Category Archives: Book Adaptations

My Cousin Rachel by Daphne du Maurier

“But a lonely man is an unnatural man, and soon comes to perplexity. From perplexity to fantasy. From fantasy to madness.” My Cousin Rachel by Daphne du Maurier

I don’t get as much time to read as I used to (and even less time to write blog posts that do more than scratch the surface of books) but I was determined to read My Cousin Rachel by Daphne du Maurier before the Roger Michell directed film version starring Sam Claflin and Rachel Weisz hit the cinemas, or at least before going to see it.

For readers who first encountered Daphne du Maurier through her most famous novel Rebecca and have loved her works ever since, My Cousin Rachel doesn’t disappoint, offering the same rugged Cornish landscape, with a plot featuring stately piles, mystery, romance and intrigue which keeps twisting and turning to the very end.

In My Cousin Rachel, Philip Ashley takes on the role of naïve narrator, whose comfortable existence is rocked when his beloved cousin Ambrose Ashley dies abroad, shortly after his marriage to Philip’s mysterious cousin Rachel. The official verdict is that Ambrose has died of a fever, which was further complicated by a brain tumour that lead to violent delusions, but Philip believes that there is some truth to the letter Ambrose has sent him begging for help and suggesting that his wife has poisoned him. Philip vows revenge upon Rachel, and soon has this in his sights when she arrives at his house to return Ambrose’s belongings. But Rachel is every bit as charming as Ambrose made out, and despite his suspicions, Philip finds himself increasingly drawn to the attractive widow.

Though My Cousin Rachel has a huge amount to recommend it, what stands out for me is the psychological complexity of the novel. Despite being the titular character, Rachel remains something of an enigmatic figure, in part a vulnerable woman living at the mercy of her erratic relative, in part a woman with huge power to entice, heal and potentially destroy, we receive almost all of her history and description through other characters which means her actions can never receive a straightforward interpretation. Philip’s progression from his self-perception as something of a man of the world who has modelled himself on his idol, sees him move from outright misogyny to falling into a deep obsession, acting out an Oedipal complex with his father figure’s widow who oscillates wildly between being an object of desire and a symbol of destruction in his mind.

It’s enough to make you want to go on a Daphne du Maurier binge all summer. And I’m going to Cornwall soon…  as to whether Rachel is guilty or innocent, I’m keeping spoilers out for my review for those who have yet to read it, but let’s discuss in the comments!

Once Upon A Time

With the arrival of Phoebe, I haven’t been able to do a huge amount of reading. She strongly prefers sleeping on me to anywhere else, especially if she’s going through a growth spurt or a developmental leap, but flinches at the sound of a page turning so my tablet and Netflix subscriptions have been life savers for long feeds.

I’m typically late to the party again, but The current series I’m watching on Netflix is ABC’s Once Upon A Time which aired on Channel 5 a few years ago in the UK. To be honest, I wouldn’t normally have given it a chance but needed something to keep me awake during sleep deprived nights breastfeeding and I’ve been pleasantly surprised by it.

Set in a town called Storybrooke, characters from popular fairy tales have been ripped from the Enchanted Forest and sent to modern-day Maine where they have been robbed of their identities by the Evil Queen, Regina, who having failed to kill or destroy Snow White decides to curse everyone and tear away their happy endings. However, as in many good stories, there is someone who can defeat the curse and save them all, but our heroine is a somewhat dysfunctional 28-year old who doesn’t believe in fairies and has been lured back to the town by the son she gave up for adoption when he was born, who, as luck would have it, was taken in by the Evil Queen.

Everyone knows that I love a fairytale and Once Upon a Time is a pretty impressive mash-up of fairy tales , novels and films. True, the fairy tales nod a little too strongly to Disney at times (Sleeping Beauty is Princess Aurora, the Little Mermaid is Ariel and Snow White’s dwarves have the names of the characters from the film- I would love to know what licensing they have agreed with Disney) but I suppose that is what the majority of viewers would expect and it doesn’t stop the programme subverting our expectations of the stories to create new character origins, redeem traditional villains (or at least inject a little more complexity into their characters)and blacken the names of a few storybook heroes.

Far and away the best thing about the series is Robert Carlyle’s Rumpelstiltskin who is by turns demented, monstrous, hilarious, human and touching. (Dis)Honourable mention also has to go to Captain Hook, played by Colin O’Donoghue who since his arrival has balanced out some of Snow White and Prince Charming’s irritating insipidness in the present day scenes. In her flashbacks, Snow White is kick ass… it’s a pity that she couldn’t stay that way after remembering her happy ever after. Good may always win, but it’s not nearly as much fun as mild evil.

The Book Thief Film Adaptation

the book thief movie posterLast night I went to see the film adaptation of Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief and I loved it. Granted it took me about an hour to stop crying, but I really liked it and was impressed at how true to the book it remained. I’m usually the first person to cry foul if someone has messed around with a book I liked, and despite one major niggle I thought it was a fairly faithful adaptation. My thoughts below, but be warned, there are spoilers.

A huge number of film critics have slammed The Book Thief movie, criticising what is seen as mawkish sentimentalism, an insufficiently harrowing representation of the horrors of World War 2, using Death personified as a narrator and criticising the fact that the cast speak with German accents in a mixture of English with the odd bit of German thrown in. To all of which I say, okay, but did you read the book? The New Yorker Review went as far as to cast doubt on the plausability of the street being bombed… to which I refer you to history books about the allied bombings of Stuttgart. Anyone who wishes to try to reduce WW2 to all Germans bad all Allies good may find their efforts hampered by some of the work of bomber command but I leave that up to GCSE History teachers to explain.

It may be fair enough to criticise the film as being Oscar bait, but honestly, considering that it is an adaptation of what is ultimately a book for younger teenagers which found success as a cross over novel, exactly how harrowing do you think it’s appropriate to be? There were some fairly violent scenes depicting Kristallnacht with hauntingly beautiful music sung by a Hitler Youth choir, hauntingly beautiful until you read the translation of the lyrics and realise that it’s another example of Nazi propaganda designed to indoctrinate very young children into striving for the Aryan state from a very young age. I actually found it incredibly effective at looking at the war from a child’s perspective. Liesel (played brilliantly by Sophie Nélisse) is aware that people who are members of groups that Hitler disapproves of disappear. Her communist parents have disappeared one by one, and though she isn’t aware of the horrors of the concentration camps, she loves her friend Max and fears for what has become of him. I thought the scene where a group of Jewish men were being marched through the town and Liesel runs among them looking for Max was actually more convincing in the film than in the book. In the book, she finds Max and they are both beaten. You can imagine that worse might have happened to Max if this really happens. In the film, she doesn’t find Max in the crowd, every man she sees could be him, and she runs through them promising that she will not forget until she is beaten by a Nazi officer. There are critics who have poured scorn on the moderate actions such as these that individual characters take to code that they are “good Germans”, but the film very clearly demonstrates the real world consequences that actions like these would have had at the time- a family on the verge of poverty because the father refuses to become a member of the Nazi party, conscription to the army if you showed sympathy towards the plight of a neighbour considered “undesirable”, the risk that you yourself will be considered undesirable and taken away. It’s easy to say that the characters should have done more, but I wonder if many who watch the film will think the same as I did- would I be brave enough to do that? Do I oppose injustice in my far safer world?

As I mentioned earlier, there is a change from the book that irritated me. When the bombs drop on Himmel Street in the book, Rudy is killed in his sleep and Death’s description of collecting his soul is heartbreaking:

He lay in bed with one of his sisters. She must have kicked him or muscled her way into the majority of the bed space because he was on the very edge with his arm around her. The boy slept. His candlelit hair ignited the bed, and I picked both him and Bettina up with their souls still in the blanket. If nothing else, they died fast and they were warm. The boy from the plane, I thought. The one with the teddy bear. Where was Rudy’s comfort? Where was someone to alleviate this robbery of his life? Who was there to soothe him as life’s rug was snatched from under his sleeping feet.
No one.
There was only me.
And I am not too great at that sort of comforting thing, especially when my hands are cold and the bed is warm. I carried him softly through the broken street, with one salty eye and a heavy, deathly heart. With him, I tried a little harder. I watched the contents of his soul for a moment and saw a black-painted boy calling the name of Jesse Owens as he ran through imaginary tape. I saw him hip-deep in some icy water, chasing a book, and I saw a boy lying in bed, imagining how a kiss would taste from his glorious next-door neighbour. He did something to me, that boy. Every time. It’s only his detriment. He steps on my heart. He makes me cry.

The Book Thief- Markus Zusak

In the film adaptation he stays alive long enough to half tell Liesel he loves her before dying in front of her. That annoyed me because it felt like a “film moment”, a betrayal of the book for no real narrative reason. It was a crude attempt to tug the heartstrings and the film would have been better without it. It was like someone had spent a bit too long in the fan fiction forums.

In spite of that, I really think it was a good adaptation of The Book Thief. If you enjoyed the book, I think there’s a very good chance that you will like the film, though it’s not as good (these things rarely are) it’s by far one of the better film to book adaptations I’ve seen and the younger cast member are enchanting.

The Fault in Our Stars Trailer…verdict in.

When I heard that the amazing, incredible, laugh-out-loud, heartbreaking The Fault In Our Stars was being turned into a film I hated the idea. Hated it. Why mess with perfection? But do you know what, I just saw the trailer, tears are in my eyes and I think everything is going to be okay…

My Day at The Hunger Games…

Have you ever had one of those days where you feel like you’ve been volunteered as a tribute in the Hunger Games, but that you haven’t realised until you’re in the middle of a bloodbath at the front of the Cornucopia and it turns out that you’re juuuuust a little bit more Rue than Katniss? And then of course you have the choice, stand and fight or turn and… die. Yeah, that was my day. Hold your fingers up in a three-fingered salute, or two… whatever, just send pictures.

Still, escapism is close at hand, because everyone’s favourite heroine from District 12 will be back on our screens soon and I for one can’t wait. See the trailer below… actual shivers.

The Book Thief Movie Trailer

Words cannot express how excited I am about seeing this trailer for The Book Thief movie…

It’s giving me actual shivers of anticipation. Doesn’t it look amazing? And I don’t normally say that when I see the trailer for a book I love. Sophie Nelisse is such a pretty girl but has an air of mischief which I think will be perfect for Liesel. The only problem is that while the US release date for The Book Thief is November 8th 2013 I have to wait until January 31st 2014 to see it in the UK. So frustrating, I feel like I’m having to patiently wait for everything at the moment!

Joss Whedon’s Much Ado About Nothing

benedick and beatriceThis week I’ve been spending a lot of time lying on my sofa recovering from my operation and have been too tired to do anything, including read. After dozing through way too much daytime TV my soul was beginning to feel rotten so I decided to see if there were any films I wanted to see via the Virgin Box, and lo and behold, there was Joss Whedon’s Much Ado About Nothing (my absolute favourite Shakespeare play, seriously, I can recite almost all of it with a bit of prompting) which I’ve been wanting to watch for ages.

I’m a bit of a Whedon geek, though I didn’t realise exactly how much until I watched this film (hello Wesley, hello Fred, hello Agent Coulson) and I was initially concerned that I was too familiar with the actors’ other work with Whedon to really believe in their portrayals of the characters I know and love but my fears proved unfounded and I thought it was amazing.

The first thing that really impressed me was that from the very beginning of the film Whedon did something that most director’s don’t and made the hints that Beatrice gives about her previous romantic relationship with Benedick explicit for the modern audience. For example, the film starts with Benedick sneaking out of bed as Beatrice sleeps, clearly some time in the past, and foreshadows Beatrice’s line “You always end with a jade’s trick. I know you of old” beautifully. Having said that, portraying it as an overtly sexual relationship makes it harder for the viewer to accept Claudio’s reaction to the “reveal” of Hero’s “disloyalty” later in the film, so this divergent approach is a little problematic but, regardless of that, kudos for highlighting this- it’s something a lot of directors seem to disregard and I think it’s crucial to the audience’s understanding of the root of their “merry war”, which is obviously anything but.

I hate the moment in which Hero is disgraced in Much Ado so much it feels like I’m going to break out in hives, but I admired the way Whedon had Leonarto, played by Agent Coulson Clark Gregg, portray this moments with shades of grey- obvious tenderness for his daughter among the shock and horrific lines that his character speaks. This is a really problematic moment in any modern adaptation of Shakespeare, but I think they handled it as well as they possibly could have done given that it’s a feminist’s nightmare and I like to think that Whedon would have given this due consideration. He is, after all the guy who gave Buffy this kick ass line

In every generation, one Slayer is born, because a bunch of men who died thousands of years ago made up that rule. They were powerful men. This woman is more powerful than all of them combined. So I say we change the rule. I say my power, should be *our* power. Tomorrow, Willow will use the essence of this scythe to change our destiny. From now on, every girl in the world who might be a Slayer, will be a Slayer. Every girl who could have the power, will have the power. Can stand up, will stand up. Slayers, every one of us. Make your choice. Are you ready to be strong?

I digress. The thing that really gets me through Hero’s first wedding is the character of Dogberry, played to absolute perfection by that creepy priest Caleb Nathan Fillion who absolutely stole the show with his acting. I was really impressed by how convincingly the Watch could be played as a modern American cop drama scenario without it seeming jarring or incredibly anachronistic. In fact, for me, this was the most impressive moment in the film. See a snippet of Dogberry and co. here:

I was surprised when reading the trivia section on IMDB that apart from the abridgments (which sadly saw Beatrice’s line about being “overmaster’d with a piece of valiant dust?” being cut) Joss Whedon had changed only one line in the play which was from “if I do not love her, I am a Jew” to “if I do not love her, I am a fool.” On the one hand, I can completely understand why he did this, but I did think it was strange that he let this line lie but retained Claudio’s “I’ll hold my mind, were she an Ethiope.” Shakespeare is full of huge amounts of language and Elizabethan attitudes which are totally appalling to a modern-day audience, but by changing a line to avoid antisemitism, and letting an explicitly racist line lie I think that you create a problematic environment in which you either need to be totally true to the text or clean up the play completely.

I would highly recommend this to anyone who likes Shakespeare and any Whedon fans who have yet to whole heartedly embrace the bard. The official trailer is below.

The Great Gatsby film review

Promotional Image for The Great Gatsby © 2013 Warner Bros. Ent. All Rights Reserved

I may have mentioned before that I’m not a huge fan of The Great Gatsby and am surprised that, when there is so much fantastic American literature in the world, it is still hailed by some as The Great American Novel. It just left me feeling empty. I won’t rehash my reasons for this, Kathryn Schulz covers it very nicely in her article Why I Despise The Great Gatsby for anyone who is interested.

Last night was the box office opening for The Great Gatsby film in the UK. I went to see it in 3D at 7:45pm, pretty much peak cinema going time, in a usually busy cinema, but the screening was half empty. This suggested to me that this great American novel doesn’t translate so well for a UK audience, though it may just have been that people had better things to do.

Though Luhrmann stayed true to the text and made use of a lot of direct quotation in the film, I found that I liked it better than the book. Luhrmann had managed to invest the characters in the film with a small amount of emotional depth which was, for me, totally lacking in the book and at times injected a little humour. Visually, as you might expect from the director of Romeo and Juliet and Moulin Rouge, it was stunning though the 3D effects occasionally left me feeling a little seasick, especially when lines from the text floated on the screen like snowflakes (maybe this was deliberate, we are all boats beating on against the current after all…). Watch it for the costumes if nothing else, they may be morally bankrupt, but I would love to attend a Gatsby party in a flapper dress.

The problem for me was, that despite the actors and director doing a fine job with the story that they’d been given, the slick production and a catchy soundtrack, the story was still the same. I couldn’t care about any of the characters, and felt a little repelled by Leonardo di Caprio’s obsessive Gatsby and his controlling fixations. The film was well made but I felt, as I did when I read the book, totally underwhelmed. I just couldn’t care enough. I was amazed that the woman next to me was snivelling and sniffing so loudly that she drowned out the credits, turning to her date and proclaiming, “It’s just so sad!” I wanted to ask her whether we’d just watched the same film.

Lit geeks will probably want to watch the film anyway, but I’d be interested to hear what anyone who has seen it thought of the narrative frame which sees Nick Carraway (played by Toby Maguire) writing The Great Gatsby while recovering in a sanatorium, a kind of Fitzgerald character.

Have you seen it? What did you think?

Labyrinth TV Series

Promo image for Labyrinth TV series 2012

Did anyone else watch the mini-series adaptation of Kate Mosse’s Labyrinth starring Jessica Brown Findlay, Tom Felton and Vanessa Kirby? And if you did, were you really disappointed in it?

I’m not sure who wrote the script, or whether it received a hard edit, but I thought that the character progression sucked to the point where characters in the books were totally transformed. Sajhe is played by a twenty something all the way through, so instead of seeing a boy growing up in love with Alais and doing everything he can to protect her, you get a (slightly gormless) brooding young man who stares at her in a creepily perverted way throughout. Audric wasn’t old or frail enough and was far, far too smug, thus enhancing this weirdness. Likewise, there’s no chance for a relationship/reconciliation to develop between Alais and Guillame or Alice and Will, so Alais looks weak and insipid in the formed and creepy spontaneous face sucking breaks out between the latter.

The typecasting didn’t help either. I’m not sure that it’s bad acting per se, but Jessica Findlay Brown pouted her way through the series in a poor repetition of her portrayal of Lady Sibyl in Downton Abbey to the point where she looked a little concussed as though she was waiting for Carson to come in and explain what the heck was going on. Oriane was played by Morgana from BBC’s Merlin, who occasionally plays the part of Irish actress Katie McGrath, but fortunately, she didn’t need to act in this role, just stride around cackling madly (as in Merlin) while trying to maintain a constant accent and simulating bad sex with Alais’ husband.

Oh and the sex was bad. If you’re going to do it, do it properly. Oriane and Guillame looked as though they were doing some weird form of aerobics, lined up in their respective positions ensuring that there was at least two feet of air between their persons at all time. And I’m not a prude by any stretch of the imagination, but I’m not sure what exactly lingering shots of Jessica Findlay Brown’s naked arse added to the telling of the story. It’s a lovely bum, don’t get me wrong, but it just felt a bit creepy, as if I were POV of the newly perverted Sajhe. In fact, the concept of the Grail seemed to be secondary to the weird sex/tangled relationships element of it.

It’s a pity that this hadn’t been made into a bigger budget film, or at least a proper TV series and actors who weren’t playing stock types from other popular series. All in all a real let down for me.

What did you think?

Cloud Atlas- a film review by someone who read the book

A weekend or so ago, I went to see the film version of David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas. I will put it out there from the beginning that I rather enjoyed it, though could see why many people wouldn’t. For one thing, if you hadn’t read the book I don’t think you stand a hope in hell of following what was going on. If you have read the book, then it’s interesting to see how they’ve adapted the story to screen.

In many ways, the script and casting would have been better suited to a theatre production. I didn’t hate the idea of actors playing several characters (possibly because I spent too much time in drama groups as a teenager) but even I found it a little gimmicky towards the end. It is also very, very long. So long that if you haven’t seen it in the cinema yet, I would recommend waiting until it is released on DVD so that you can watch it but cut it into hour-long chunks at a time. On the whole I would have preferred it as a TV series.

In addition to the length and the rep style casting (which was clever but overdone) my main criticism would be that I think they over did it with the concept of reincarnation and made it the centre of the story in a way that it just wasn’t in the book. Once you’d finished playing what Charlie Brooker called something like Where’s Wally with famous people, you end up feeling like you’re playing spot the birthmark. Unless you haven’t read the book, friends I’ve talked to who hadn’t didn’t notice it.

My thoughts on each individual story and how they were adapted are below:

 

A Pacific Journal of Adam Ewing (Adam Ewing)

By far the driest story in the novel (though important, obviously) I think they did a great job of making this more interesting on the screen. They brushed over the darker elements of racial Darwinism and focussed on the story of an unlikely friendship between a professional white man and an escaped slave who become one another’s salvation. Which was a relief. I thought that Tom Hanks was reasonable here but when I read the book and thought about a film adaptation, I pictured Robert Downey Jr playing Henry Bones. Maybe I’d just watched one of the Sherlock Holmes films.

Letters from Zedelghem (Robert Frobisher)

This was probably my favourite story in the book. I loved Frobisher’s irreverent narrative and shady dealing s and I do think Ben Whishaw was perfectly cast, sadly this story was massively interfered with partly to reduce the film’s running time and budget, partly because… well who knows? The story is moved from Belgium to Edinburgh, Ayres is syphilitic but no longer blind. Nor is he nearly as vile as he was in the novel. The daughter is cut out completely, which makes it look as though Frobisher commits suicide as a result of a rejected pass at Vyvyan Ayres. My mind is still reeling from the horror of it. On the Brightside, you get to see Ben Whishaw naked. Which means I get to type that and net in unsuspecting googlers who aren’t in it for his acting talents.

The First Luisa Rae Mystery (Luisa Rey)

Halle Berry was pretty good here, it’s just a pity that you don’t really get much information about why everyone is being killed. Hugh Grant is smarmy. I’m not sure Tom Hanks in a blonde wig is a love at first sight thing. By far the worst thing about this story was that they had Agent Smith from The Matrix playing another bad guy. Actually he cropped up as Agent Smith from The Matrix in some of the other stories as well. Must’ve been a glitch in the matrix…

The Ghastly Ordeal of Timothy Cavendish (Timothy Cavendish)

Another great story in the book, this was well adapted in the film and made me laugh almost as much as reading the book did. Though when I laughed at Tom Hanks’ Irish accent, it wasn’t in a good way. I was a little confused about why they tried to make this story look like a reincarnation link between Luisa Rey and Somni-451, since the Luisa Rey story is set in 1975 and Timothy Cavendish is present day and 65, so the dates don’t work. This is made clearer in the book by Cavendish wanting to edit allusions to reincarnation out, but I guess that doesn’t work with the “message” of the film. Oh, and you get to see Ben Whishaw in drag. Sorry, need those google hits.

An Orison of Somni-451 (Somni)

Again, well adapted and this story was visually stunning. I think they blew their production budget here which explains why they had to save on Hugh Grant’s make up in every other story. The book is far nastier than this extract in the film. A lot has been cut eg. Somni’s time as a student’s Science project and the horrible moment with the little fabricant doll. I thought one of the eeriest bits of the book was when Somni explained to the archivist that everything she had told him had been a story and that she wasn’t the first ascended fabricant- they cut that for the film but I thought they made up for it quite well.

Sloosha’s Crossin an’Ev’thin’ After (Zachary)

To be fair to Tom Hanks and Halle Berry, I think they acted this as well as they could have done with this. You lost a bit of dialogue from the dialect, but otherwise this was well acted and the setting was beautiful. My main issue was that in the book Zachary is a teenage boy when you see his father and brother killed/taken at Sloosha’s crossing and it explains his fear of Old Georgie without making him look like a coward who sat back and watched a child die. Tom Hanks’ Zachary was harder to like because you don’t see the death of his father, the disappearance of his brother, the loss of his baby when he’s still very young. So to make Zachary and Meronym the same age… meh. I wasn’t a big fan but it was well enough done for what it was.