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William Boyd has shown himself to be one of the finest readers &
chroniclers of the Human Condition writing today. It is almost a badge
of honour that he has not won an award from one of the product
placement companies. My first exposure to his work was a short-story
called "The Persistence of Vision" - a perfect gem. Whenever I get
depressed with the current offerings in the shops, I revert and, within
seconds, I am transported. If I were to say that the life of Logan
Mountstuart parallels my own to an almost spooky degree, it is not to
say that I have played golf with some HRH & had my matches nicked. I
have never jumped from an airplane or worked as a spy. One thing is
certain: William Boyd is a far better writer than Ernest Hemingway ever
Today, like Logan Mountstuart, as I sort out photographs and ancient family papers, I find - often depressing - aspects of that earlier life, the appalling personal loss of a loved one, letters of despair. Here and there a picture drawn by a loved child.
As I said, Mountstuart is Everyman. He was not a bold boy; nor a bad man. He was easily led, but he is a good man; honourable, in a way that Peter Scabius was false. And so, Boyd leads us alongside this fallible man; while we, on occasion, find ourselves aching to say to him "Don't!" It would be better to read the book in the first instance; the screenplay follows the same sequence and one is more prepared for the jump-shifts in time. It is what I call a satisfying read; what I would like to write if I had the talent.
The acting is universally faithful to the characters, especially Matthew Mac Fadyean, who is utterly convincing & sympathetic.
If the producers are going to transfer this to DVD, please keep it intact, as they did in the excellent VHS version of "Armadillo" - which suffered badly in the compressed version, on DVD.
It is supremely gratifying to find that there is an audience who can relate to great drama; who have the patience to follow a complex storyline and debate its merits or otherwise. Sunday is going to seem empty when it ends.
I read somewhere that Any Human Heart had poor viewing figures. If so,
that's quite sad, because this series was excellent. Ridiculous
sometimes yes, but it was also a classy and entertaining series and I
actually think it did have heart.
The book is a beautifully written and compelling one. And I think this series does a respectable job adapting it. Is it as good? Probably not, but the characters are faithful and great to watch and the story is told in an adept way. The script is often funny, touching, edgy, heart-warming and especially in the final episode reflective.
That's not all. The production values are exquisite. The scenery is beautiful, the photography stunning and the costumes ravishing. The music fits the mood of each scene perfectly, while the direction is fully competent and the pace right on the money.
The acting is excellent across the board. Julien Ovendon is good as Ernest Hemingway, while Kim Catrall's Gloria is the epitome of class and Gillian Anderson's Duchess of Windsor pinched and terrifying. Though it is the character of Logan who drives the drama, a very interesting if flawed character Logan is played by a different actor through different stages of his life. Logan as a child is played appealingly by Connor Nealon, while Logan as a young man is nicely portrayed by Sam Claflin. Matthew McFadyen is dashing, sympathetic and very convincing as a more middle-aged Logan, while Jim Broadbent comes off best in a brilliant, heartfelt and very reflective performance as Logan in his older age.
In conclusion, I thought it was wonderful especially for the production values and the acting. 10/10 Bethany Cox
There's a section in the memoirs of the philosopher Bertrand Russell
where he recalls an unexpected sexual encounter; he writes of it (in
among weighty reflections on the meaning of life and the foundations of
mathematics) with an almost puerile glee, like a child remembering
being locked in the sweet shop. And there was something of the same
tone - of baffled exultation, if you like - in a short story by the
writer William Boyd, supposedly comprising a portion of the journals of
a middle aged man called Logan Mountstewart (note the spelling),
recounting a not dissimilar tale. Boyd must have enjoyed writing this,
because a few years later he reconstructed the entire life of a renamed
Mounstuart, in his novel 'Any Human Heart'. The author gave his
character an accidentally interesting life, so that he happens to
witness many key stories in 20th century history; but what really gives
the book its quality is the believable nature of Logan's narrative
As a television drama, it's not nearly so successful. Most obviously, Logan's own words are lost, leaving us the story without the commentary. In its place, tedious flashbacks, and scenes of an elderly Logan reviewing his life, just in case we had forgotten the plot. Secondly, television is a much less imaginative medium, and many drama series set over decades struggle to truly convey the passage of time. 'Our Friends in the North' was one that succeeded; this one does not. The random happenings in Logan's life no longer appear like chance events, retrospectively interesting, in a story driven by its own imperatives, but rather as implausible plot; instead of Logan making acquaintances who transpire to be famous, there's a feeling of shallow name-dropping (here he meets Hemmingway, there the Duchess of Windsor); and coincidences seem contrived when they're all there is. The background of ordinary life, behind which Boyd so successfully disguised his somewhat preposterous tale, is lost. I'm reminded of the disastrous television adaptation of 'A Dance to the Music of Time'; that was worse, as it compressed not one book but thirteen, but there's something of the same problem here. There are also other similarities, in the tale of an aristocratic writer in an where aristocracy is in decline. I didn't see the similarities when I read the book, but they are enhanced not just because of the televisual medium but for other reasons as well: the simplification of the character of Peter Scabius (making him an almost Widmerpool-style figure), and a reluctance to paint the world of Logan's youth in anything other than familiar 'Brideshead'-style colours. Related to the latter, the desire for a certain aesthetic has led the director to cast a stunningly beautiful woman in the role of almost everyone with whom Logan has an affair; the younger Logan is also very dashing, although the older Logan is allowed to age (he still has a final fling, however, with a very pretty French lady, and before that, with an attractive prostitute). While the original character had a messy personal life, there was never the feeling of perpetual glamour one gets when watching this production. To make it worse, we have to be shown Logan having sex with every one of them, an unimaginative and eventually tiresomely repetitive decision. What can be slyly implied in one line of a book becomes an endless succession of sweaty bodies, as if we couldn't be trusted to imagine it for ourselves.
This feels like a bitter review. But the book was good. It's become a series that is merely good looking; and sadly, utterly lacking in heart.
An outstanding TV drama, superbly made and never less than engaging.
The three-part ANY HUMAN HEART is in some ways a portrait of the 20th
century, taking us through wars, political tribulations and the
loneliness of modern times. Poignancy, romance, sex, death and drama,
everything you could wish for in a show is present here.
The actors are excellent. Jim Broadbent embodies weariness and Matthew Macfadyen gives a career-best turn. Hayley Atwell is simply glorious, while Gillian Anderson deservedly won a BAFTA for her turn as the terrifying Wallis Simpson. The production values for this are top-notch and the story draws the viewer in from the very beginning. I repeat, outstanding.
I have not read the story on which the series is based. To the extent
that the filmed version aims to represent historical fact in linking
fictional characters to real ones, it is successful. Whether the
linkage is correct or appropriate is another matter. Some of the filmed
elements ring true, while others seem disjointed -- almost as if the
scriptwriter intends to play with the viewer's mind. Non-linear
storytelling is often like that, aiming for contrivance rather than
Taken strictly as theater on film, it is a highly entertaining piece of work. The camera pursues the protagonist (as played by three different actors) with a compassionate yet critical eye, inviting the viewer to pass judgment on his character by selectively picking out key episodes irrespective of logical development leading to foregone conclusion. This can be a sometimes gut-wrenching experience, not suited to lazy acceptance of questionable motivation on the part of a flawed hero.
To put it simply, if there is any moral to the story it pales by comparison to a theme of accidental and ineluctable passages in the life of a minor player on the stage of history, enhanced by backdrops of larger-than-life public figures and horrific events from the twentieth century.
Watch it for great acting and superb cinematic design rather than mere pleasure.
This amazing and truly brilliant mini-series is even better than A DANCE TO THE MUSIC OF TIME (1997, see my review), which I did not think was possible. It is based on a novel by William Boyd, who has also scripted the series. It follows the life of one man, Logan Mountstuart, from the first decade of the 20th century up to the 1990s and his death. Along the way he is involved with a remarkable number of fascinating women, some of whom he marries, and he takes part in key events of his time. As a spy for British Naval Intelligence during the War, he is recruited by Ian Fleming (of James Bond fame), during his earlier time in Montparnasse he befriends Ernest Hemingway and some French avant garde poets, he writes a best-selling novel, he runs an art gallery, and he becomes far too intimately involved with the poisonous couple, the Duke and Duchess of Windsor (both brilliantly portrayed by Tom Hollander and Gillian Anderson). Logan is played by three successive actors from his days at Oxford to old age: Sam Claflin, Matthew Macfadyen, and Jim Broadbent. All three of them are spectacularly brilliant, but the series is ultimately made by the wholly inspired performance of Matthew Macfadyen, one of British TV's finest actors, who was so wonderful in ENID (2009, see my review). Logan is a kind of everyman, but also someone who never really grew up properly. He retains a drifting and innocent air throughout his countless extraordinary adventures, and although most of his luck is bad and his successes are few, he is never less than fascinating. Macfadyen best of the three actors captures his abstracted and dreaming expression, for Logan is above all someone who lets his life happen to him. Or, as Wyndham Lewis put it in his essay on Ernest Hemingway entitled 'The Dumb Ox', Logan is not temperamentally one of 'those who do things', but is rather one of those 'to whom things are done' (Lewis maintained that this was just what was wrong with Hemingway's fiction). That is precisely why he is an everyman, since few of us is not essentially a victim of life and, frankly, I doubt that there is anyone who has ever truly directed the course of his own life. Such things just don't happen. But just because Logan is passive does not mean that he does not love and suffer like the best of us. The other main focus of the series, which holds the whole thing together, is the remarkable performance of Hayley Atwell as Freya, Logan's last wife, and the only woman he ever completely loves and with whom he has perfect happiness. The central tragedy of Logan's existence is that she, their daughter and their unborn child, were killed by a V-2 rocket in London during the War. Logan never recovers from this and sees recurring visions of her for the rest of his life. There are wonderful supporting performances from a large variety of talented actors and actresses. Amongst the women, Kim Cattrall as Gloria, Holliday Grainger as Tess, and Charity Wakefield who plays Land Fothergill, particularly stand out. Amongst the men, Samuel West stands out. But the charmer of the series is undoubtedly Hayley Atwell. She is so convincing as the 'love of Logan's life' that frankly anyone would want to be married to her. It is impossible to define sufficiently her unique warmth and the strangely fascinating manner she has in the role, much of which appears to be natural to her, since the DVD contains interviews with her and other cast members as well as William Boyd, all of which are interesting. But when one considers all of this, one realizes that the series succeeded ultimately because of its remarkably brilliant director, Michael Samuels, about whom no biographical information of any kind appears on IMDb, but only his credits. He has never made a feature film and has worked entirely in television, but surely that should change, since this series is clearly a work of genius. He was certainly aided by his Polish cinematographer, Wojciech Szepel, in obtaining some extraordinarily imaginative and creative shots. But the credit for pulling this all together, indeed for pulling it off at all, lies with the director. A series like this can readily fail unless everyone is in top form, and above all that must be the director. No matter how talented the actors may be, they have to be coaxed and cosseted into delivering their best, made to feel confident and secure, and given gentle support. Actors and actresses are all, fundamentally, like little children who want above all to please and to be loved in return. They must never be allowed to ruin the furniture, but otherwise they need encouragement and guidance. Not many directors can get away with making brilliant movies whilst screaming at their actors, like Otto Preminger. So for lack of any information about him whatever, and assuming of him only that 'a man is known by his works', we must conclude that Michael Samuels must have a truly impressive bedside manner and immense professional ability. I cannot remotely imagine how anyone could write an unfavourable review of this mini-series, as it is a masterpiece of quality television drama. It is deeply, powerfully moving, it stirs the emotions at every level, and it conveys an overwhelming sense of a 'lived life' in all its fullness, its intense pathos, its rare joys and triumphs, and its all too frequent tragedies. I have never read anything by William Boyd, but I imagine he must be a very fine novelist, to judge from this. And he evidently has superior abilities to reduce, compress, and refine his own work for another medium. He clearly understands the difference between a novel and a script and swims with equal ease in both seas. Everyone involved with this wonderful project should be so proud.
As someone who bounced around in the film and TV industry, I was
enthralled with the spot on accuracy of this series. It captured that
unique culture of celebrity and those who prosper on the periphery of
fame and fortune. When Gloria put a fork in Mountstuart's hand, I knew
I had seen a true cinematic moment of genius. Kim Cattrall is
immortalized in this scene in Episode 3, as the most desirable of women
who torment the sophisticated man. Important social record, great
enjoyment and fun.
If you aren't Logan, you certainly recognize him in the milieu of the era that his character was created in the novel that inspired the series. Just surviving WWII was quite a feat for an Englishman. Surviving the heart-breaking loss of wife and child made all that followed in Logan's career story so true to those of us who were not far away at the time.
What a delicate human story of a real man and his very real and messy
life, filled with all of the missteps into discovering the world and
himself. While it is at once sentimental, it isn't overly romanticized
or filled with self-pity.
A curious and fascinating sub-plot around the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, took me into an internet search to learn more around a historical incident involving all the characters.
Filled with flashbacks of Oxford friends, wives, lovers and children are the cast of characters illuminating our main character, Logan's, mind. Every flashback moves us through Logan's life, as he seems to outlive all of the unfortunate illnesses and accidents of his friends and family. The extensive ensemble of actors play their characters, with the grace and elegance you expect from such highly acclaimed actors as James Broadbent.
The real thread of sweetness, in this series, is seeing how we assign value to our relationships and perception of the world. This is a story for every person, to feel connected to their own humanness and find purpose and human connection at every stage of their lives.
Certainly very well made and exceptionally well-acted. An interesting story of a man's life and the trials and happiness he is subjected to. The main character seems often irrevocably drawn back to memories of his past, painful ones and the melancholy of happiness which has missed his grasp. Tom Hollander was incredible, the release he had in some of his scenes and his whole characterisation was immaculate. Matthew McFaddyn too was engaging. Exceptionally good dialogue too which is essential for any drama, or any comedy for that matter, to work. Intriguing insight into corruption and the way people in positions of power are able to twist the lives of those beneath them.
Going into the Masterpiece Classic presentation of "Any Human Heart" on
DVD, I had conflicting thoughts.
First up was that though I haven't read the book its based on by William Boyd, he is one of my favorite writers, with his last two thrillers, "Restless" and "Ordinary Thunderstorms," being two of the genre's best. And second, though as a Southerner I probably shouldn't admit this so regularly, I really can't much at all stand "Forrest Gump," so the story structure of "Any Human Heart," one man's life through most of the 20th century in which he rubs elbows with many famous people, gave me pause.
Thankfully, Boyd's story really borrows only that basic outline from "Gump," but with less overbearing sentimentality and a lot more, sometimes very dark, wit. Boyd's novel and the four-part BBC series presented here tell the story of "writer" Logan Mountstuart, with the quotation marks in place because though he accomplished and experienced many things in his long life, he only managed to write two novels.
Though the four-and-a-half-hour long series is a bit bloated by thoroughly unnecessary fantasy sequences that pop up throughout starring Mountstuart as a child, he's for the most part played by three very good English actors, Sam Claflin as the college-age Mountstuart, Matthew MacFadyen (who the ladies may remember from the version of "Pride & Prejudice" also starring Keira Knightley) as him in middle age, and the great Jim Broadbent as Mountstuart the elder.
Throughout Mountstuart's saga, however, it's the women he loved and lost that play the most important parts. As the story opens, Broadbent's Mountstuart, clearly in fading health, is putting back together the pieces of his life using his memories of the women who had made it memorable. Standing out in a large ensemble are the radiant Hayley Atwell as Freya, the real love of his life, Kim Cattrall as Gloria, who gives the series much of its soul, and an unrecognizable but very funny Gillian Anderson as the Duchess of Windsor, Wallis Simpson.
Anderson and co-conspirator Tom Hollander as the duke bring a comic edge to the story as Mountstuart, enlisted as a "spy" during World War II, mostly spends his time tracking down what happened to the former king after the story told in "The King's Speech," at least as Boyd imagines it. Often dark humor thankfully runs throughout "Any Human Heart," as when later in life Mountstuart, simply in search of cheap health care, ends up brushing up against Germany's Baader Meinhof gang and later, in his last romantic conquest, gets involved with a French woman more than a little confused about her ancestry.
But the beauty of "Any Human Heart" often comes not from these grand adventures (he also manages to meet Ernest Hemingway and Ian Fleming, who recruits him into the spying ranks), but in the failures that make for a well-rounded life. As Mountstuart manages to crap out on two marriages he was never terribly interested in and then get involved with his dead son's 16-year-old girlfriend (yes, he is more than a bit of a cad), it becomes harder and harder to cheer for him, but Macfadyen's layered performance makes you appreciate the man in whole, many warts and all.
In the end, though, it's Broadbent who both gives the story its arc and brings it home with tenderness, particularly in his scenes with Cattrall, ultimately making this well worth checking out when it hits DVD next Tuesday, April 5 (yes, I'm writing this a bit early because it doubles as a newspaper column that comes out on Friday.) P.S.: One final note about editing: Though I didn't manage to catch this when it aired on PBS, I've heard that it was rather poorly edited, perhaps to remove some of the racier scenes that make Mountstuart's life so enjoyable, but this is the complete BBC version, so there's no need to worry about that.
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