Execution almost perfect, subject matter a question....
No, I haven't read the books, but I have read Proust, and you can bet
Mr. Powell read him too. Powell's first volume appeared thirty years
after Proust's death, and a greater valentine can't be imagined.
Both "Dance" and "In Search of Lost Time" are panoramic
multi-generational quasi-autobiographical narratives of the gentry they
knew. Lower class types pop in from time to time, but they never take
center stage for long. Both genteel epics run more than 3000 pages.
Major characters are rarely single portraits, but are usually drawn
from composites of two or three prototypes. Both works chronicle the
human cycles of birth, education, coupling, re-coupling, decay and
In addition to writing earlier, Proust had the structural advantage of
writing the beginning and end of his novel first, spending the rest of
his life filling in the middle. It was a meditation on the nature of
memory, and underlying all the gossip and melodrama is an awareness
that there is a coherent thesis and philosophy tying the whole journey
At least as presented here, no such unifying ideas are discernible in
Powell. We meet characters of greater or lesser interest, they do the
things that people do (and sometimes don't do, and occasionally never
have done in the history of the world). They learn, age, crack-up and
die, but the whole thing just kind of trails off and rumbles to a stop
rather than ends. We may have a good time getting there, but I wind up
wondering why we made the trip.
In response to criticisms of the abridgment, we should note that
Powell, as a former screenwriter, was not upset at the reshaping of his
work for TV. Nicholas Coleridge reports: "Powell, himself, says that
'Somewhat to my surprise' he is happy with the adaptation. 'It seems
quite alright to me,' he told me with faltering voice, on the
telephone. 'I think they've done it as well as this medium possibly
Across the board, the actors are almost uniformly pleasing. Simon
Russell Beale has been rightly cheered for his remarkable and daring
Widmerpool, but Michael Williams (Judi Dench's late husband) is
outstanding as Ted Jeavons, and Edward Fox steals every scene he's in,
no surprise there. James Purefoy as Nick has to do a lot of listening,
and occasionally he does it wonderfully well.
I was not upset at the recasting of half a dozen characters in the
fourth film. Some of the young actors looked quite silly in extreme age
makeup as practiced 10 years ago. I'd have been happier if it had been
more widespread. It took me about 8 seconds to register that Nick and
Isabel and Jean were played by different actors, and then I plunged
right back into the story. I'm sorry for the viewers that were derailed
by the substitutions, but I wasn't.
I am perplexed by the character of Pamela Flitton as played here in her
unique patented performance by Miranda Richardson. She is a vicious,
irritable, impatient, destructive, sexually voracious, uncontrolled and
uncontrollable woman, everything that panics an English writer from
Charles Dickens to Bram Stoker and onward.
Pamela is a crimson-lipped vampire straight out of Hammer Horror, and
not one thing she does or says has a motivation. I hope the books are
more coherent in explaining why, why anything.
BTW, the film "A Business Affair," from novels by Barbara Skelton,
gives Pamela's prototype's side of the story, and I look forward to
seeing it by way of further illumination. There's precious little to
comprehend on view here. She just is.
Anyway, this is all professionally done and makes for entertaining
viewing. It may not be the absolute best of its genre, but it's a long
way from the worst. It is highly recommended to people who like British
miniseries based on long novels.
OTOH, no one has ever made a good movie out of Proust, they're all
terrible. There's a wonderful published screenplay Harold Pinter wrote
for Joseph Losey, but it was never produced. If you want to spend a
year reading 3000 pages, please start first with Proust, then take on
Powell for dessert.
13 of 14 people found this review helpful.
Was this review helpful to you?