Any Human Heart
- TV Mini Series
A novelist's life ricochets from 1920s Paris to '50s New York and '80s London. Along the way he meets Ernest Hemingway, Ian Fleming and the Duke and Duchess of Windsor - the exiled British k... Read allA novelist's life ricochets from 1920s Paris to '50s New York and '80s London. Along the way he meets Ernest Hemingway, Ian Fleming and the Duke and Duchess of Windsor - the exiled British king and his mistress Wallis Simpson.A novelist's life ricochets from 1920s Paris to '50s New York and '80s London. Along the way he meets Ernest Hemingway, Ian Fleming and the Duke and Duchess of Windsor - the exiled British king and his mistress Wallis Simpson.
A magnificent and moving British mini-series
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.
- Mar 4, 2011
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