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This is an excellent screen-adaption of one of British author Evelyn Waugh's most entertaining books. A young man (played very well by Michael Maloney) who writes a weekly newspaper column about British rural life from his family estate, is mistaken for a war correspondent by confused subeditor (Denholm Elliot) and is sent to the suspected action site of Ishmaelia somewhere in Africa. On his journey he meets an elusive man of mystery (Herbert Lom), a stunning German blonde (Renee Soutendijk) an insane Swede and various other strange characters. And nobody seems to know exactly where the war is... Having read the book as well, I must say that this movie adaption resembles the book very well - I don't think Mr. Waugh could have hoped for more.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Most people seem to like Evelyn Waugh's famous novel "Scoop" more than
me. That may well be my problem. This faithful and inert screen
treatment made for British television, however, puts that negativity
into greater focus. It's a weak film because it sticks so close to the
William Boot (Michael Maloney) is a quiet young man who lives in a dilapidated manor house in the English country, writing the obscure column "Lush Places" for The Daily Beast, a London tabloid. Pressed into service as a foreign correspondent by mistake, he finds himself covering an apparently non-existent civil war in the African nation of Ishmaelia. All he wants to do, as he tells his editor, is go back to writing about nature back home, but too many people have bigger ideas for him.
"The British public has no time for a war that lingers on indecisively," Boot is warned by the Daily Beast's publisher (Donald Pleasence).
"Scoop" certainly has all the ingredients for a first-class Waugh: An exotic locale, bumbling bureaucrats, and a designing woman (Renée Soutendijk). But it doesn't have much of a plot, just a little man being kicked from pillar to post, and the characters never rise above caricature.
This comes across more vividly in this movie. Maloney is a moon-faced cipher in the lead role, blankly staring out at you like a deer in the headlights. He's not much of a character in the book, either, but this deficiency of Waugh's novel is made worse by the casting of a charisma- challenged lead. He just wants to be somewhere else the whole time you are with him, and it's hard not to feel likewise as he drifts aimlessly from plot point to plot point.
More deadly is the fact "Scoop" is a comedy without laughs. Waugh's novel isn't that funny, either, but at least it has Waugh's acerbic wit and gift for pungent description. Humor here consists of long, blank reaction shots to things like a missing baggage car or eating a tainted fish. You get led from scene to scene, with subplots that either peter out (like the fate of Boot's fellow journalists, bumbling swines all) or end abruptly and nonsensically, like a revolution being interrupted by a drink-crazed Swede.
Much of this is in Waugh's book, too, of course. FilmIntuition.com, one of the few reviews I can find of this film, calls it "perfunctory," and that's about right. William Boyd's screenplay leans too heavily on the novel's famous catch phrases, like the nervous response "Up to a point" whenever the Beast's publisher asks about something to underlings too afraid to say no. It doesn't find a handle of its own, such as developing Boot and the other characters by taking some needed liberties with the source material.
Gavin Millar's direction is scenically attractive but leaden in a way that emphasizes this deficiency. You keep hoping for burst of energy to come from somewhere, and except for a sly performance by Herbert Lom as a language-handy entrepreneur, never get it. Lom's not in much of the film, unfortunately, though it is nice to see him. Denholm Elliott scores some points, too, in a bigger part, but even the name actors seem lost here. Pleasance seems to have been woken up just before each of his scenes were shot.
Maybe someday I'll come around to liking Waugh's novel. But I can't say this film helped a bit. It's more like watching distracted teenagers reciting lines from a Shakespeare play in class. Enjoying Waugh shouldn't be such work.
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