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I love Cornwall, I go there all the time, and I have never had any
trouble understanding the delightful Cornish accent. So what in God's
name is the language they're speaking in BBC1′s new adaptation of
Jamaica Inn? I began by turning up the volume, thinking I simply had
the TV on too quietly. When I still couldn't catch what most of the
cast were trying to say I tried listening on headphones like a language
student struggling to revise for a forthcoming aural exam.But however
much I concentrated, rewound on TiVo, or adjusted the audio controls I
could only manage to pick out about one word in fifty.
Most inaccessible of all was the dialogue uttered by Sean Harris, as violent, drink-soaked smuggler Joss.
Joss produced a baffling array of mumbles, whispers and grunts, delivered through the upper nasal cavity in a West Country accent so thick it might as well have been first generation Klingon.
Even headstrong barmaid Mary played by Jessica Brown Findlay off Downton Abbey had trouble understanding the ramblings of her thuggish, inebriated uncle, and pointed out as much on more than one occasion.
"I don't understand," she said at one point, and Britain breathed a huge sigh of relief that not every viewer in the country had simultaneously gone deaf.
Uncle Joss turned out to be a bit of a nineteenth century Basil Fawlty a reluctant innkeeper who "don't like people staying," and would rather go down to the beach and crush people's heads with his bare hands. He also had a nasty habit of grabbing people around the throat and shoving them up against walls a style of behaviour that was also reminiscent of Mr Fawlty at his least hospitable.
Matthew McNulty was in it, of course. He's in all the BBC costume dramas and probably hasn't had a day off work in about 7 years. Poor old Matthew must be sick to the back teeth of heavily colour-corrected, windswept moors full of clattering stage coaches and women wading up to their knees in muddy bogs. He looks like he could do with a couple of weeks in the Canaries. Maybe his agent needs to learn how to say "no" from time to time.
Finally giving up on trying to follow the dialogue, I turned my attentions to Mary's heavy, full length velvet dress. This character's fondness for bog wading at a variety of different depths meant that in every scene the dark stain around the hem of this garment moved up and down, up and down, like the rise and fall of the tidal Thames at Teddington. I eventually found myself trying to guess at which level the watermark would appear next, and I have every intention of turning this pastime into a drinking game while I am watching episode 3 of Jamaica Inn (with the subtitles turned on.)
The only version of Jamaica Inn I had watched before this was the one with Jane Seymour,which I'm quite fond of.I have noticed that because of recessions,we seem to be having spates of darkly lit grim dramas,and intense acting.There's nothing wrong with that of course,but It starts to feel like all other dramas rolled into one,because really it felt to modern,too abrasive for the time it was meant to be set in,and the excitement and tension was lost (I did feel they gave away the culprit to early).Plus the audio,Sean Harris was the worst,which is a shame,as he is a very good actor,possibly giving the best performance in the entire series,despite his mumbling growls.Jessica Brown Findlay gave a believable performance as Mary Yellan,credit to her that we didn't even remember Lady Sybil as she romanced a thief.Overall a series I watched,but would not watch again,best to watch the Seymour version,or The Thirteenth Tale,the bbc didn't even widely advertise it,and it was remarkably better than this series.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The fashion for dark realism seems to have permeated even Historical
dramas. I suppose they think it underpins the characters with an Earthy
veritas and makes them, and their circumstances, seem more real. It is
true that the doings on the Cornish coast were pretty dreadful but to
depict it in such uniformly depressing tones leaves no room for the
light of moral comparison to shine in. It's as if the Human Condition
is depicted as black paint on a black canvas. We're all doomed and
there's no point in trying.
This is the stuff of Literature, we are tempted to think, but, unfortunately, this dark cynicism has not so much given it a Literary sheen but rather the ambiance of a bucket of mud from a marshy strand, full of ugly little creatures all trying to escape from their dire surroundings.
The trouble with being too realistic is that Reality is often dull, dour and boring and so to take this attitude when dramatising an Historical novel is really, to drain the romance, and thus the entertainment, from the history. Dickens and Shakespeare, and more recently Ripper Street, have a sort of parallel historical verity by the action being enhanced by beautiful dialogue and richly drawn characters. This dramatisation of Jamaica Inn, however, seems to have reduced Literary endeavours to incoherent grunts, curses and prosaic railings against the brutality of life.
I had to stop myself from wistfully hoping that the grim, marshy landscape would be transformed into the polished cobbles of Westward Ho and that the Inn would have a Shepperton makeover to turn it into a shiny Admiral Benbow complete with picturesque pirates and colourful redcoats but, unfortunately, we were stuck, until the final squalid thrashings, with undifferentiated mud and gloom. Our heroine was failed by the absence of the best traditions of female literary creations, and became, not so much a plucky young lass, but just another creature floundering in the mire of the marshes.
So when poor Mary Yellan rode off into the sunset with her mud-coloured horse-thief, we could only shrug with the dire certainty that she was merely riding slap-bang (with a guttural grunt)into the mud-encrusted side of the bucket.
OK so first things first the sound is a bit dodgy, but persevere because the screen crackles with tension. The writing is good and the filming style doesn't disappoint. It's suitably dark, and no one, not even out our heroine Mary Yellen, looks pretty in that vapid way that some costume dramas enjoy. She's a bit grubby, but still attractive, so she seems more realistic, because she isn't portrayed like Anne of Green Shipwrecks. The locations are treated like another character in the story. The acting is exciting, with huge amounts of magnetism. Each character has an interesting back story that is sometimes hinted at, sometimes explained. The thing I noticed first is that everyone is dirty, their hands, their hair, their clothes, and of they would be. Smuggling is a dirty business, this production lets you see just how dangerous and desperate it is.
I greatly enjoyed this adaption of Jamaica Inn.
It was dark and grubby, just like the monstrous crime at the heart of this tale.
For me the key to Jamaica Inn is the portrayal of the extremely compromised characters. The production excelled at this.
The only character who is not compromised is the evil fiend at the centre of it all of course. That person has abandoned morals and has found a form of liberation.
The most compromised of all, Joss Merlyn was played by Sean Harris superbly. He is ensnared in something extremely nasty indeed. His attempt to drag the heroin into the evil cesspool he inhabits was really a first class piece of drama.
Thank goodness today we have Formica worktops, dettol, vinyl floors and suchlike. We still have monstrous criminals but at least we have nice clean living environments for them.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
It's a reasonable stab at a great tale, but sadly this latest version
of Daphne du Maurier's Jamaica Inn takes too many television shortcuts
to satisfy and really impress. That's a shame, because there is a lot
about it which makes it stand out from what another production might
have settled for.
Effort and imagination went in to making the story very much of its time and although the various Cornish accents are at times a little off (I live there - here - and can tell, although I'm not myself Cornish), it does take you back to the early years of the 19th century when life was not half as sweet as it is now for most of us. OK it has been castigated for several anachronisms, but if you are not aware of them - and I was not - they won't spoil your viewing. I rather liked the acting, too, and thought it well cast. Where it falls down is in the pretty mediocre script and storytelling: where subtle exposition and greater characterisation were needed, we got, instead, the pretty usual two-dimensional TV version good and evil. This was storytelling by numbers. In fact, the storytelling was pretty slapdash.
Too much was left unexplained. What hold did the Vicar of Altarnun have over Joss Merlyn which so ensnared him to his will? And why did the Vicar stick to the pretence of being a man of God. Surely it was more than just needing a 'good cover story'? And what drove him to lead a gang of wreckers in the first place? It cannot have been merely for venal gain, because he seems wholly uninterested in it.
It was the kind of inner detail which this version needed but which it lacked to make it something special. As it is it serves well as a piece of TV fodder and in many ways is better than much we are presented with. It's just a shame BBC couldn't - or couldn't be bothered to - go that extra mile.
If you are a US viewer you'll certainly need the subtitles turned on
although I recommend you find something else to watch. I turned off
after around 30 minutes because of the mumbling dialogue which has
attracted thousands of complaints to the BBC.
Joss Merlyn is utterly terrible in this role as he was in the channel four travesty Southcliffe.
How the director/producers failed to notice the nonsensical dialogue is beyond me.
Do yourselves a favour and buy the (very excellent) book and give this utterly terrible adaptation a wide berth.
What an abysmal dreary offering of what is a brilliant Du Maurier story
especially when compared to the excellent 1983 HTV production with Jane
Seymour. It was all I could do to stop falling asleep. The complete
lack of charisma of any of the actors was painful, excepting the
excellent Andrew Scarborough who surely would have made a more
convincing and menacing Joss Merlin.
For me, there was a complete lack of suspense, it had the the magic of a monotonous monologue supported by an awful music score. Certainly, the cliff hanger didn't leave me hanging on for any more of this and to think that my license fee was in part paying for this really grieves me. Seek out the 1983 version, I recommend.
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