I’ve heard a movie is in the works for this piece of Gothic Australian revenge fiction by Rosalie Ham that I read a while back. Looking back on it, I’m not surprised this has been chosen for a film adaptation. The plot lends itself to the medium well.
Set in 1950s rural Australia in a town called Dungatar, The Dressmaker is about a daughter, Myrtle “Tilly” Dunnage, who was run out of town after being falsely accused of a grave crime when she was just a child and has only returned to take care of her sick and mentally unstable mother. An expert seamstress trained in Paris, the haute couture Myrtle creates soon becomes the talk of the town in spite of her suspicious status to most folk. When the locals begin to flock to her for their fashions to take advantage of her dressmaking abilities, old rivalries begin to resurface and Myrtle is able to take her revenge and leave.
The quirky and hypocritical characters with particular idiosyncrasies populating the town are the highlight of the book but do at times seem a bit eccentric and over-the-top. The driving force in this novel however is definitely the plot. While The Dressmaker is an enjoyable and fast-paced read, it is no literary behemoth.
Recently I had the opportunity to watch the 2015 released movie Far From the Madding Crowd based on the literary classic by Thomas Hardy starring Carey Mulligan as Bathsheba, who attracts the following characters as suitors: Gabriel Oak (Matthias Schoenaerts); Frank Troy (Tom Sturridge); and William Boldwood (Michael Sheen). I’ve already blogged about the adaption that features Paloma Baeza before so this post is about the consequences of me watching this re-release as it led to me to seek out another Hardy adaptation, based on the book, Under the Greenwood Tree.
In this story, a beautiful, young and educated new schoolteacher Fancy Day (Keeley Hawes) has come to live in the village of Mellstock while taking care of her sick father. Her father’s goal is to see Fancy married well because he married for love which had bad repercussions for Fanny’s mother. Like Bathsheba Everdene, Fancy is pursued by three very different suitors: poor but passionate Dick Dewy (James Murray), the mature but wealthiest man in in town Mr Shinar (Steve Pemberton) and the arrogant but educated man of the world Parson Maybold (Ben Miles). Her father believes Mr Shinar is the best of prospects for her and hides the truth from Fancy when he is rescued by one of the other suitors, whom he believes is below her station. But Fancy discovers the truth and ends up choosing simple love although she is offered wealth and the world. In the middle of romantic quandaries, a new harmonium that is to be played at the local church by Fancy Day is being introduced by Parson Maybold and the former church choir consisting of mostly simple farm parishioners aren’t taking it too well and their pranks cause her some distress and embarrassment.
Surprisingly this Hardy adaptation had a happy ending compared to his other work but I hear the book is different in character portrayal. Here’s a good in-depth review of the book as I’ve yet to read it! I like this assessment and it applies to the Under the Greenwood Tree adaption as well, “The question is not about her choice but about whether it is the right one — a question that cannot be answered by the end…”.
Based on Irish expat Frank McCourt‘s Pulitzer Prize winning memoir Angela’s Ashes, this 1999 film adaptation shows us how he grew up in the wretched slums of Limerick during the Depression. It is clear from the start food is as scarce as employment, poverty is rife, disease is a precursor to death and squalor is everywhere. Nevertheless despite all the tragedies that befall this family including their pathetic alcoholic father figure who uses even welfare money for the drink instead of feeding his babies, Frankie seems to find some joy in life and builds his dreams on escaping to America while even managing to love his irresponsible dad. It is the rich variety of characters and experiences he has along the way to achieving this that makes this story so poignant and moving. Frank’s Irish Catholic upbringing is given a lot of focus on the film as well as the rank hypocrisy of the church.
The film is brutal in its depiction of the bleak and sad life that was had to be in Ireland with the drab brown and grey tones pervading it. Nevertheless it is still injected with doses of optimism and humour, sometimes from the most unexpected quarters. Robert Carlyle does a great job as the laconic and irresponsible Malachy while Emily Watson seems to bear the patience of a saint as she portrays the self-sacrificing woman who was Angela, Frank McCourt’s mother and the namesake of the film. The three boys who portrayed Frank were all great actors in their own right so kudos to the casting people.
Despite Angela having a husband who rarely if ever fulfilled his obligations as a father, she is the rock who made Frank determined to achieve his goal and move on from the past. It is clear she was a good-hearted person who coped with immense hardships that were thrown in her way. Ultimately while this is a tragic movie about the pain and suffering one can undergo for the love of one’s children, the ultimate triumph at the end eclipses it all.
While this is a good movie, it is possibly because it stays true to the heart of the book most of the time. If you want to watch it but haven’t read the book yet, I suggest trying it out first. Angela’s Ashes may be an uplifting story in its final message but it is not a happy one. After seeing this, you might want to think twice about complaining about your lot in life and eat humble pie instead!
I have been a little distracted as I’ve been catching up on reading a lot – think I read about eight books in the past week (look forward to more book reviews). But I did manage to find some time to watch Little Dorrit directed by Adam Smith – starring Claire Foy and Matthew MacFadyen – based on the novel by Charles Dickens. Given her timid personality, ‘Little Doormat’ could have been considered more appropriate nomenclature.
Little Dorrit was born in the Marshalsea, a debtor’s prison after her father’s business failed and he was unable to pay off his creditors. Born a gentleman, Mr. Dorrit can’t stand being so low in regard and manages to cultivate a position as the father of the Marshalsea with the aid of the head turnkey, Mr. Chivery (senior). His son, John, is in love with Little Dorrit although her real name is Amy. Her older sister, the snobbish and beautiful Fanny, has a job as a dancer at the theatre while her idle brother, Frederick, is a young wastrel who keeps on losing his positions due to gambling and laziness. Amy finds employment as a seamstress at the old dilapidated mansion called the House of Clennam, run by a cold-hearted, grumpy, paraplegic matriarch called Mrs. Clennam, despite her father’s objections that she is a lady and should not have to work. Meanwhile Mrs. Clennam’s son Arthur returns bearing a gold pocket watch and a message – Do Not Forget. His father has requested this as his final wish before his death. Perplexed Arthur asks his mother about the mystery but is cruelly turned away when he discloses that he does not wish to be involved in managing the family business. Before leaving, Arthur notices Amy and wishing to do her some kindness makes some enquiries about her present situation and what can be done for her.
In contrast, we have two side stories which connect with the above plot. One involves the Meagles family who have a beautiful, young daughter of marriageable age. She also has an adopted sister, a coloured child, named Harriet but she is called Tattycoram by the family. Their natural daughter has felt an attachment to Mr. Gowan, an artist, and despite their efforts to unite her with the good-hearted Arthur Clennam, they do not succeed. Meanwhile Harriet feels ill-treated by the family as she’s asked to fetch things, perform tasks and in frustration turns to the mysterious Miss Wade, who seems to be present every time Harriet feels anger at the way she is treated, for friendship. The Meagles do not like this as Miss Wade is widely perceived as someone with a bad influence. We realise this when it turns out she even associates with a French murderer by the name of Rigaud (played by Andy Serkis of LOTR‘s Gollum fame) who gives her some possessions to keep regarding Little Dorrit and her inheritance as well as the truth about the birth of Arthur Clennam so he can blackmail Arthur’s “mother”, Mrs. Clennam.
Rigaud escapes from his prison cell with Italian inmate, John Cavaletto. He takes the name Rainier and commits another murder, a barmaid. He makes the acquaintance of Flintwinch who has decided to disobey his mistress, Mrs. Clennam, and obtains the copies of documents stating the truth about the events of the past. Flintwich has lied to his mistress about destroying the documents but her old maid, Affrey, hears it all and when he discovers her spying, she is threatened. Meanwhile Cavaletto escapes the company of Rigaud and finds a residence at the home of a kind-hearted family who is always being squeezed for rent by Mr. Pancks but we discover someone completely different is the true manipulator.
Arthur employs Mr. Pancks as an investigator and finds that Mr. Dorrit is heir to a fortune. So the Dorrits resume a life of cultivation but ashamed of his past, Mr. Dorrit cuts his connections to the prison and wishes his children also do so. This includes the Chiveries, Arthur Clennam and Maggie, a dimwitted woman-child who likes to eat a lot. Used to being a caring, motherly person, Amy finds the adjustment to a life of leisure difficult unlike the others and keeps communicating with Arthur in secret as she knows he has done a great deal on behalf of her family. She also makes an acquaintance with the Gowans as she realises who Mrs. Gowan could have been. In any case, she’s in love with him while he is getting over Mr. Gowan getting married to the girl he loved. She is rebuked by her father constantly causing her much unhappiness as she used to be his favourite child, mostly due to the influence of Mrs. General, the formal etiquette trainer. Frederick, her father’s musician brother is regarded in the same manner as Amy due to their uncultivated mannerisms. Fanny, on the other hand, thrives and makes a union with the fool Edward Sparkler, a fool she can rule over with her iron thumb much to the irritation of her mother-in-law, Mrs. Merdle, who had scorned her when she was poor. Meanwhile Mr. Dorrit makes a trip to England to invest his capital in the bank belonging to Mr. Merdle and Mr. Clennam who has since become a partner with Mr. Doyce, an engineer who is having trouble finding investors as he is a foreigner, decides to put the company capital into the bank to gain interest on the advice given by Mr. Meagles and Mr. Pancks while Doyce goes off to Russia to develop his inventions. Mr. Dorrit returns to Italy (after giving a not so cordial reception to John Chivery who had the audacity to visit him even after his proposal had been rejected by Amy when she was poor) but his trip to England has unbalanced his mind and after returning to Italy, he embarrasses himself in public and finds peace in death. So does his brother, Frederick.
When Mr. Merdle commits suicide after borrowing a penknife from Fanny, it turns out that the bank was conducting major fraud by embezzling and shuffling the funds of different depositors. The tables turn for Fanny’s mother-in-law as she finds herself at the mercy of her daughter-in-law. Meanwhile Little Dorrit finds peace again in her poverty because she can start taking care of others again. She finds Arthur Clennam at the debtor’s prison and the roles are reversed when Rigaud entrusts her with the truth. Arthur’s mother makes a miraculous recovery to get up from her wheelchair and after telling the truth to Little Dorrit herself asks for forgiveness which she does and dies. Meanwhile the House of Clennam tumbles down taking Rigaud to his maker but Flintwich and Affrey escape. Amy explains the mystery to Arthur and when she explains that she has no fortune any more like him, the insensible fellow is happy to accept her love. But then Doyce returns bearing no ill will and best of all, good news.
Meanwhile Pancks has his revenge on the man who posed as a figure of benevolence while being crafty in secret, the father of Arthur Clennam’s childhood sweetheart, Flora. The Meagles family tell Henry Gowan’s mother what they really think of her son and Tattycoram returns with the documents that were in the possession of Miss Wade after discovering them. So we have a happy ending for ‘Little Doormat’, sorry I meant Little Dorrit.