The Mayor of Casterbridge (Film)

10/13/2011 at 2:24 PM (BBC Drama, Books, Classics, Historical, Mystery, Romance, TV) (, , , , , , , , )

I first fell in love with Thomas Hardy novels after reading The Woodlanders. If you are familiar with tales by Hardy, you’ll know this guy probably would have been the master of soap opera storylines if television had been invented in his days but it really is his descriptions that you can’t go beyond due to his skill with evocative prose. Recently I watched The Mayor of Casterbridge, based on his novel of that name, adapted for the silver screen by David Thacker, starring Ciaran Hinds as Michael Henchard, who delivers a stellar, heartbreaking performance in the pivotal last scenes. The captivating and beautiful score set against the lush country backdrop does not hurt. By the way, Casterbridge is a fictional town representing Dorchester. Do note though it is a long production with a running time of almost over three hours so only start watching when you have enough time to spare.

It all begins in a small town where a young hay-trusser named Michael Henchard sells his wife and infant daughter for five guineas, in a bid that begins as a joke but turns serious, after having too much to drink. When he sobers up and realises his folly, he makes an oath not to touch alcohol 21 years, the number of years he has lived, and builds a good life for himself.

Nineteen years later he is a successful agrarian and the mayor of Casterbridge – a town not far from the fair where he sold his family. When his wife Susan (Juliet Aubrey) returns with his daughter Elizabeth-Jane (Jodhi May) because her other “husband” Newson was lost at sea, Henchard is tormented because while he has a chance to atone for his wrongdoing, he is paranoid that his past transgressions will be discovered by the townspeople. His deep-seated need to protect his reputation from past improprieties soon leads to a complex web of deceit and lies involving Henchard, his “mistress” Lucetta (Polly Walker) and his wife. Poor Elizabeth-Jane is an innocent but cannot help being caught in the middle of the ensuing drama.

Meanwhile on the same day his family returns, Henchard meets a Scotsman, Donald Farfrae (James Purefoy), who has developed a technique to restore bad grain.  The mayor persuades Farfrae to become his manager and confesses his secret to the young man. Luckily for him, although his secret is ousted later in court when he is judging a case, Farfrae is an honourable, just and trustworthy man unlike the mayor. So the mayor turns bitter and jealous when his new manager consistently outdoes him.

Like most other works by Hardy, the plot is full of secret revelations, hidden romantic entanglements, family feuds, complicated tangles of lies and business rivalries. What makes this story so interesting is that Henchard, his wife, and his mistress are not bad people but each makes terrible choices of which the aftermath is horrible. There are many themes in this story but the recurring theme is deception. In the end the people who hurt the most are the ones who give rise to it. Henchard’s behavior makes him difficult persona to admire mostly because of his hostility to Elizabeth-Jane after Susan’s letter provided the truth but because in sudden bursts he will do the right thing or tries to enables the audience to feel empathy for him especially when we hear his final will and testament.

I think that was the last straw for me because I felt stinging in my tear ducts and let out the waterworks. If you can stand tragic melodrama, enjoy classics and are able to endure the screen time, you’ll love this production if you can forgive the farfetched plot.

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Daniel Deronda (Film)

09/22/2011 at 2:58 AM (BBC Drama, Books, TV) (, , , , , , , )

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!

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Classically Speaking: From Page to Screen

09/03/2010 at 5:54 AM (BBC Drama, Books, Movies, Romance) (, , , , , , , )

I have been watching old DVDs I’ve missed out on voraciously during the winter. The source of my pleasure ( a fine public institution despite occasional walk-ins by people with bad body odour ) provides them free of charge. So I’ve found myself borrowing 4 per week and as some are 3-hour length Bollywood dramas  ended up giving a rude shock to my regular sleeping pattern.

North and South

I have a new found love for film adaptations of classics  (otherwise known as period dramas) . This started after I was introduced to the BBC mini-series North and South set in industrialist Victorian England. It is based on a little-known 19th century novel by Elizabeth Gaskell about the class divide. If you are  getting curious and hungry for more like a series sneak peek, click this.

Tess of the D'urbervilles


Well, I definitely had triggered my appetite for this genre and next stumbled upon Tess of the D’urbervilles BBC film, adapted from Hardy’s classic with sexy Hans Matheson starring as the cad, Alec, and the boyish Eddie Redmayne as the confused and hapless Angel Clare. If you are looking for more juice on the plot as it is new to you, click this (Spoiler Alert! : article reveals ending.)

I read the book a few days later which is not typical of my practice and felt they had made Alec more of a jerk and Angel appear far less cruel than he sounds in the book … ( Not to mention that in the film Hans is much better looking than Eddie.)

Vanity Fair

Next I discovered Vanity Fair starring Reese Witherspoon as social climber, Becky Sharp,  and a rather dapper looking Jonathan Rhys Meyers (especially in uniform) as George Osborne adapted from Thackeray’s ‘novel without a hero’.

They have substantially changed the character of Becky so if you did not like the Guy Ritchie version of Sherlock Holmes, you probably will not like Mira Nair’s stylistic changes to the book .

Note: the chilli episode will make you giggle.

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