Well, I promised I would review a BBC adaptation last week so I’ll tell you about the TV miniseries based on George Eliot’s final novel Daniel Deronda. It is set in the 19th century and was her most controversial body of work because it shows sympathy to the Jewish population of Britain and talks at length about Jewish Zionism. The story centres on two subplots. One stars the beautiful, spirited but selfish Gwendolen Harleth (Romola Garai) and how she meets her comeuppance in the form of her cunning, cruel and manipulative husband Henleigh Grandcourt (Hugh Bonneville). The other is about how Daniel Deronda’s (Hugh Dancy) rescue of Mirah the Jewess (Jodhi May) ultimately shows him what he would like to do with his life after he helps her to find her family. The common thread between these two interconnecting stories is Daniel.
Initially we meet Gwendolen who is a spoilt, rich and beautiful girl but her need to avoid menial tasks when she’s suddenly thrust into poverty leads her to make bad decisions. She decides to accept Henleigh Grandcourt’s proposal of marriage during her time of wealth until she meets his abandoned mistress, Lydia Glasher (Greta Scacchi), who has three children and urges her not to marry the man. When she receives the bad news about her family’s declining wealth, she gambles and after losing pawns her necklace. This necklace is returned to her when she’s leaving by Daniel Deronda who asks her to avoid gambling again. Succumbing to her need for money and financial security and the charms of Henleigh’s wooing of her with presents, she decides to accept his offer of marriage despite not loving him and feeling conflicted inside. On her wedding day, she is cursed by her husband’s former mistress, which increases her panic. It is only after her marriage she finds what a cold and dastardly man her husband is and seeks solace in the form of Daniel’s company.
Daniel Deronda has no idea about his origins because an aristocratic gentleman, the wealthy Sir Hugo Mallinger (Edward Fox), raised him. Most people imagine Daniel to be Sir Hugo’s illegitimate son but we learn there’s more to it than that. Sir Hugo, who is like a surrogate father to Daniel, finds it taxing that the intelligent and compassionate Daniel does not want to go into politics and can’t decide what he wants to do. This all changes when he is boating down the Thames and rescues Mirah Lapidoth from drowning herself. He finds a residence for her at the home of a friend and finds himself moved by her tale of hardship. It is also discovered that Mirah is in possession of a lovely voice and is a singer. He then helps her to locate her visionary but very sick brother Mordecai (Daniel Evans) who tells Deronda his calling in life is to be an advocate for the Jewish people, although he is unaware that Mordecai is her brother from first meeting. Daniel is hesitant to commit to the cause, as it seems to have no relation to his own identity, despite wanting to help him. Meanwhile he gets Mirah in touch with a singing coach who finds her work. During this time, as he’s introduced to the Jewish community of London, Mirah and Daniel grow very close to the disappointment of his friend Hans who harbours love for Mirah.
During a trip to Italy, Grandcourt is knocked into the water from his boat and does not resurface. Gwendolen, who witnessed it, feels very guilty because she had been wishing he would die, although she made a sorry attempt to save him. Deronda, who was also in Italy to meet his mother (Barbara Hershey), whose identity was revealed by Sir Hugo, comforts Gwendolen and gives her advice. Having fallen in love with Daniel, she hopes to marry him, but he encourages her to help others in order to alleviate her suffering instead because after a discussion with his mother about his parentage, he realises his heart belongs to Mirah.
When she learns of this, Gwendolen is upset by the news but uses it as a turning point in her life. On Daniel Deronda’s wedding day as he is sailing for the East with Mirah, she sends him a letter telling him that for having known him she will be a better person.
I felt that this story was more about Gwendolen than Daniel despite the latter being the name of the title! Perhaps it was because Hugh Dancy’s performance while capable was a little lackluster while Romola Garai was outstanding in all except perhaps for her crying – that was oddly done. Nevertheless who really shines is the villain of this piece, Hugh Bonneville, since he really gets typecast into nice guy roles and this different side of him was quite a show. For fans of this genre, all I have to say is you’ll love the storyline on Gwendolen but you might have divisive opinions on the union of Daniel and Mirah given their lack of onscreen chemistry.
Note: review may contain spoilers!
OK, I’ll confess I have been a little too busy this week to complete a review - I’ve found how addictive an effect the SIMS game has on me. Apart from that I enjoyed a free hair styling session courtesy of Melbourne Spring Fashion Week and enjoyed a night at The Langham with family because of a conference. So you’ll have to wait for a week to read my review of another George Eliot based BBC adaptation. But on the weekend before that, I went to a studio where I took some photos of models for TFP – perhaps overdosing on Australia’s Next Top Model actually inspired me with some ideas for creative posing. By the way I think Montana will win the competition – she’s a dark horse who always scrapes through!
I was assigned a slot of one hour with seven other photographers. It was really hard to get decent shots sometimes with lots of flash on Canons and Nikons going off at once. Things started getting interesting when one of the other photographers asked the male model to take off his shirt
Then I figured we could get some appealing shots if we had our female model work with him. Given these models were volunteers, they did a great job although I prefer location shoots over studio shoots since I only like to use minimal amounts of post processing and there’s so much more scope than a blank canvas.
Here are a few I decided to share:
Well, I don’t want to use up my photo quota because like my last New Year’s Eve post, I’ll be sharing the best 10 photos of 2011. But this is a good way to spend an hour of your weekend – why say no to playing with models and cameras? I love it and what’s better is the models like it more!
We meet John who enlisted in the Army because he rebelled at school and then dropped out due to conflicts with his gentle and unassuming father who was unable to converse about anything except his one passion: coin collecting. He drifts on with life until he meets and falls in love with Savannah at the beach one day. Their initial spark for each other quickly blooms into love. Savannah, a special education student, alerts John up to the possibility his father may have a mild form of Asperger’s Syndrome which enables him to mend bridges with his Dad (who in my opinion is the true hero of this book). But the time John has with Savannah is short lived as he is in the military and has to finish his tour of duty. This book by Nicholas Sparks points out how the lives of soldiers are so different from those of civilians and how difficult it is for love to progress normally in those circumstances.
They exchange letters that speak from the heart during his service and the time for John to reunite with his girl draws closer. They have one brief meeting before he goes on leave again but he feels the nature of their relationship has changed and then Savannah confesses she had a difficult time of it after his departure. But then tragedy strikes in the form of September 11. He feels compelled to re-enlist to display his patriotism but this time he receives a blow to the heart from the girl of his dreams – she has fallen in love with someone else during their long separation. The letter he receives makes him reel with shock and realises the life he had planned has changed course because even if Savannah has moved on, he’s still in love with her. After he returns home, he decides to visit her after making some inquiries and realises that he made a mistake when it turns out her husband is an old friend and a patient in the local hospital. Although he is permitted to have a future with her from her ill husband (which I thought was patronising even if he was sick), John decides to show his love in a more courageous manner by sacrificing it.
This is why this book often gets described as a tearjerker. I did cry once when I was reading but John and Savannah felt pretty secondary to me. Their love story was bittersweet and if I’m to be honest, I thought Savannah exhibited a lot of selfishness. So I find it a waste that John is left to pine over the girl who betrayed him after spending the money obtained by selling his father’s amassed coins on her future instead of looking after his own. I think that was not the author’s intention but that’s my interpretation. The scene during which I cried was that of John’s father’s funeral because so few people knew his true worth.
Note I know there is a film on it but I have not seen it so you have to rely on the following links for thoughts on that:
The Sign, the third book written by author Raymond Khoury, combines a tale of politics gone awry and the realities about the impact of global warming into the plot of a thriller. In the modern world depicted by the writer, the joint forces of pollution of the earth and arising political upheaval gives rise to big arguments between those who believe in evolution and those who believe in creationism. The sign which appears over Antarctica, during the collapse of an ice shelf, as a shape-shifting globe and then vanishes are claimed by the latter group as a divine sign from God. The sign itself was able to arouse my curiosity but all the squabbles regarding its “divinity” put me off. Don’t get me wrong – I don’t think this a Bible-thumping book at all but which way you lean politically is likely to effect how you perceive the book. The Sign seemed too technical and science focused for me to like it at first until the thriller part came into play with scientist Danny Sherwood’s escape attempt.
This sign’s appearance is witnessed by Gracie Logan, a science reporter who’s at the right place at the right time. She is boarded on a scientific vessel to cover the breakage of the ice shelf. Deciding to follow the story of the sign and investigate what it means, she is led to Egypt after a tip-off from a priest called Brother Ameen. Her crew sees the sign drawn in a Coptic cave inhabited by a Catholic priest called Father Jerome who is widely regarded as a Saint. The catch is that these images were drawn seven months earlier before the appearance of the sign in Antarctica. In regard to Gracie and her TV crew, I feel the descriptions were just too long and the debates on creationism versus evolution were too much on the preachy side to be enjoyable. Those characters became marginally of interest only after the death of a main crew member in Egypt in shady circumstances.
Once Boston’s Matt Sherwood, reformed car thief, was added to the equation after learning about the possibility that his brother’s death was a murder from his best friend, the plot becomes more action-packed and the pace begins to accelerate significantly. The short chapters and simple to read prose keeps you turning pages more because you are interested in where the plot will lead rather than because the characters arouse your sympathies. This is a plot-driven novel which doesn’t really care much to endear the characters to you. This is all about the characters going from Point A to Point B and to Point C in pursuit of the ending. Perhaps this is because of the writer’s credentials as a screenwriter – it is a lot easier to imagine this as a blockbuster with a lot of action. This book may have the pace of an adventure written by Dan Brown but because it considers much deeper subject matter such as global warming and environmentalism in almost lecture mode, I feel it’s more of a science fiction about corruption in religion and politics rather than the plot of a religious thriller featuring religious figures from myths and legends of the past. It almost feels like you’re reading something academical when reading bits of the book not involving Matt’s physical encounters with the Bullet as he tries to find out what really happened to Danny Sherwood, his kid brother.
This book will bring enjoyment for a fan of quickly moving adventure thrillers if you don’t mind lectures with an agenda sneaking into your fiction. For me, this detracted from having a wholesome reading experience. If a book claims to be a thriller, I have different expectations of content rather than politics and the possible dangers to humanity through global warming. This is not a religion-bashing book either as the final solution to the corrupt plans by the state and the military who are at odds with each other seems open-minded. But while I didn’t dislike this book, I believe it could have been written a lot better.
Wives and Daughters (based on the Elizabeth Gaskell novel of that name) was a BBC drama based on 1930s life in an English provincial town that pleasantly surprised me. If you follow this blog, you know how much I love period drama miniseries. I thought the title was dull so I imagined this story would be equally bland. How wrong I was to make such a decision!
It opens with young Molly Gibson looking for a place to rest at a garden party as her father has gone on an errand; he’s the local doctor. She is taken into the big house of Lady Cumnor and her employed governess, Miss Clare (Francesca Annis) is charged with Molly’s care. The governess makes a big fuss of how kind she is but it’s far from the truth. Molly asks her to alert her father as to her whereabouts but this slips from flighty Miss Clare’s mind and the poor child wakes alone to a house full of complete strangers. Fortunately for Molly, Lady Cumnor arranges for Dr. Gibson (Bill Paterson), a widower, to come and pick her up and she is relieved after her father’s arrival. Molly (Justine Waddell) grows up into a young beauty and her father on realising she is arousing the attention of his apprentice chemist intercepts a note for her and hastily sends her away to stay with Squire Hamley and his sick wife, landed gentry whose circumstances have dwindled. They dote on their eldest son Osbourne, a poet (yes, it’s Mr. Collins from the 2005 Pride and Prejudice), and pay little attention to second son Roger, a man of science.
Molly is impressed when she hears Cambridge student Osbourne (Tom Hollander) – more clever, more fashionable and reputedly more handsome than his brother – being lauded by his parents for his poetry so she has a minor spat with Roger (Anthony Howell) when he bears bad news regarding his brother’s lack of accomplishment. This situation amicably resolves itself later on when Roger consoles Molly after she’s upset at news about her father’s second marriage about which she received no prior warning. Meanwhile Roger does very well in his chosen field. But Molly is aware that as the daughter of a professional man, she cannot expect a union with either of the Hamleys. It turns out that Osbourne had a secret which caused the neglect of his studies – the secret is confided only to Molly and Roger. Meanwhile Mr. Gibson marries mainly to provide a mother for Molly rather than because he’s inclined to marry so in ignorance he selects the unsuitable Mrs. Kirkpatrick , the former Miss Clare, to be his wife. When he begins to live with her, his high estimation of her drops considerably due to her behaviour until he regards her as no more than an annoyance he had brought upon himself. Molly and her stepmother naturally do not get along due to their contrasting natures which are at odds but she does her best to be a dutiful daughter for her father’s sake. If there were illustrations in the dictionary, Molly would be the pictorial entry under the definition of “good”.
Funnily enough, the naive and sweet Molly gets along with her rebellious and conniving stepsister Cynthia (Keeley Hawes), who was educated in France. It becomes clear her stepmother and stepsister have some previous secret involvement with a man of ill repute, land agent Mr. Preston (Iain Glen). Meanwhile heartbroken at the failure of her beloved eldest son, Mrs. Hamley (Penelope Wilton) passes away. It came to my notice that Michael Gambon who plays the Squire is very touching in his performance of farewell scenes. Her death only widens the divide between him and his eldest son. In the middle of these happenings, Molly’s stepmother decides to play matchmaker for Cynthia with Osbourne, having no idea her manuevers and efforts are futile. This does not affect Molly since she has fallen for the charms of Roger. Unfortunately Cynthia has the upper hand in the good looks department and he falls for the wrong girl. After overhearing a confidential discussion the state of Osbourne’s wavering health, the stepmother plots a union between Cynthia and Roger before he leaves for Africa. Molly hears her stepsister who does not even love Roger has accepted his proposal, in secret, and becomes upset. Also she finally discovers the secret Mr. Preston holds over Cynthia and intervenes on her behalf which almost negatively affects her reputation while her stepsister ignores her fiance’s letters – which Molly peruses with fervour – and enjoys society company in London instead. The interference of well-meaning Lady Harriet (Rosamund Pike), who takes Molly under her wing as a protegé, makes amends to the circulating town gossip. When Cynthia returns, she breaks the engagement to Roger deciding she would like to be the wife of a professional gentleman from London, Mr. Henderson despite being rebuked for her hasty decisions.
Convinced the time to meet his maker is drawing near, Osbourne makes an additional confession to Molly. Poor girl has to keep secrets for a lot of people. When tragedy strikes, Molly tells what she knows to the Squire who sees this as a new chance to make reparation for his old mistake after some well-meaning advice from Roger. Meanwhile Roger settles into the local, scientific community and finds that he never realised that the brotherly affection he thought he felt for Molly was an entirely different emotion. This comes to the forefront when he sees Molly dancing with Lady Harriet’s cousin. Feeling unworthy of having professed his love to Cynthia before, he admits his intentions to Dr. Gibson who gives him the go ahead but he is prevented from contacting her due to a scarlet fever scare.
This is where the story deviates from the book as the original had no ending. Elizabeth Gaskell died suddenly before she completed it so the ending was written by Frederick Greenwood. It is said that she told a friend that she had intended Roger to return and present Molly with a dried flower, a gift to him before his departure, as proof of his enduring love (Sidenote: Thanks, Wikipedia) to contrast with Cynthia’s fickle love. The BBC adaptation uses an alternative ending because Molly and Roger are able to meet once more, despite being unable to touch each other, before he departs again to Africa.
Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro is about the intersecting lives of three students from Hailsham who end up reuniting after leaving the school. It is clear as we keep reading, as the narrative is told as a flashback by 31-year-old Kathy, this is a special school and so are the attending students. They are isolated in the school grounds and have no memory of how they entered and instead of teachers, they have Guardians. But they keep up the appearance of being regular, of being normal, of fitting by taking cues from books, other people and television. But they start to realise, at least Kathy and Tommy do, that information is being hidden from them by the Guardians. This is made obvious by bits and pieces the Guardian let slip when they are not careful.
Kathy and Tommy find they are unable to have babies, pursue careers that involve being celebrities or avoid the fate for which they were created. Ruth on the other hand desperately wants to believe her future will be full of promise and speaks if it will be so although the readers would just feel pity for her ignorance. Her fate at the end though triggers some empathy as she shows that she does have some heart. Once the students discover the truth about the mysteries of their past and what actually awaits them in the future, you realise the world created by Ishiguro is seriously dystopian.
In the beginning, I found the start a bit slow and contemplated giving up since it seemed boring. But I’m glad I kept reading because the pace picked up once the descriptions of Hailsham life gained prominence. It is food for thought about the possibilities of our awaiting future, even if the novel is a work of imagination. I have heard it has been adapted into a movie as well although I confess I didn’t hear much about its release. The title of the book, Never Let Me Go, comes from an old 1950s song by Judy Bridgewater. It is based on a poignant scene from the book about a little girl’s personal interpretation of the lyrics while she dances to it. The girl is Kathy.
Sometimes the way Kathy narrates can be distant but I feel this preserves the twist that awaits us which is sinisterly hinted at throughout the book. Like the reader, even Kathy herself is not privy to this secret. I think this works in the book’s favour and therefore inspired me to finish reading.