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|Index||15 reviews in total|
This was an adaptation that was almost bound to fail. Squeezing 12
novels into eight hours of television allows just 40 minutes per novel.
'The Valley of Bones' was condensed into just 17 minutes. If this had
been done well it would truly have been a miracle of compression.
However, it was achieved by eliminating about two-thirds of the book.
So it is really rather surprising that the adaptors should have created scenes which were only hinted at rather than described in the book. I counted four, all of which added unnecessary violence and gore. I think if Powell had wanted to make these scenes explicit he would have done so - but he preferred for them to happen offstage.
What is also hard to forgive was the decision to play fast and loose with the chronology towards the end of the series. For example, the launch of 'Fission' should have been immediately after the end of the war rather than somewhere in the mid 50s, while the award of the Magnus Donners prize took place in 1968 or 9 rather than 1963. Anyone who has any feel at all for the period would know that the difference is immense.
But there are good things about this too. The casting is excellent with no-one out of place; the atmosphere for the most part convincing and compelling. A pity that the cast did not have the chance to work through a real adaptation, rather than this drastic and unsatisfactory abridgement.
This television adaptation, by Hugh Whitmore, of Anthony Powell's
twelve-volume book condenses all the action of five decades, and over a
hundred characters, into eight hours. We first meet the main characters
Nick Jenkins, our constant narrator; Kenneth Widmerpool; Charles Stringham;
and Peter Templar when they are at school together. Through the years we
watch them move through their tangled lives, which end in tragedy for some,
happiness for others.
Making an impact within the cast are James Purefoy as Nick Jenkins (playing him from university to the end of World War II); Jonathan Cake as Peter Templar; Claire Skinner as Jean Duport; Grant Thatcher as Mark Members; James Fleet as Hugh Moreland; Zoë Wanamaker as Audrey MacLintock; John Gielgud as St John Clarke; Miranda Richardson as Pamela Fritton; David Yelland as Jenkins' father; Edward Fox as Uncle Giles; and Michael Williams as Ted Jeavons.
But the best performance within this series by a mile is from the wonderful Simon Russell-Beale, managing to turn the truly horrible Widmerpool into a rounded character who is totally convincing, whether as a figure of fun at school, as a pompous major in the war, as a humiliated husband, or as a free spirit dancing.
One little quibble would be why did they suddenly change the casting for Nick Jenkins and no other main character in the final episode? J C Quiggin, Odo Stephens, Mark Members, Widmerpool and others remain the same actors made up to look older. Jean and Isabel (Mrs Jenkins) are also recast but this isn't as noticeable. So, after two and a half episodes getting used to James Purefoy as Nick we suddenly have to adapt to John Standing. He's effective, but I think this change was a mistake.
So, is this adaptation any good? It is true that sometimes you lose track of who's who (who they were related to, who they married, where they met) but there are numerous scenes of interest not all directly witnessed by Nick. The musical soundtrack is superb and well-chosen. Having eight hours to tell the story means that things don't have to progress at a breakneck pace, and if some aspects come off better than others, nothing really fails. Dance to the Music of Time' is an engrossing and superior piece of TV drama.
They don't make adaptations like this any more - no doubt for cost
reasons and a lack of imagination and bravery at the TV companies. 7
hours of solid drama, yet full of incidental humour and some very fine
Unfortunately it is flawed, and the flaws make it just very good viewing rather than the excellent series it should have been. The biggest flaws to my mind are:
1 The decision to replace Nick and his wife by new actors for Film 4 was totally wrong. Nick ages far too much in too short a space of time, and looks completely different. This creates a real problem of believability.
2 Still on ageing, some of the actors are 'aged' very well, whilst others (especially the ladies and Odo) seem hardly any different as the decades progress.
3 Film 4 is by far the weakest, though to be fair this reflects the books on which it is based. Perhaps it should have been cut further and the earlier years given even greater prominence.
4 Despite a great deal of pruning, there are still too many characters and insufficient narration for non-aficionados of the books to be sure all the time of who is who.
5 The scenes often seem to be a succession of dramatic deaths - difficult to avoid with the way the story has to be condensed, but very predictable nonetheless.
However, it's still pretty good, and light years removed from much of the dumbed-down drama on TV today.
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 death.
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 together.
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 can.'"
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.
At long last, Anthony Powell's 12 volume novel sequence A Dance to the Music of Time has been dramatised for television. If Powell's "Journals" are to be believed, this is after any number of false starts spanning the best part of 20 years. The dramatisation was in four two-hour episodes, each covering approximately 3 books. They were shown on UK's Channel 4 TV in October 1997. The format of four 2-hour films was, in many ways, unfortunate as it severely constrained the amount of the action which could be shown, however given the exigencies of modern TV scheduling it was probably the only way in which "Dance" was ever going to get televised. As a devotee of the books, I was apprehensive about how they would translate into film. Just how do you condense 12 novels into 8 hours of television? However in my view the dramatisation worked extremely well, notwithstanding the necessary omissions. What helped the whole production was some interesting, and at times inspired and doubtless extravagant, casting which included: Edward Fox (as Uncle Giles), Zoë Wanamaker (as Audrey Maclintick), John Gielgud (as St John Clarke), Alan Bennett (as Sillery), Miranda Richardson (as Pamela Flitton)... some interesting choices!! Overall an interesting and enjoyable series. I just fear that having been done once that we'll never see "Dance" recreated in a different (better?) format and that Powell will remain relatively unknown in comparison with contemporaries like Evelyn Waugh ... which is in my view quite unjustifiable as Powell is a much better writer. Fortunately Channel 4 released these 4 films on video - which is excellent as they're well worth watching again.
Hands down, this is the best miniseries or film that I have ever seen. Everything about this miniseries was my cup of tea: the clothes, the scenery, the dialogue, the many handsome actors, just everything. I had broken down and bought myself one of those PAL video players as so many video tapes that I wanted to see were only available in PAL format. As an American NTSC videotape user, it was hard for me to reconcile the purchase of the special PAL VCR, until I saw this miniseries in all its glory. What an absolute confection! I wanted to be a part of the story. I find it hard to believe that this miniseries is not available to the American market in NTSC format. This miniseries far surpasses Brideshead Revisited, among others. Although Simon Russell Beal certainly did a phenomenal acting job, I also thought James Purefoy displayed alot of range and depth particularly in the difficult role of an observer narrator. I really can't say enough about how marvelous this miniseries was! It was worth every penny spent to see this miniseries!
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Cramming Anthony Powell's magnum opus, the longest novel in the English language (over 3000 pages published in 12 parts over 20 years and at least 400 characters), into 8 hours of television is an awesome task which defeated several would-be adapters including Dennis Potter, but Hugh Whitemore has managed it here, although of course a lot has been left out. The obsessive Captain Gwatkin and the likable rogue Dicky Umfraville do not make an appearance, though minor characters like Robert Tolland whose only claim to fame is his involvement with an older woman appears in full. It can't have been easy deciding what to leave out, but rightly, I think, the blue pencil fell more heavily on the weaker later parts. Powell was a lot better at depicting the 20s, 30s and 40s that he was the 50s, 60s and 70s, after he had moved from London to Devon. Maybe Hilaire Belloc was correct, at least for urban writers, when he said that the country 'was a kind of healthy death.'
The effect of the necessary editing (the dialogue is usually straight from the novel) is to put that great character of English fiction, Kenneth Widmerpool, firmly in centre stage (though his gruesome mother has been dispensed with). Widmerpool is portrayed over the 50 year time span by the same actor, Simon Russell Beale, in a stunningly consistent characterisation. He is a monster, but there is something very ordinary about him, a kid who was never accepted for what he was and who became a power-hungry bureaucrat as a means of imposing his will on those who would not accept him. The final crack-up is a tad fanciful, but it fits, for at last Kenneth can be his obsequious self while at the same time reject the hierarchy he has spent the previous 50 years trying to climb (the best he does is a peerage and a University Chancellorship, which would have to be regarded as consolation prizes). Widmerpool was obviously inspired by some real-life acquaintances of Powell's, but he is a true fictional creation far more vivid and horrible than if he was merely the subject of a disguised biography.
One of the mysteries of the novel is why Nicholas Jenkins, the self-effacing narrator, spends so much time on Widmerpool, who is patently not Nicholas's kind of guy. In fact Nicholas, who mostly hob-nobs with fellow-writers and artists such as Moreland the composer, probably shares Bob Duport's opinion uttered from his wheelchair near the end that Widmerpool was 'a château-bottled sh*t'. Perhaps it's just that Widmerpool has been adopted as the centre of the Dance and we should remember there are many other interesting stories going on around the centre. Pamela Flitton, la belle dame sans merci, is splendidly realised by Miranda Richardson (despite being too old for the part) and this tends to strengthen the focus on Widmerpool, given her stormy relationship with him and her unparalleled ability to create scenes on genteel social occasions.
Having to cast two or three actors in the same part (four in the case of Jenkins) is always a problem, and the gap between Jenkins Mark III (James Purefoy) and Jenkins Mark IV (John Standing) is, alas, obvious. Some actors, with the aid of excellent make-up, age beautifully, like Adrian Scarborough as J G Quiggan and Alan Bennett as Sillery, others, such as the beautiful Mona (Annabel Mullion) scarcely age at all. 'Dance' is stuffed full of wonderful minor characters Uncle Giles, Mrs Erdleigh, McLintock and his wife, Lady Mollie, Ted Jeavons, Erridge, Magnus Donners, Matilda Donners, Deacon the painter, St John Clarke, Mark Members, to name about a dozen of them. Most of the performances are fine, though maybe John Gielgud (at 95) was a bit ancient for a novelist in his 60s.
I hope viewers of this production won't be put off reading the book (which is still obtainable in a four volume set). I don't know whether it is still obtainable but there is also an excellent 'Handbook' to the Dance and its characters by Hilary Spurling, published by Heinemann in 1977.
Anthony Powell, who died aged 94 in 2000, was keen to have 'Dance' televised (on his terms) and spent years trying to get it on air. His contemporary Evelyn Waugh hated the idea of his novels being televised, or for that matter being made into films. Ironically, "Dance" on TV, while generally good viewing is very much a compromise and 'Brideshead Revisited' remains the TV adaptation which produced a work of art comparable with the novel itself.
I have to disagree with Mary Smith from America who said that this series
better than Brideshead Revisited. A Dance to the Music of time is almost
completely devoid of any charismatic or otherwise engaging characters,
exception of the likeable Stringham and the repulsive Widmerpool. It
towards Brideshead far too obviously (perhaps this was inevitable given
subject matter and the era) and in a way that only demonstrates its
inferiority. The dialogue and direction are far too stagey, with the
character's words just don't ring true. Moreover I felt no concern for
characters: they wander aimlessly through their lives and we are offered
more than disconnected snapshots to develop our interest. There seems to
no analysis of or motivation for any of their actions: one character
another, some people get married, some divorce and some die. There is
way of analysis: we "see" a lot, but understand (or care for) little of
I confess that I enjoyed this series in parts. The costumes really are very good and the better actors do try valiantly with this stilted and sterile script. But it really is almost embarrassing compared to the infinitely superior Brideshead. Apart from a few entertaining scenes involving people dying at parties, and a rather enthusiastic display of nudity in the early scenes, this mini-series is really only for those who have read the books, and even then only as a curiosity piece.
Perhaps I have come to expect too much of British mini-series after being spoilt by productions such as Brideshead Revisited, Martin Chuzzlewit and Pride and Prejudice. Nonetheless, A Dance to the Music of Time is a barely entertaining, wasted opportunity.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I obtained this four DVD series from a local library. I saw it
advertised in a catalog and recognized some of the performers so I
thought it might be interesting. My impression was that the first three
decades were almost totally divorced from the final decade. We liked
the performance and narration by James Purefoy of the lead character
Nick Jenkins but I felt the series would have ended satisfactorily when
he returned from WWII to his wife and child. I stared in disbelief at
the final episode when the main characters of Nick Jenkins, his wife
Isobel and his former lover Jean were now all portrayed by different
performers? I suspect the original actors might have read the script
and wisely decided that sordid episode was not for them? Few of the
characters in the final decade have any redeeming qualities whatsoever
especially poor Pamela. You didn't care any longer about the fate of
most of them. When you thought you have seen enough decadent
characters, a new one shows up. Simon Russell Beale as Widmerpool
managed to be be alternately amusing, pompous, entertaining, ambitious
and comical during the first three episodes. In the final decade he
became too pathetic to watch. I also felt there were far too many
characters to try to keep track of with many popping in and out of the
saga at different times with no apparent rhyme or reason.
We really liked the first three decades, especially the music which represented accurately the mood of the times. When Jenkins entered the Ritz Hotal to meet with the ex-husband of his former mistress, the pianist was playing two Vera Lynn chestnuts- "Room 504" and "That Lovely Weekend" which I haven't heard since my WWII days. Perhaps, I enjoyed the music of the initial decades because so much of it was American and familiar. The final decade was totally devoid of any music which made it too ponderous and ugly to bear. My suggestion would be to enjoy the bravura performances and music of the first three episodes and terminate your viewing when Nick Jenkins returns home to his family to another Vera Lynn melody- "It's A Lovely Day Tomorrow." Spare yourself the discomfort of watching the tawdry final episode. Finally, much of the nudity was jarring and unnecessary and probably as embarrassing to the audience as it appeared to be to many of the characters.
This is such an absorbing and brilliant drama series (4 episodes totalling 413 minutes) that it ranks as one of the finest ever made for British television. It is a condensation and adaptation of 12 novels by Anthony Powell (1905-2000), somehow miraculously crammed into this much shorter space by Hugh Whitemore, and don't ask me how he does it. The story of many interweaving characters follows them from their university days in the 1920s through to the early 1960s, taking in the War years in considerable detail. There are several Oscar-class performances in the series. One of these is by Simon Russell Beale, who makes the transition from boy to elderly man in a supernaturally convincing way as the character Kenneth Widmerpool. Other characters had to be replaced as they aged, sometimes even twice, but Beale goes all the way. Certainly the makeup people deserve gold medals for pulling that off. His searing performance wholly dominates the series, and is one of the greatest of our time. In terms of intensity of emotion of people at the limits of desperation, two others take the laurels. They are Miranda Richardson as Pamela Fitton and Paul Rhys as Christopher Stringham. Probably these are the finest performances in their respective careers. This series ought to be studied minutely in all drama schools to teach the young 'uns how things are done by the best of their profession. James Purefoy excels as the lead character Nick Jenkins, though in the final episode he is replaced by an older actor whose name does not appear on the IMDb cast list, alas. Jenkins is the languid observer and occasional narrator of the story, who becomes a novelist and to some extent represents Powell himself. Magnificent cameo appearances by Alan Bennett as Sillery are so wonderful that the series is worth watching just for him alone. James Villiers appears in the first episode but is not listed with IMDb either, I notice. My old friend Bryan Pringle plays a butler in a most amusing way. The casting is brilliant, because everybody is just right. No one could have played Jenkins's Uncle Giles so slyly and with such exquisite mannerisms as Edward Fox. James Fleet is perfect as the composer Moreland, Zoe Wanamaker is disturbingly hard and brittle as Audrey Maclintick, just as she is supposed to be, Jonathan Cake is perfect as Peter Templer, and one could go on and on listing them all and how fine they were. The direction alternates between Alvin Rakoff and Christopher Morahan, with Rakoff directing episodes 1 and 3, and Morahan directing episodes 2 and 4. Rakoff produced and Whitemore was Executive Producer. No expense was spared for this series, and some of the location shooting even took place in Venice, despite it being rather a minor bit of background for the story. Occasionally screen time is wasted by lingering over things for too long, such as Jenkins's officer training course for the War; we did not really need to see him falling into a bed of leaves and getting them up his nose. The title of the series of novels and the TV series derives from a painting by Poussin of that name, which shows figures engaged in a round dance of rising and falling fortunes, and we recur to this painting throughout the series, where the point is not rubbed home too obviously, but is made very tastefully. This is a multiple life-saga which shows how people begin, how they interact over the decades, and how they end. So many dreams turn to dust, so many relationships go sour, and Miranda Richardson and Paul Rhys both disintegrate in front of our eyes in portrayals of some of the most desperate human despair ever committed to film. One thing which is particularly notable about the script and the series is the extraordinary command which most of the characters have over language, and the superb ways they have of expressing themselves even in their worst moments. This ranks as probably the most literate of all modern TV series. Watching it comes near to being a course in how to speak and express oneself properly, and the eloquence of Paul Rhys as he dissolves as a personality is outstanding in its pathos. The fact is that all of these people, even the rough characters, know how to speak English, and there are not many people who do anymore. So rapidly have speech and the language declined that even though this was made as recently as 1997, it already seems nearly as far away as Shakespeare. We now live in a debased era where few people under 30 can read, write, or count properly, much less speak coherently. Such has been the total collapse of educational standards and the eradication of culture, not to mention the damage done by text messaging and the grunting in imitation of footballers which takes the place of speech amongst large segments of the population who now think it is more fashionable to make animal sounds than to use their tongues and teeth to articulate recognisable language. One day, in a wholly grunt-filled world, someone may come across an old DVD of this series, find an antique machine to play it on, and not understand a word of what anyone says, because it is all expressed in a dead language called English, which ceased to be spoken about the year 2000. If there is still such a thing as electricity in the future (since no one is building any power stations to replace the old ones, except in China), and if there are still people left with minds not wholly dulled, and should they come across a way of viewing this old TV series, they will learn about something called the twentieth century, in a most vivid and unforgettable way. This series truly is a triumph of artistic integrity, talent, and sheer genius.
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