contemplates his decisions and his youth. Naturally flashbacks come to view...
Directed by David Giles (a famous director of some great British productions of the 1960s and 1970s, just to name THE FORSYTE SAGA and FIRST CHURCHILLS) and dramatized by Anthony Skene, the first episode "Anna" rightly sets the tone of composer's life from the perspective of composer's wife. It also hits the right atmosphere of the entire series. Anna will hold quite a power in the stories of Vienna's greatest composers. However, our attention is drawn, at first, not so much on Anna, played brilliantly by Anne Stallybrass (in my main review on the series I mentioned the fact that still it would be difficult to decide if the later portrayal of Lisa Harrow is better) but on Lanner (Derek Jacobi) and Strauss (Eric Woofe), old friends who are more and more absorbed by different motives. In some respect, the episode with many events and rather a considerable time span packed into those 51 minutes, at least its first part, could be titled LANNER vs STRAUSS.
Although they are both musicians and music composers (deceptively "book binders" among those people for whom musicians had no reputation to speak of) who work tough and may get ill easily, they are of totally different personalities. While Lanner is a hard working fellow with ambition and serious attitude to life and career (indeed he sometimes takes greater pains in composing), Strauss is rather his opposite, a neurotic personality, a musician with great inspirations but almost childish attitude to life. In one scene, Lanner says that Strauss actually thinks "the whole world should revolve to his satisfactions." Slowly, in friends become rivals and foes. The glass is soon to be broken and harmony brought into pieces... While it is not that clear here that Lanner was in love with Anna (which is to be the case in the 1991 STRAUSS DYNASTY), attitude to music and work makes for a logical cause of their row as well. Both Eric Woofe and Derek Jacobi give splendid performances. Their fight, though, is a bit laughable when watching now. But let me come back to ANNA, not yet "Mama Strauss" though...
Anne Stallybrass, similarly to her portrayal of Jane Seymour in SIX WIVES OF HENRY VIII, gives a subtle performance and remains in memory as an actress of great caliber and excellent diction. Similarly to Lisa Harrow (forgive me my many comparisons to later series, actually, they are bound to be compared), Anna's question to her husband is "Isn't that enough?" - a sort of remedy for his ambition, too much of that ambition and never being able to be content with this much what one has achieved. From the excellent moment with her father Streim (played by ....) to the last moment of the episode when she says "We want you to become part of us again" Can he, though? She develops in us more and more compassion for what she goes through so far and prompts some anticipation what will come of it. In her, the reflection "Did one do for the best?" appears even more powerful. Her most powerful moment appears to me a scene when she reads her husband's letter to his children (6 children - accurate historically). As long as there are some idyllic mentions of trips, she reads the letter out loud to her kids but as the line comes when Strauss explains why he allegedly could not send any money...we hear his voice...and consider her face which tells it all. Her feelings conveyed non-verbally!
A note should be made of the scene when their first son, Schani, is born. Here, too, he is being born in the sound of music while his father plays. Yet, the scene with Paganini that is the highlight of the first episode in STRAUSS DYNASTY made twenty years later is surely more catchy and memorable.
AND SUPPORTING CAST: The actor who called my attention is Christopher Benjamin who plays Dommayer and who, ironically, also appears in one scene of the latter series. Of course, the actor who plays Streim is also worth considering.
In Strauss' being a "nobody" and comeback to composing and playing at his dream place, the Sterl, a true rival is to make her appearance. Sweet and naive as her hiccups might occur, she makes her entrance with charm and delusion...Emilie Trampusch (Barbara Farris), a "Mrs Strauss" to come...
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