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|31 reviews in total|
Helen Morse (`Picnic at Hanging Rock'; `Caddie') delivers a notable
performance as the graceful and determined quiet English woman with a
thoroughly convincing strength of character, able to withstand the trauma of
the Malayan trek and the challenges of a cross-cultural relationship in an
environment alien to her. Although in many ways it is disappointing not to
have seen Morse develop her promising film career beyond the following
year's `Far East', for the past twenty years she has chosen to concentrate
her prodigious talents on the Australian theatre instead where she finds the
roles both challenging and fulfilling, something she suspects would not be
available from current films. I find the comparisons others have made to
Sigourney Weaver particularly significant as Morse gave by all accounts a
harrowing portrayal of Paulina in `Death and the Maiden' for the Sydney
stage to rank alongside her screen counterparts haunting rendition a year
later in 1994. Curiously, they also both starred in Australian productions
of Asia based `Casablanca' remakes released within months of each other in
1982; Weaver as Mel Gibson's love interest in Peter Weir's `The Year of
Living Dangerously' and Morse as the prurient wife of a crusading journalist
in John Duigan's `Far East'. Morse's recent outing as Theodora Goodman in
Patrick White's difficult, both in adaptation and performance terms, `The
Aunt's Story', which tells of her migration from dusty Australia to the
relative calm of America via the maelstrom of Europe on the brink of the
Second World War, has already received critical acclaim in Melbourne, Sydney
Though ably cast as Joe Harman, Leonard Maltin writing in 1994 believed that
Bryan Brown has a likeability that had not been sufficiently tapped by the
parts he had taken up till then, which included the romantic lead in
`Gorillas in the Mist' also with Sigourney Weaver. His more recent
Australian work in `Two Hands' (made in 1999 and ranked among Empire
magazine's movie buffs top ten local films, though rather obviously heavily
influenced by Tarantino's `Pulp Fiction') suitably cast Brown as a Sydney
mobster boss with an unusual degree of compassion, providing along with the
intensely black humoured heist the high spots of the film in an uneven mix
of comedy and tragedy. Brown has also turned his hand to producing and last
year returned from Hollywood to make local Australian films such as the
gangster flick `Dirty Deeds' in which he took a starring role, and was
released in the UK this summer.
Tragically, Arkie Whiteley who played the young barmaid Annie, died from cancer at the end of 2001 at the far too early age of 37. She was the daughter of the renowned painter Brett Whiteley, the subject of the original David Williamson play `Up for Grabs' which last year enjoyed a run in London's West End with the pop-goddess Madonna, before he and Australia, at the star's insistence, were unjustly usurped by Jackson Polock and America for an international audience. Whiteley's painting `Arkie Under The Shower' has come home ten years after the actress sold it, and it fetched $810,000 at auction in Sydney this August. Arkie was memorably the beauty against a backdrop of beasts in the squalid horror of `Razorback' before she made a successful career on the London stage, as well as appearing in TV productions in the UK such as `The Last Musketeer' in 2000. Also for the keen-eyed viewer, Anne Haddy can be spotted in a minor role as Aggie Topp, Jean's English friend who is brought to Australia to help out in her venture. Haddy, as I am sure we all know, went on to become as Helen Daniels the much loved and long serving matriarch of `Neighbours', that phenomenal export to the UK, before her life long battle with ill health was sadly lost in 1999.
Inspiration for Nevil Shute, came from the true story of 80 Dutch women and children who spent 2½ years walking around the island of Sumatra, although less than 30 survived the ordeal. The invasion of Malaya in 1942 also saw the forced march of legions of civilians fleeing the marauding army with many perishing en route. Incidentally the author spent the remainder of his years in Australia after researching for his novel `On the Beach' in which he depicts a nuclear holocaust in the Northern Hemisphere engulfing all life except for a few survivors in the Antipodean continent. The novel was published just three years before the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis that culminated in the critical Black Saturday on 27 October. Fortunately for us all, sanity just about prevailed as Kennedy and Khrushchev climbed down from the brink of a catastrophic nuclear strike, as was revealed in last year's BBC Radio 4 documentary commemorating the 40-year anniversary, and in a further BBC4 programme screened a few weeks ago.
The TV mini-series faithfully follows the original novel, and though at times at the same plodding pedestrian pace it still makes for a splendid love story set against the brutality of the Japanese occupation in Asia and the toughness of the Australian outback. It is a fine tribute to those essential qualities of human endeavour, courage and determination in overcoming life's obstacles in order to achieve personal dreams.
Although ScreenSound Australia holds a master video it is not permitted to sell the film overseas, however NTSC versions can be obtained via Amazon's website.
Such is the impact of Lionel Jeffries magical 1970 film version of `The
Railway Children' that I can well recall the time my grandfather dragged me
from my play to watch one of his favourite movies when it was first screened
on television. A quarter of a century later as a father of a small boy my
interest has been revived and I find myself becoming something of a railway
child once more. The number of privately restored railways that exist
conveniently to hand, as though to undermine Dr Richard Beeching's
efficiency cuts of the 1960's, further help this pastime. Most notable of
these is the Bluebell Railway in Sussex, one of the first and best known
revived lines, used by Catherine Morshead for Carlton TV's remake of this
movie in 2000. The actual location used for this first film was in Bronte
country with the Haworth Parsonage passing for the doctor's house, though
the true star was the Keighly and Worth Valley Railway which had been
reopened by volunteers six years after its closure in 1962. This film was
well liked by the younger generation besotted with all things `Thomas the
Tank Engine', including `Thomas and the Magic Railway' an all American
reworking of Rev W Awdry's creation starring Alec Baldwin and Henry Fonda,
serving to add to the ever growing collectable models now
A middle class family lose their government official of a father on spying charges and are forced to adjourn to the country in reduced circumstances to a wonderful house that many would dream of living in. Being spared incarceration in a school, the fate of most of today's children, they fully enjoy their privileged freedom and have some adventure through befriending the neighbouring railway line. A word of caution should however be issued regarding the landslide and near train crash, which had a disturbing effect on the younger viewer, though undoubtedly in a different sense to that imprinted on the minds of some older fans. The moment when Jenny Agutter as the pristine heroine Bobby faints dead away after powerfully arresting the train is matched in the lump-in-the-throat stakes when she runs along the platform for the reunion with her father with her immortal cry of "Daddy, my Daddy".
Before returning to the UK to star in The Railway Children, Agutter had spent three months touring the Australian Outback for the filming of Walkabout and being disconsolate about where society was going was unsure of doing the film, but fortunately she was charmed by the director's vitality. He had been encouraged by his daughter to turn the book into a film and Agutter was a natural choice having already played the part of Bobbie two years earlier for a BBC serial. The film provided Agutter her breakthrough first part in the National Theatre four years later as Shakespeare's Miranda, opposite Sir John Gielgud's Prospero, in `The Tempest'. This in turn led to an eighteen year career in the US, with such memorable films as the cult sci-fi `Logan's Run' and the successful horror and humour cross in `An American Werewolf in London', as well as one of her personal favourite creations as the ill-used Ann in Beryl Bainbridge's strangely unromantic `Sweet William'. As well as being official patron of the Edith Nesbit and The Railway Children website, Agutter has been working on a dramatisation of the author's life, and would seem the obvious choice for the role having such a deep professional connection. Sally Thomsett winsomely squeezes her notoriously corseted twenty-year-old frame into the role of the younger sister Phyllis, some six years her junior, and her brother Peter is an ably suited Gary Warren. A very graceful Dinah Sheridan is Mrs Waterbury, the mother, whilst Bernard Cribbins creates a manic porter in Perks.
As a teenager Edith Nesbit lived for three years at Halstead Hall, near Knockholt Station in Kent with its deep railway cuttings and tunnels and about half an hour from London, which is believed to have given her the inspiration for her famed novel. Nesbit's use of her plain initial for her writing disguised her gender back in 1906 and whether or not this was a conscious intention it led to her occasionally being thought a male writer. Why J K Rowling of Harry Potter fame should chose to do the same nearly a century later escapes me especially as the identity behind any pseudonym is easily uncovered today? Possibly it is to do with the tradition of male fantasy writers using only their initials, as in such luminaries as J M Barrie, C S Lewis, and J R R Tolkein. Women writers today surely don't face the same difficulties and social barriers that the Bronte sisters and George Eliot (Mary Ann Evans) had, being forced to take masculine nom de plumes in order to get their work published, but do they fear that male readers will automatically be deterred if the work is obviously by a girl'? Conversely it is a man, who coyly disguises his gender presumably for a female market, that has written the romantic novels of Emma Blair. Curiously, whilst the Brontes have subsequently been published under their own names rather than their Bell aliases, George Eliot's work has not been liberated in this way. If literature, that previously anonymous and faceless industry, enabling women to compete on an equal footing, continues the current invidious marketing trend of promoting works by beautiful and youthful authors rather than on the merits of the works alone, then how can any other industry ever stand a hope of breaking the sexist and ageist glass ceilings?
The legacy of this film and the book continues with its name being used by a Wigan based pop group in 1984, and in 1995 for the very worthy charity for vulnerable youngsters arriving alone at railway stations in some of the world's poorest countries. The film still represents family entertainment at its best with nostalgia for another time and place enhancing the tale.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Henry Crawford and David Stevens' 1981 acclaimed mini-series improves on
Jack Lee's 1956 studio shot film with nearly triple the amount of time given
to more fully explore Nevil Shute's novel. Russel Boyd's photography (from
Picnic at Hanging Rock to the newly released Master and Commander) as ever
pays due respect to the exotic locations and the lush vegetation of Kuala
Lumpur and the unrelenting landscape of Queensland. Paralleling closely
with the `Tenko' TV series about a band of expatriate women taken prisoner
by the Japanese in 1941 in Singapore this production was, not surprisingly,
released in the same year. The saga's issues are further explored in the
later Australian mini-series based on Noel Barber's tale of multi-cultural
love in `Tanamera Lion of Singapore' (1988); Bruce Beresford's version of
a Sumatran war-prison's female choir in `Paradise Road' (1999); and ABC's
contentious `Changi' (2001) the musical (as envisioned by writer John
Doyle and director Kate Woods), following the fortunes of six friends in the
Singapore POW camp.
In 1948 a young English woman receives an inheritance enabling her to repay a debt to the Malayan village where she survived her war years as a prisoner. Having dealt with the formal setting up of a trust fund for Jean Paget (Helen Morse) and the budding cross-generation friendship with her solicitor Noel Strachan (Gordon Jackson in typically kindly fatherly mode though without the edge of his sterner creations as Mr Hudson of `Upstairs, Downstairs' and governor George Cowley in `The Professionals') the film switches back to events in 1941 as the Japanese invade Malaya. A band of women are forced to march on the pretext of catching a train to Singapore for the nearest prison, though it soon becomes apparent that the motley captives are a very unwelcome nuisance for the Japanese. The rigours of the journey are too much for some of the women and children, and lacking any medication dysentery takes its toll on the rest. Their saviour eventually turns up in the guise of an Australian mechanic, Joe Harman (Bryan Brown), who purloins medicines and food for them and soon an obvious attraction and deep bond is formed between him and Jean. However Joe's kindness and risk taking eventually goes too far and delivers him into the vengeful hands of the camp commandant for stealing his chickens. A bloody retribution is exacted on Joe who is literally crucified in front of the women he sought to help, a thoroughly believable example, and not without precedent, of the atrocities inflicted on prisoners in this barbaric world. Mrs Frith (Dorothy Alison), whose mind is severely strained by the trauma, rather labours the corollary of a saviour who heals with medicines but is crucified for his pains. Echoes of the Canadian sergeant crucified by German soldiers around Easter in April 1915 resonate here, as well as the fictional storyline of a Russian style crucifixion in an episode of this year's `Spooks' for the BBC. November 2002 also provided further humanitarian outrages as a Catholic car thief in Belfast was nailed to a fence and beaten, and an angry Cambodian mother in Phnom Penh nailed her 13-year-old daughter's foot to the bamboo floor of their home because she had neglected her household chores.
Without further ceremony the women are dismissed along with an elderly guard for minder, who expires soon after the women have sought shelter in a village, that is to become their resting place for the remainder of the war and the reason for Jean's eventual return. During her revisit to Malaya, Jean ecstatically discovers that for the want of a cold beer Joe miraculously cheated death, and impetuously she sets off for Australia in search of his cattle station. In one of life's extraordinary twists Joe turns up at Strachan's office in London who gently tries to put him off the trail; however these star-crossed lovers are destined to meet up with each other in spite of the interference by well-wishers. In the interim Jean discovers her mission to build a town like Alice Springs in the dusty backwater of Willstown that passes as the closest thing to civilisation and her lover's home. With her mixture of determination and quiet strength Jean battles to overcome the mistrust and apathy of the locals as well as theirs and Joe's inherent chauvinism.
Continued in Part II
Although Shakespeare's comedy is set in Sicily it was filmed,
enough for this Anglo-American production, in Tuscany where large parts of
it have been anglicised by the Chiantishire set. As the Prince of Arragon
and his noblemen return home from war, Hero is wooed by Claudio whilst her
older cousin Beatrice seeks to renew her warring with Benedick, her equal
wit who in response to her enquiry "But for which of my good parts did you
first suffer love for me?" declares what all reasonable people must feel
when love takes over their reason: "Suffer love! A good epithet. I do
suffer love, indeed, for I love thee against my will." Unseen just
the happy veneer of frivolity the bastard Don John has plans to seek
upon his brother the prince by spoiling the affair for his gullible
The roles of Beatrice and Benedick are here presented, if not originally
plotted by Shakespeare, as the two key performances and how could they be
anything other than with the remarkable Emma Thompson (`Sense and
Sensibility') and Kenneth Branagh (`Henry V') bringing their dynamic
to the parts. Such is the direction and brilliance of these two that
despite their dazzlingly white garments they have the unfortunate effect
casting the rest of the characters into the shade.
Although plot devices from his earlier `Romeo & Juliet' and later `Othello' are used here, they are less satisfactorily developed than in the great tragedies. The one key issue I have with this play is with the fickle suitor being so easily forgiven by his former love after publicly humiliating her. I would have expected a more testing punishment from the Bard although he presumably decided to leave the original ancient Greek storyline alone, highlighting as it does the double standards of men and the traditional portrayal of meek acceptance by women. His creation however of the razor sharp and independent minded Beatrice is an obvious exception to this who entreats Benedick to kill Claudio for the ill treatment of her cousin. The most telling point of Benedick's high regard for Beatrice comes when he takes her word that in her soul she believes her relation innocent, and upon this his mind is then set to act for her.
The wisdom of the use of some of the American actors has been questioned but Branagh obviously had regard for his intended audience that is reflected in his eclectic casting. The dude (Keanu Reeves) from `Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure' and the 'existentialist' hi-tech Matrix series is a witty choice when he exclaims he is a man of few words, although Don John's character does not possess Iago's full scale of villainy as Kenneth Branagh dastardly delineates in his own film version of `Othello'. Last year's Oscar winning Denzel Washington reliably lends presence and credibility to his role of Don Pedro. Michael Keaton as a ludicrously off-the-wall caricature Constable Dogberry ensures he at least gets noticed along with his sidekick Ben Elton, who borrows from his own infamous `Black Adder' series creation of Tony Robinson's Baldrick.
Fortuitously the Royal Shakespeare Company toured last year with a marvellously funny staging of the play with the superb Harriet Walter as, in the words of the reviewer for the Independent, the "dazzlingly attractive" Beatrice, and Nicholas Le Provost (currently in `Foyle's War' on ITV1) her splendid verbal sparring partner. Although Branagh's version gives a visual treat of the Tuscan landscape and some pretty actors it has to be said that, perhaps rightly and justly so, the RSC production out-acted, out-directed and out-classed the film with its fuller more polished company performance. With such stylish productions it is sad to hear of the latest RSC financial report showing a serious drop in revenues, an affliction affecting all forms of British art resulting from the reduction in tourists following the outrage of 9/11. The resultant if startling initiative by the RSC is to turn to the video games market, with `The Tempest' fittingly to be the lead play to lend itself to the fantasy treatment. Also worth mentioning here and viewing if a copy can possibly be tracked down, is Stuart Burge's 1984 theatre-on-television version for the BBC with Cherie Lunghi and Robert Lindsay wonderfully cast in the lead roles. Incidentally in June of last year Harriet Walter also contributed to the excellent new Faber series of `Actors on Shakespeare' with her illuminating and empathetic interpretation of the Macbeths' "folie a deux" (although regretfully a couple of decades too late for my own O'level script I would highly recommend it to any students of the text), as well as producing her own thoroughly instructive and entertaining thoughts on acting in `Other People's Shoes'.
As a further point of interest the film's title lent itself to Michael Rubbo's 2001 Australian documentary `Much Ado About Something', shown on BBC4 this autumn, on an entertaining but not definitive examination of the age-old question of whether Christopher Marlowe was really behind Shakespeare's genius. Also for the BBC, an ardent Michael Woods earlier gave an entertaining and well-presented counter argument. Whatever the truth, Shakespeare's body of work has had an undeniably profound impact on the spoken and written word and with the translation into eighty languages his influence reaches around the Globe. Amongst its bewildering potpourri of a list compiled last year by the BBC of the Greatest Britons ever, he at least rightly featured in the top 5.
This film certainly makes a do about something that is clearly a fundamental truth of the battle between the sexes. A lot of noise and energy has gone into this production to ensure it remains something in the memory of the viewing public. It is readily accessible Shakespeare and for that merit it ranks alongside Mel Gibson's `Hamlet' (directed by Franco Zeffirelli in 1990 and at half the running time of Branagh's 1996 four-hour marathon) though it can be easily differentiated by more humour and a somewhat lower body count.
Adapted from David Williamson's stage play `The Perfectionist' the tale is
in the video version's title of `Three's Trouble', but the potential for
serious drama and true-life dilemmas are given the light touch by director
Chris Thomson for this comedic skit. Williamson, perhaps currently Australia's most prominent and prolific dramatist, also worked on Peter Weir's hugely influential `Gallipoli' with Russell Boyd, the same cinematographer as here and in Weir's latest Hollywood triumph in `Master and Commander'. The playwright is also responsible for last year's simultaneous productions in Sydney and London (his first West End production in thirteen years) of `Soulmates', with Jacki Weaver, also the femme fatale of this film, and Up For Grabs with Madonna. Thomson is a veteran of many TV series from the groundbreaking Aussie outback medical drama `The Flying Doctors' to the American family western `Ponderosa' in 2001, the remake of `Bonanza', and his `1915' miniseries made in 1982 is as much a tribute to the Australian spirit and comradeship as Weir's `Gallipoli', a comparable First World War drama of a year earlier.
The perfectionist of the play's title refers to the husband's obsession with getting his economic thesis absolutely right before publication only to find he is beaten by events, thereby wasting nine years work. Presumably we are meant to take the message that as this world is imperfect and life is ephemeral, then getting your work done and out there is more important than achieving perfection? Of course in every walk of life there will always be critics to challenge either approach, as Williamson knows only too well, as exemplified by his attempt to address his issues with critics in his literary satire `Soulmates'. This leaves the impossible dilemma between expediency and perfection, to which the only possible solution has to be to rely on our personal intuition.
Appealing in a bubbly-blonde Goldie Hawn type of way, to whom she is oft compared, Jacki Weaver (Picnic at Hanging Rock) is finely cast as the wife fed up with being sidelined by her husband and easily attracts Eric (Steven Vidler, `Two Hands'), the Swedish home help. Ironically, Eric was hired by Mrs Gunn to help with the chores to provide her with the space and time for her own studies but soon Eric is helping Barbara out in other ways until he is dismissed by the jealous husband. Stuart's subsequent attempts at more hands-on-fathering seek to distance the mother further until fate throws her into the path of Eric once more. The dilemma for a mother of leaving her children behind seems to be far too easily resolved as Barbara moves in with Erik, who may be a refreshing change but is hardly soul mate material worthy of sacrificing your life for. Eventually Barbara sees what may be obvious on the basis of these characterisations, as with passion muted and unconvincing we fail to see how her heart can possibly be torn. Barbara's dilemmas are a world away from those of the tragic Hester Collyer in Terrence Rattigan's `The Deep Blue Sea' as Barbara drifts back into the world she left behind. Accepting the differences in time and place of Rattigan's London circa 1952 and Williamson's Sydney circa 1987, I could believe in Hester's love as delineated by Vivean Leigh in the film version, and Harriet Walter recently on stage in the UK, but this conviction is absent in Barbara's case. Not for her is her world blown apart, as her counterpart Hester abandons her lawyer husband and the associated comfortable and privileged life for a passionate affaire de coeur with an ex-RAF pilot only to find that he can't reciprocate her way of loving. Barbara on the other hand can't bring herself to leave everything behind as the realisation dawns on her that Eric is not worthy of the disruptive distress. Dante's `Inferno' from `The Divine Comedy' may have attributed the second circle of Hell to adulterers and told of the agonies suffered by the poor souls who enter there, but Barbara for all her intellectual aspirations is blissfully ignorant of this consideration. As a result, in `Three's Trouble' a wealth of issues are glossed over as the story comes full circle and normality is restored.
Of the rest of the cast, John Waters (`Breaker Morant') ably portrays the studious but intellectually arrogant husband, who sees his life as more important than the rest of his family's. His character's development is wholly believable given the role models set by his mother (Jennifer Claire), an alcoholic unfulfilled actress, and his father (Noel Ferrier, `The Year of Living Dangerously'), an ambitious dominating lawyer, who affirm that their son's failure is character building and but a blip on the career of a university medal winner. As the oldest child, the young Shaun Gunn (Adam Willits) is easily recognisable as the future Stephen Matheson, a stalwart of `Home and Away' both as pupil and teacher at Summer Bay High over the past decade.
Some critics might be moved to sum up this frothy piece of eighties' indulgence with the egregious assumption of as much originality as went into the making of the film, but that would be to fail to recognise that all art has its place, and in its time it may have appeared perfectly charming. There is a very strong tradition of capturing the Australian's distinctive humour on celluloid for its relatively small industry but not all of its efforts dazzle, as was testified by this year's eleven with disappointing performances at the box office. They represented about half of the total output for 2003 in an especially meagre year with foreign investment at an all time low, down from $57 million to $4.5 million. To actually achieve both artistic and commercial success is the ever-elusive Holy Grail for Australian comedies, as glimpsed by the likes of `Strictly Ballroom' and `Muriel's Wedding', and whilst it may not be found here `Three's Trouble's' efforts can still be considered to help further the cause.
Peter Weir returned to his watershed film in 1998, according to Pat Lovell
(executive producer), in order to remove any pretty romances and speed up
the final act. For this revised version the sound quality has been enhanced
and the look improved through colour regrading, although unusually seven
minutes have been cut from the original and sadly a couple of key scenes
involving Irma (Karen Robson) have been omitted. The tone is set from the
beginning by Anne Louise Lambert as the seemingly charmed Miranda who
provides a voice-over paraphrasing Edgar Allan Poe with "What we see and
what we seem are but a dream, a dream within a dream". Whilst various
clues are shared with us, no attempt is made to solve the puzzle and we are
told at the outset that some of those who start out for the St Valentine's
Day picnic in 1900 are never to return. An apparently idyllic way of life
is not what it first seems when this false paradise's fragility is shattered
by the breakdown of established order. Tensions and hysteria all surface in
the claustrophobic atmosphere of the affluent Victorian European life style
in an alien land, exposing the suppressed passions that are the reality of
life. This theme is further expressed by the virginal white dresses worn
for the picnic, which seem out of place in this environment and represent
the stifling restrictions placed on the young women. The layers of dress
and petticoats the girls have to wear, combined with the various shots into
mirrors, as if into another dimension, also reflect the story's many
Russell Boyd's award winning cinematography is stunning and actively encourages you to feel the summer heat. The beauty of the actors and the sounds of the Australian bush, under the sinisterly foreboding gaze of the Rock, with its blatant phallic symbolism, seduce you so that you will more feel a sense of the horror, as does the galumphing Edith (Christine Schuler). The flashback at the end, poignantly coupled with the adagio from Beethoven's piano concerto No. 5 (Emperor), leaves you with a sense of loss of youth and virtue, an impression recreated by Weir in the final scene of his equally outstanding Australian feature `Gallipoli'. I am also reminded of the effect produced by Jane Campion (`The Piano') in her early work `Two Friends', where the tale ends in the past when the friendship is at its closest, making the passing of innocence feel more painful with ageing and the passage of time.
Cliff Green's script complements Joan Lindsay's narrative exceedingly well, although dialogue is often replaced by visual impression and unnecessary details are excluded to maintain the sense of mystery the author intended. The novel's literary solecism, concerning Felicia Hemanes' famous Victorian recital piece honouring the Battle of the Nile, is repeated, which is actually `Casabianca' and not Henry Longfellow's `The Wreck of the Hesperus'. Mrs Appleyard (Rachel Robert's fantastically monstrous harridan, who sadly shared her persona's fate only five years later) discriminates against Sara (Margaret Nelson's forlorn orphan in love with Miranda) who is kept back from the picnic for not learning the poem, whereas Irma's heiress, clearly unable on the Rock to quote more than two lines, is absolved. The housemaid, Minnie (Jacki Weaver), whose own sexuality is realised with the handyman, Tom (Tony Llewellyn-Jones), in stark contrast to the general ambience of repressed desire is one of the few who show Sara pity.
In basing her fictional account on Hanging Rock, a sacred Aboriginal site, near Mount Macedon in Victoria, Lindsay demonstrates Miranda's sentiment that "Everything begins and ends at exactly the right time and place". Aborigines believe time is not linear and Lady Lindsay eschewed the notion of man-made time, hence the title of her autobiography `Time Without Clocks'. To provide added authenticity Weir filmed during the same six weeks of summer at the actual Rock where both the watches of Ben Hussey (Martin Vaughan) and Greta McCraw (Vivean Gray) stopped at twelve o'clock. Unsportingly, the English change from the Julian to the Gregorian calendar in 1752 with the loss of 11 days, doesn't offer an explanation for the alteration of 14 February 1900 from a Wednesday to a Saturday after correcting for the additional 29 February in 1800. However, rather than playing with time Lindsay confessed to having no care for the preciseness of dates, whilst the open-ended nature of the fable is a deliberate mirror of life where we may learn or uncover some secrets but never understand the mystery. Plenty of extraneous facts and unexplained details are related, such as the absence of scratches to Irma's bare feet, yet identical injuries appear on her head and Michael's (Dominic Guard), her joint rescuer with Albert (John Jarrett), all very redolent of the `X Files'.
The sympathetic direction draws out perfect performances from the exceptional cast in tune with the beautiful photography and the coetaneous haunting music of Bruce Smeaton and Gheorge Zamfir. The ever-excellent Helen Morse is an inspired choice as Mademoiselle Dianne de Poitiers, the French mistress and the girls' confidante, who describes Miranda as a Botticelli angel from the Galleria degli Uffizi in Florence, and Weir specifically uses the image of the Birth of Venus. In fact the three senior boarders who vanish; Miranda, Irma and Marion (Jane Vallis, who lamentably died from cancer in 1992), are evocative of the Three Graces who dance in attendance to Venus, in Sandro Botticelli's `La Primavera'. Lambert's portrayal of Miranda (an ironic reincarnation from her famed role in 1973 as the bed-hopping nymphomaniac in the Australian soap `Number 96') captures the vision perfectly with her ethereal loveliness and enigmatic smile, and is reminiscent of the knowing look on the death mask of the renowned `L'Inconnue de la Seine', who coincidentally died around 1900 in Paris.
Picnic at Hanging Rock's eerie power is such that the strange sense of loss it induces remains some 22 years after my initial viewing, proving itself a masterpiece of any time.
In this Granada television series, Jeremy Brett presented us with a
definitive portrayal of Sherlock Holmes. The attention to detail was
with an interpretation far closer to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's creation
previously shown on film by the deerstalkered Basil Rathbone et al.
Brett's wild, haunted and melancholy performance of the second series in
1985 was, by his own admission, heavily influenced through the personal
tragedy of the loss of his wife to cancer. He adapted the role somewhat
the return series and managed to introduce some levity, even though he
it difficult to play a character who was all mind and no heart. David
and his successor Edward Hardwicke (who took on the role in the third
series: `The Return of Sherlock Holmes') both gave intelligent
as Holmes' crony, Dr John Watson. Brett and Hardwicke made an
good team and brought the relationship alive with a believable friendship
more than any previous characterisations had done.
The series combined fine period detail and atmosphere to create a very credible late 19th century London, and the dialogue replicated the novels fairly closely. The main drawback of the storyline adaptations and format is that they may have removed some of the exploration into the incisive detective skills of Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes, and the series became sanitised with the playing down of both of Holmes' predilections for drugs and the violin. Unless I am suffering from false memory syndrome I seem to recall someone's dramatisation where Watson recoils from Holmes' ear-splitting scratching, which I now find is contrary to Conan Doyle's assertion that Holmes was "not only a very capable performer but a composer of no ordinary merit". The problem may lie in actually dramatising the novels, as Jeremy Brett himself observed, they are better read, and he described performing the action of crawling through the bracken like a golden retriever as "hysterically funny". The concept of the images being better seen in the mind's eye would also explain why the excellent BBC radio productions of the 1990's, with Clive Merrison and Michael Williams as the sleuth and good doctor, worked so well.
The choice of guest actors was consistently of a high standard and is one of the reasons why I remember `The Abbey Grange' so fondly, with a note of thanks to the director Peter Hammond. The episode notably deals with Conan Doyle's expose on the cruelty of marriage in locking women into an abusive relationship without any means of escape. Holmes is called to investigate the savage murder of an Earl in his Kent mansion and finds that the Australian wife and her maid apparently survived the attack. The two women obligingly give compelling evidence to incriminate a notorious local gang. As usual Holmes' mind is still trying to fit contradictory pieces of the puzzle together after leaving the house when he has a lucid flash of insight and promptly returns to the scene of the crime. More evidence is unearthed to refute the honourable ladies' story though they will not budge and Holmes sets off on a trail as any diligent detective might follow. However, he of course tracks the real culprit down and brings him to justice but there is a novel twist and a very romantic solution. A very rewarding episode demonstrating Holmes' brilliance and compassion to divert man's base cruelty and the rigid laws of the land which surely would have seen a gallant hero hung.
Charles Dickens was also moved to write on the similar theme of a beautiful and intelligent woman imprisoned in abusive matrimony in one of his most enduring novels, `Great Expectations', originally serialised some 37 years previously in 1860-1861, and his earlier `Hard Times' also touches on the prohibitively expensive, complex and discriminatory proceedings for divorce prior to the 1857 Divorce Act. In Victorian England the only married woman with any rights and an independent identity was Queen Victoria herself. Men could beat their wives under law as long as the rod was no greater than a thumb's thickness and a woman was deemed to have no just cause to refuse conjugal rights. Sadly such attitudes are only too prevalent today in this technologically advanced but in many ways still primeval world. Evidence shows that matrimony benefits men at the expense of women and it is hardly surprising that in the UK a third of marriages fail. Indeed, Schopenhauer speaks of a "life force" that brings people together to reproduce, but warns that the chosen partner is not necessarily right for you. The concern for society as a whole should be on minimising the negative effect on the unfortunate offspring who may of course have unwittingly contributed to the marriage breakdown. A factor that is so often blatantly ignored by sensational newspaper stories when intruding on public figures' private lives.
Oliver Tobias (`Luke's Kingdom', also directed by Peter Hammond with Peter Weir) finds that his gruff rigid manner works very well here as the merchant captain and friend driven to the fatal act of defending his beloved from her brutal husband. The disturbingly beautiful Anne Louise Lambert, who fits the narrative's description to the letter, plays the free spirited Miss Mary Fraser from Adelaide. After a dazzling beginning in 1975 in Peter Weir's hauntingly enchanting `Picnic at Hanging Rock', which led to a prominent role in Peter Greenaway's artful `The Draughtsman's Contract' (1982) as well as this episode in 1986, it is both perplexing and disappointing that Lambert's international film career has faltered. Despite appearances in several Australian features and a handful of overseas projects, since starring in Susan Dermody's 1993 largely unknown but extremely pertinent `Breathing Under Water' Lambert has only been seen in a few cameos including an ailing mother in ABC's 2001's controversial prisoners-of-war series, `Changi'.
The exclusive video rights in the UK for the Granada TV series have passed from VCI to Britannia Music so that membership is necessary to obtain copies of the videos in PAL format.
Nine years before Steve Martin's 1994 `A Simple Twist of Fate' in a
modern Virginia/Georgia setting (no slight intended on the beauty of
fine States, but the tale is a frog in a barn in this locale) came Giles
Foster's distinctly English and faithful adaptation for the BBC of one of
George Eliot's own favourites. With ultimately its optimism and fair
balance of life's trials and joys it is possibly more rewarding and life
affirming than her bleak tragedy of `Mill on the Floss' or the
of intelligent women in the all encompassing English novel
The narrative centres on the misfortunes of a lowly weaver at the beginning of the nineteenth century living as an outcast, whose life eventually collides with a wealthy landowner and his seemingly altruistic benefactor. Silas Marner comes to Raveloe after being banished from a close-knit chapel community as a result of being falsely accused by a friend who steals his girlfriend to boot. Marner huddles himself up, keeping apart from the locals other than selling his woven goods to them, and thus he acquires a reputation as something of a witch with his trance like gaze resulting from cataleptic fits. Mind you, he is fortunate in managing to fashion a living out of weaving at a time when industrialisation left the majority of weavers and knitters short of work. After the gold he has frugally amassed suddenly disappears he is mysteriously blessed in the form of a golden bundle of treasure who wanders into his cottage one snowy night. Marner adopts the young girl in the absence of any other parental claim and brings her up, with the pecuniary assistance of the local squire, so that she regards him closer than any blood father. When the squire's wife Nancy fails to produce a child of her own and the truth about the missing gold is unearthed, the squire is forced to bring his own secret into the light.
George Eliot's use of the mechanical trade of weaver with its lowly position in society was undoubtedly influenced by Shakespeare's creation of Bottom who has gentler indignities lumped upon him in `A Midsummer Night's Dream'. The indolent but not wholly bad young squire, with an unfortunate marriage attempting to hinder him from making a new life with another to provide him with an heir for the Red House, brings to mind the not dissimilar troubles of Edward Rochester from Charlotte Bronte's `Jane Eyre' published fourteen years earlier in 1847. It is also pertinent to note that having been rejected by one suitor, Herbert Spencer, as too morbidly intellectual the author made the difficult decision for the time to form a close and by all accounts loving relationship with George Lewes who was estranged from his wife following a sensational scandal concerning their domestic affairs.
Jenny Agutter, the disgraced sassy spymaster in the BBC's BAFTA award winning hit `Spooks', splendidly inhabits the unworldly "rustic beauty" though sublimely goodly second wife Nancy Lammeter to Patrick Ryecart's feckless squire Godfrey Cass. Ben Kingsley, who had earlier won an Oscar for his portrayal of Gandhi and was outstanding as the canny accountant in Steven Spielberg's harrowing `Schindler's List', gives a perfect rendition as the strange and slightly spooky weaver, seeming to even possess his character's protruding eyes. Jim Broadbent makes an appearance as one of the villagers in a familiar trademark characterisation prior to his Oscar winning performance as the devoted husband John Bailey in `Iris'. The role of the older Eppy is taken by a pre rock star groupie Patsy Kensit, who as an actor is still memorable as the sensual and ultra cool, though soon to be iced, personal assistant in Lethal Weapon 2. She is currently starring alongside Nigel Havers in `See You Next Tuesday' in the West End's Albery Theatre. Presumably a fan of both author and actress, Giles Foster later transferred to screen another of George Eliot's novels `Adam Bede' (1991) in which he also cast Kensit.
Eliot's strict religious upbringing that she eventually overthrew gives her an authoritative perspective on theology and philosophy for this tale of pious church elders unfairly expelling Marner from their circle. She also enters into a discourse on the merits or otherwise of adoption, playing devil's advocate that to challenge providence by wanting something that cannot be is to be against nature. For all her championing of social causes, history has not reverted to her real name as an author, Mary Ann (or Marian, as she preferred to be known) Evans, other than for her translation of Strauss' `Life of Jesus'.
Although considered too morbidly intellectual by one of her suitors, Eliot has compassionate understanding and an extraordinary insight into human nature, enabling her expositions on social injustices to be left as a legacy for future generations. The surefooted transcription of this novel paved the way for the masterful `Middlemarch' in the mid 1990's and last year's `Daniel Deronda' (both adaptations from the historical romances' favourite dramatist, Andrew Davies) that brought more accessibility to her erudite tomes for those who may not have appreciated her work before. In a supportive scheduling role that also addressed the oversight in its Great Britons list, the BBC belatedly recognised her powerful influence on the creative world with a drama documentary. Although, rather confusingly with this portrayal, too much was made of her perceived plainness, especially with the choice of the excellent Harriet Walter, who, whilst empathetically delineating her character, rather belies the description. Walter was recently to be seen on screen in Stephen Fry's directing debut `Bright Young Things', and on tour of a few select English provincial theatres in Terrence Ratigan's `The Deep Blue Sea'.
Silas Marner is a tale of the mysterious workings of life and how kindness and love can still be found in someone who has been betrayed and suffered at the hands of an unjust society. It is a worthy demonstration of how life can still bring rewards and riches greater than material wealth.
The very carefully considered style of the E M Forster adaptations became
trademark for the Merchant-Ivory productions (covering three of the six
novels) that substantially conveyed outmoded worlds full of luxury and
privilege, yet are somehow repellently distasteful. `Howard's End' is a
good case in point, drawing on Edwardian affluence via inheritance and
commerce, liberal-minded progressive women and the under-trodden working
class that supports them. Forster tellingly borrows the name of the
brothers August and Friedrich Schlegel, leading German poets, critics and
philosophers in the first half of the 19th Century whose work formed the
basis of German romanticism. With his Schlegels' bi-nationality of
and German, but not the 'dreadful sort' as Forster is keen to stress, he
addresses his aversion to xenophobia in the years leading up to the First
World War. Stephen Farber argues that Ivory's film technique has the
possible limitation of failing to do justice to the mythical dimension of
Forster's novel that employed the primeval symbolism of a wych-elm to
England's past. In the film a spreading chestnut tree complete with
teeth substitutes for the wych-elm, and serves no more significance than
a marker on the way to the garage. Yet, Primeval Man is clearly alive and
well nearly a century later with the world stage replaying the events of
of mankind's sorriest episodes culminating in the carnage of the Great
Wars, terrorism, famine, HIV, SARS and other mysterious killer bugs stalk
the Earth whilst the Serbian Prime Minister is assassinated in the
Confusion over an umbrella leads a young man teetering on the edge of social and financial obscurity, into an altogether different world beyond his dreams. In a fatalistic manner the feminine household of the Schlegels full of art and literature collides with the masculine and commercial house of Wilcox, ultimately making neither easy bedfellows nor a home for the other. In his desire to better himself through literature, Leonard Bast (Samuel West) inadvertently stumbles into this world and ends up developing an unwise relationship with the waywardly enchanting Helen Schlegel (Helena Bonham-Carter). It is after all Helen in the original story who discusses death with Leonard and adapts Michelangelo with the prophetic "Death destroys a man; the idea of Death saves him". Some familiar chords are struck here with the 'sense and sensibility' of Jane Austen's Dashwood sisters in the novel of that phrase, when Helen censures Margaret (Emma Thompson) for her betrothal to all that the younger sister deems cold and stifling. The comparison is further illuminated by Thompson's portrayal of the restrained elder sister in Ang Lee's masterful film of Austen's novel three years later. The double standards of male behaviour are realised at the wedding of Margaret and Henry Wilcox (Anthony Hopkins) as the inebriated gatecrasher, Mrs Bast (Nicola Duffett), recognises the gentleman groom from her former life, whilst he in turn will not have the unwed and expectant Helen stay at the empty `Howard's End'. The arrogance and bigotry of the Wilcoxs and the interference of the Schlegels for their disadvantaged friend eventually conspire in his demise.
It is possible to draw a parallel of Charles Wilcox's attack on Leonard Bast with Jordan's culture of "crimes of honour" with the killing in August 2002 of a pregnant and unmarried woman by her brother, after being encouraged by family and friends, and of the stabbing of a daughter by her father as detailed in Norma Khouri's `Forbidden Love', a fate that befalls some 5000 women a year. How can it be that these abominable acts are a product of a society that is governed by harsh, inhumane religious rules? What twisted sense of perspective says it is right to destroy two lives to address a bizarre sense of shame arising from a naturalistic occurrence where `correct' protocols were not followed? The sad conclusion has to be drawn that though the rest of us suffer from his devastation, Primeval Man lives untouched by evolution and is in no danger of extinction.
Vanessa Redgrave is touchingly charming as the naïve Mrs Wilcox who bequeaths her beloved Howard's End to Miss Schlegel, though in none too an official manner which leads to the plot's convolutions. Incidentally the actress has recently received a Tony for the Broadway revival of `Long Day's Journey into Night', and contributed her considerable thoughts on `Anthony and Cleopatra' for Faber's excellent `Actors on Shakespeare' series published in June of last year. Thompson's superlative performance justly earned her an Oscar, yet perhaps the greatest of her career are to be found in her unrequited housekeeper in `Remains of the Day' in 1993, and in her exceptional tour de force as the blue-stocking dying of cancer in Mike Nichols' brilliant if uncomfortable `Wit' in 1999. Hopkins is awesome as the shrewd businessman unable to connect with people, whilst Joseph Bennett as Paul, Jemma Redgrave as Evie, James Wilby (a veteran from other Forster adaptations) as Charles, and Susie Lindeman (`Lilian's Story' and recently onstage in `Hammerklavier') his twittering wife Dolly are all perfectly too ghastly as the detestable offspring. Bonham-Carter improves on her Lucy Honeychurch in the earlier `Room with a View' to provide the disruptive free spirit of Helen that so changes every life she comes into contact with, whilst West's Leonard is a memorable study of the downtrodden that the gods have determined to destroy. The film also garnered Oscars for Ruth Prawer Jhabvala for her screenplay, and Luciana Arrighi and Ian Whitakker for art direction, whilst Richard Robbins and Tony Pierce-Roberts were nominated for original music and best cinematography. The same production team collaborated in the following year's admirable `Remains of the Day' that frustratingly missed out at the Oscar and Bafta awards.
The overarching theme for E M Forster, as etched onto the title page of the Penguin edition, is "Only connect." and the skilled filmmakers have succeeded splendidly in this adaptation in spanning the bridge to connect the viewer to the characters in their distant world.
For those of us who were spellbound all those years ago by Lionel Jeffries'
vision and would therefore view the idea of a further version with disdain,
you should be delighted to know that Catherine Morshead, of the popular TV
series `Silent Witness' and `Dangerfield' fame, has created just as much a
treat thirty years on for Carlton TV.
Simon Nye of `Men Behaving Badly' fame provides a script that restrains any of the cast from copying the antics of his notorious creations, although his faithful adaptation includes Edith Nesbit's incredibly condescending remark by the mother as she tells her three clearly cosseted children, "We've got to play at being poor for a bit". This sentence is offered as explanation for the enforced move for the middle class family from a grand London house to the country, to a friend's cottage after the father is sentenced to five years imprisonment on spying charges. The 1968 BBC serial believably depicted a little white house of the book, unlike the later productions with presumably bigger budgets which opted for proportionally larger rambling farmhouses that would seem impossible to manage without servants, and not at all in keeping with a family of straitened means. The decision by the mother not to tell her children the truth is in keeping for the period but would seem unlikely in today's culture of celebrity gawping. Fortunately for them they are kept protectively away from school and thus any chance of mixing with other youngsters, so never run the gauntlet of cruel taunts. Thus with inevitable curiosity they find themselves drawn to exploring the nearby railway and its activities.
John Daly (from a host of TV productions through the 1990's including the exquisitely filmed `Persuasion') literally paints a picture in motion of the train ferrying the family to the country by dusk that is in splendid harmony with Simon Lacey's musical score, and an image of W H Auden's poem `Night Mail' is fittingly conjured up: "Past cotton-grass and moorland boulder, Shovelling white steam over her shoulder, Snorting noisily as she passes, Silent miles of wind-bent grasses."
The 1903 period detail of this remake is commendable, allowing for the author's use of 1870's red petticoats and the absence of the starched formal Edwardian capes of the 1970 film. The Bluebell Railway on the borders of the Capability Brown designed Sheffield Park in Sussex, replaces the Bronte country and Keighly and Worth Valley Railway of the previous adaptations. The well preserved rolling stock gets full promotional treatment and the longest restored tunnel on a private line is in no need of a temporary extension, as was required for its predecessor for the hare and hounds race. Incidentally the Rev W Awdry wrote a tribute to the Bluebell Railway in 1963 to add to his `Thomas the Tank Engine' collection with a tale dedicated to the line's first engine, Stepney, a Stroudley Terrier built in 1875.
The Old Gentleman role is perfectly filled by Richard Attenborough in his quintessential Santa Clause mode borrowed from the remake of `Miracle on 34th Street'. Jenny Agutter makes a wonderful transition from her memorable performance as Bobbie three decades earlier, into a different Mother to her predecessor, Dinah Sheridan, but with a grace and charm of her own. Jemina Rooper manages to combine a modern Roberta with a past innocence and brings maturity to the role with her 18 years, as she asks the painfully pertinent question of her mother as to how long you can remember someone you really love without seeing them. Jack Blumenau (starring in Peter Pan at the Savoy Theatre) and Clare Thomas prove very ably suited for the younger siblings of Peter and Phyllis, with touching but not mawkish performances. On first sight Gregor Fisher (currently to be seen in Richard Curtiss' directorial debut `Love Actually') struck me as an unusual choice for Perks and in stark contrast to the excitable Bernard Cribbins of the 1970 film. I am more used to seeing him in a string vest uttering incomprehensible Glaswegian, at least to my uninitiated Sassenach ears, in his guise as Rab C Nesbit, which probably coloured my initial impression. However, I warmed to his creation and he interacts well with the severe stationmaster (Clive Russell) and the rest of the cast. Sophie Thompson is naturally the shrinking violet that she does so well as Perks' wife, akin to her Miss Bates in `Emma' and the antithesis of her prurient bridesmaid in `Four Weddings and a Funeral'.
Agutter argues that Nesbit's desire for a utopian society is reflected in her writing as alluded to in the `The Phoenix and The Carpet', which the BBC turned into a welcome children's teatime serial in 1997, and that, like all her Edwardian novels, captures an innocence that is to be destroyed with the outbreak of the First World War. A further theme of Nesbit's novels concerns time and memory as Agutter cites on the Carlton website, taking from the 'Enchanted Castle', the following: "The plan of the world seems plain, like an easy sum that one writes in big figures on a child's slate. One wonders how one can ever have wondered about anything. Space is not; every place that one has seen or dreamed of is here. Time is not; into this instant is crowded all that one has ever done or dreamed of doing. It is a moment and it is eternity." The plan of the world is indeed very plain when we are young with the clean slate before us, it is only as we grow that we complicate the simplistic. We become so embroiled in life's mesh that by the time we realise what has happened we have been caught too tightly in the grasp of the here and now to extricate ourselves.
This very fitting tribute to a timeless classic that has never been out of print, should ensure its continued popularity for generations to come with both book and film available from Amazon's website.
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