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The BBC is currently transmitting its 2nd radio version of The Warden
and Barchester Towers, having made an excellent one about 10 years ago.
The current radio production only emphasises how good this TV
It is difficult to choose between superb performances - the two top contenders are Geraldine McEwan as the imperious consort of the Bishop (Clive Swift) and Alan Rickman as the oily, noxious, calculating over-ambitious slippery Slope, his chaplain (and once her most favoured protégé). The titanic final confrontation between the two is dramatic in the extreme, conducted nevertheless in the appearance at least of polite language, a confrontation between two courageous big beasts of the jungle who tower way above their nominal principal, the hapless Bishop whose secret prayer is that the two destroy each other in the process.
The adaptation by Alan Plater is superb - certainly keeping to the spirit of the book. Given that underlying the story are theological differences between the Mrs Proudie/Slope and the Rev Harding camps (centrally important in mid 19th C Britain) I don't think Plater got this right. However for a modern audience it perhaps doesn't matter).
Nigel Hawthorne's impressively extreme aggression and love of conflict is certainly in the script. Clive Swift's wetness perhaps a little beyond belief but an excellent foil to the "thorn" he believes God chose to give him - his wife. Susan Hampshire made an alluring Contessa Neroni whose slight but audible laughter at Mrs Proudie's expense makes the latter's humiliation all the more grievous in a memorable comic scene. The Rev Arabin might have been lifted from the 1850s in terms of absolutely authentic appearance and manner, slightly discordant compared to the rest of the cast. Donald Pleasance, who specialised in playing odd, slightly other-worldly characters, is not fully convincing as the simple and good Rev Harding.
It stops with Slopes expulsion "back to the gutter from whence he came" according to Mrs Proudie. In the book Mrs Proudie dies suddenly and unexpectedly, causing a sudden change in tone where the Bishop struggles with his beliefs and conscience at his feelings of relief.I think that the adaptation was right not to cover this. It is a long series and parts are fairly procedural rather than dramatic or comic but the set pieces are eternally memorable.
I have a number of versions of A Christmas Carol starting with a
British one from 1935 featuring the actor Seymour Hicks who had spent a
lifetime portraying Scrooge on stage. Also the Alastair Sim 1951 and
George C Scott versions. None are perfect although each contains at
least one thing better than any of the others. All had rather variable
casting. Seymour Hicks was certainly the frostiest Scrooge. The
Alastair Sim version was let down by a plump Bob Cratchit - who (very
suspiciously) looked far too well fed for his 15 shillings per week.
The most affecting Tiny Tim by far was in the George C Scott version
but Ma and Pa Crachit showed not the least sign of lifetimes worn down
by druggery and minimal wages. Nobody since this 1935 version seems to
have portrayed the Cratchits as quite poor, destroying a central part
of the story that Tiny Tim becomes ill and dies because of his parents'
poverty (the thing Scrooge later puts right).
This version - following a Disney tradition at least 60 years old, is excessively scary for young children, quite unnecessarily terrifying at times. Its main distinguishing feature is that it was designed to be a 3D spectacular and I am sure it fully succeeds in this. The advanced graphics available in 2009 and imagination came up with some impressive spirits as well as Marley's ghost - the best I have seen. Acting is never good with animation. Given that the budget was $200,000,000 I wonder if they might have spent more of it on live actors rather than motion capture animation (Jim Carey looked, sounded and performed exactly as he had in Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events).
In watching all these screen version it is clear that there is only one perfect thing - the book itself. It continues to wait for a director with the brains to fully appreciate and respect the book. Oliver Twist got this with David Lean. As the temptation to modernise and soften the book grows, understanding of the Victorian period fades and technology takes over from talent, the best film versions of A Christmas Carol will most likely to be these in the past. For timeless perfection, the book fortunately remains
In 1957 1 shilling and 9 pence was the price of one of the better seats
in a cinema. I was too young to be allowed to see the film at the time
of its release and the recent screening on BBC 2 is the first time I've
seen it - 50+ years after its release - perhaps the first time it has
been screened on British television? Its high rating of 7 and many
enthusiastic reviews from the US confirm that it is an important
British film of the time with a wide - and lasting - appeal.
The opening is something of a teaser but the pace flags somewhat after that for the first 10 minutes or so then with the revelation of the unlimited seriousness of the problem, the pace gets faster and faster and film more and more gripping.
Not as polished as "Invasion of the Body-Snatchers" but Nigel Kneale's creative ideas and screenplay ensure, not first time, that even nearly 60 years on this is still a rocket ride.
This is in a sense a buddy-movie. Two ill-matched young men, one a
cash-strapped aristo, the other a street-wise low-life thief. Their
meeting is surreal in its oddity where-after their common quest to
avoid a gruesome fate and become rich, creates at first a bond of
extreme necessity, mired in almost unimaginable filth which later,
mirroring their improving luck, lightens up as necessity gives way to
the pursuit of stylish pleasures - and stylish crime. The noose as
always awaits but far far better to be hanged dressed in the best
finery, to the tears of young women of class and to be ready and able
to exit with a memorable quip. In short to die, if it absolutely could
not be avoided, stylishly and like gentlemen, not common felons.
The extreme harshness of the law, the filth and squalor, the highest of fashion, shopping and vaunting ambition to enjoy the high life is a combination which existed in the 18th Century but disappeared in the Victorian era as legal reforms blunted the harshness and worthiness replaced swagger. Life became safer, fairer - and duller.
Brief encounter it might have been, Brief Encounter it definitely was
not. If the latter had conjured up magic from the very ordinary, "Notes
on a scandal", took the most heavy-handed plot element but failed to
conjure up anything much at all. It did however call up some extreme
performances Bill Nighy movingly as the most deeply hurt husband. But
Kate Blanchett was not able to respond to that call convincingly. A
voice that had remained uniformly soft, sweet and a little breathy
suddenly and unconvincingly broke into shouting. There was neither
subtlety nor power (or that holy grail both) in her performance. And
little clue either in script nor performance to explain why she did
what she did.
As might be expected from such an actress, there was both power and subtlety in Judi Dench's performance. It was however rather too much of M in the Bond series: Damely self-assurance, measured coolness and intelligence. Quite how such a persona was teaching in, to quote " a bog standard comprehensive", seemed as much a failure of direction as anything. There was almost a complete failure of the required acting transformation into the embittered ageing lesbian schoolmistress whose social life was confined to the company of her ageing pussy. There was no detectable difference, no brightening of eye in her behaviour towards females as compared to males in the school she dealt similarly with both betraying no partiality or favouritism other than to latch on to the (rather gorgeous) Cate Blanchett. The failure to hint at suppressed passion meant that her later act of denounciation seemed calculatedly spiteful rather than crime of passion. The script had her reminisce of the times when the effect of a casual brush of a bus-conductors hand on her arm would travel straight to her "groin". One assumes that "bus-conductress" was meant. Again heavy-handedly, the plot has a former lesbian affair (and the beginnings of a new one at the end). Brief encounter it was, Brief Encounter it was not. Given the director, more should have been expected.
While with the two leads, and in outline at least, this resembles The
Huggets, it is altogether more ambitious, accomplished and entertaining
than any of the Hugget series. The heart of it is the ensemble playing
of a cast of familiar talented comic character actors including
Kathleen Harrison, Charles Victor and Thora Hird; all with long
theatrical pedigrees with Jack Warner absent from the central scene.
Films derived from plays have the advantage of the ensemble playing
being honed over a long period and it was not difficult to guess that
this too had first been a play. Each character particularly in the
three couples is a very clearly drawn and recognisable type, quite
elaborately and amusingly so with the "gess"-addicted Charles Victor.
The characters, dialogue and situation ring entirely true for a working class family in the 1930's-40s. Whether this amuses unfamiliar later generations is another matter but it is quite good material, expertly played, directed and edited.
Thackeray prefaced his book with a short piece apparently explaining
that the characters were just "puppets" who lived, ate and made love in
a (fictional?) world that was neither moral nor immoral. Some have
taken this at face value. However the book is generally seen as a
savage satire and even today the appearance of Knight of the Realm, Sir
Pitt Crawley, is rather shocking in that the reader just as much as the
characters in the book, mistake him for a footman or even watchman such
are his appearance and manners - breaking a convention that other
Victorian writers such as Dickens and Trollope strictly observed. In
the opening chapter the exceedingly disrespectful young Becky Sharp is
again a character set against the Victorian archetype. Neither virtuous
nor fallen woman (generally the literary alternatives at the time),
Becky Sharp fights her way through life using her sharpness of
perception and her bodily attractions - sometimes winning, sometimes
Thackeray portrays a world where people can and do behave badly and act grossly. They are though not puppets - satire is not the portrayal of puppets, rather a clear-sighted, uncharitable and somewhat exaggerated version of reality. Thackeray is writing without rosy spectacles. The virtuous do not necessarily live happily ever after and the bad go unpunished. The weak, it seems, go to the wall. His preface then should be seen as a disingenuous disclaimer to quiet and fob off those who took exception to the sourness of his portrayal of humanity. But the book stands on its own two feet. The real Becky Sharp, on the make and none too scrupulous, existed then, she exists today, as do all the other characters but it requires the removal of the rose-tinted spectacles to see them - and perhaps some courage to write about them too.
This production plays the story entirely straight - an excellent cast portraying their characters realistically and without exaggeration, living according to their respective values and the hand Life deals them. It is left to the titles - the visuals and the music - to sound a ripe raspberry at their antics - and to remind us that this is not a puppet show but a sharp satire on how some people lived in England 200 years ago.
A pretty fine cast, not all though got an opportunity to shine, but memorable were Jeremy Swift as a perspiring great dumpling Jos Sedley; an unsmiling, uncharming and unsightly Lord Steyne, removing the noble from the nobility; Philip Glennister as the ever reliable Dobbin; Nathaniel Parker as the dashing officer/adventurer snared by adventuress, Becky Sharp. The problem however I had with Natasha Little was that she was no seductress, there was no sweetness (however false) that surely would have been an essential weapon in her fight to get what she wanted? Perhaps the book does not make clear the nature of her appeal to men, only her will, her lack of scruples and the mixed success she had. Was she too sharp to successfully mask it with sweetness? Was her practical, cool matter-of-factness attractive? Perhaps for all his sharp observation, Thackeray did not have intimate knowledge of such aggressively ambitious women?
Nobody mentions adapter Andrew Davies? Probably because he has done his job so well that nobody notices.
I rather doubt there will be a better version.
In comparison to classic Bondage - a memorable villain holding the
world to ransom for $1 million (adjusted for inflation) - the plot in
this is a second feature - something to do with the Third World and oil
or was it water? Never mind, it's not important. The villain is kind of
creepy but as its not clear exactly what his villainy consists of then
he's not important. The love interest is also not that interesting, the
leathery Daniel Craig shows more feelings towards a dying male buddy
than to his screen-mate. Craig, the screenwriter and director have a
Bond who is definitely top notch when it comes to super fast
super-competent violence but whose hormones while underlining his
maleness and readiness for violence, do not seem to otherwise affect
him. He is a believable character - a loner and obsessive who prefers
male company - there are probably gyms up and down the country when
they can be found - if one wanted to look. And that is the point about
Bond, Ian Fleming's Bond. Of course he was skilled in the arts of
killing, maiming and disabling but he was also a bon viveur, womaniser
and charmer not a workaholic and S&M obsessive. Fleming's Bond would be
a fascinating drinking companion - Craig's Bond is the morose geezer at
the end of the bar staring into his drink.
So what does that leave? - just chases, violence and spectacle. These then are left to carry the film but they do that pretty well - some of the fight scenes are the most accomplished I've ever seen - maintaining continuity of action as Bond plus opponent (cant remember who) plunge through a glass dome and fight like cats as they tumble down scaffolding, which itself takes a tumble for example. But the editing in the opening car chase scarcely makes sense even when viewed at 1/8th speed - it is not the speed of editing (a single frame can register) but that one section cuts to the next without including a significant image which explains and connects to the next sequence. While it's not good to be banged over the head with significant elements of the plot in case one might miss it, the opposite is the case here. Accounting for a score of 7 for this plot-less extravaganza are some welcome additions: a German opera house performance - and Bond's ace handling of a beat up DC3 aircraft.
Perhaps the best scenes of human interaction are between M and Bond giving Dame Judy a better role. Bond seems to be steadily becoming more insubordinate and imagining that he knows better than her. For the next in the series she's going to have to deal with this - perhaps give him a chance at the wheel. While she's about it she should sack the composer and performer of the title music and get something better. Oh, and get Bond to lighten up a little.
British film-goers were by 1958 entirely used to police films set in
London. They were part of a continuum year by year slowly ratcheting up
realism and violence - and dropping the humour in the process. "The
Blue Lamp" (1950) where a much liked elderly copper (the in-fact almost
immortal actor Jack Warner who went on to reprise the role on TV for
the following 30 years) is shot and killed by a downright bad 'un (the
rather effete Dirk Bogarde), was apparently quite controversial in its
day. The public's favoured cup of tea - or at least what was regularly
served up to them in police films of the day was not too strong and not
without trace of sugar. Bent cops didn't exist then, neither were
detectives rough and insensitive with recently (ie 20 minutes earlier)
bereaved widows. Rows and shouting were for the lower orders who were
either quickly dispersed or shuffled off into separate cells. Jack
Hawkins, iconic British actor of the time was heroism and
gentlemanliness personified whether captaining a ship or being the
sensitive father of a deaf and dumb daughter (the guaranteed weepy
British film-goers knew the rules of what to expect of both story and cast when it came to police films and it was nothing like the gritty US productions of the day. With a comparatively very low murder rate and cops who didn't carry guns the real life conditions were very different between the two countries. A British policeman's lot could appear a rather whimsical one by comparison.
Somehow John Ford, THE John Ford, comes to direct some of Britain's finest at a British studio in a production set in the streets of London based on a book by an English writer for an audience thoroughly used to a set of confined and unfamiliar conventions. Ford's favourite actor was John Wayne - the personification of plain talking, straight shooting and unrefined acting - rarely wasting a word when a punch will do. Here instead he has perhaps cinema's quintessential portrayer of sensitive masculinity being called on to steam-roller evidence from a widow, confront an underling with evidence confirming he's been on the take from "dope" dealers, solve a couple of slayings - and not forget the running bit of levity - bringing home the fresh salmon for dinner.
The result although fast paced and not without its moments - Marjorie Rhodes as a bereaved mother is electrifying - is nevertheless a cultural car-crash. Two very different cinematic cop traditions from either side of the Atlantic - one whimsical, domestic and a little jokey, the other harsh and procedural, each proceeding at a reckless speed towards the other and meeting in the middle of the screen. The result is something which clearly contains a mixture of both but which thereafter proceeds irregularly and uncertainly in various directions like particle tracks in a bubble chamber following a near light speed atomic collision.
Ironic that the plot revolves around an industrial chemist and his
magic formula because this is a film with all the right ingredients but
One can only guess that everyone thought that the list of names made reading the wordy script beforehand unnecessary.
Grant, as ever impeccably groomed and dressed, is supposed to be the ultimate absent-minded professor/Mr Magoo figure - a point it wearily labours even including the pebble glasses in case the audience missed the point.
A miscast Ginger Rogers, no great comedienne, is rather too old for the frolics called for. It was a part for Rosalind Russell.
Charles Coburn, superb character actor, does all that was required of him.
But the monkey, how did he manage to remove the lock to his cage then all in one take cross to the laboratory bench and confidently manipulate the various beakers and containers? Best monkey performance award definitely deserved.
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