Books to films: Don’t Look Now

This is the first of two blog posts based on two short stories by Daphne Du Maurier that became very successful films. Don’t Look Now is the first of the two and was recommended to me by my colleague as I was about to go to Venice on holiday. I watched the film the night before I left and read the story while I was there.

Plot

John and Laura Baxter, a couple on holiday in Venice to help get over the death of their daughter. They meet two women from Scotland, one of whom is psychic and claims that she can see their daughter who is trying to contact them to warn them of danger. When Laura is suddenly called back to England to attend to their son who has had an accident, John is left alone with his grief and after thinking that he has seen his wife with the two sisters, a desperate police search for Laura and the sisters begins, and John is lead through the streets of Venice by a mysterious figure in a red, hooded coat.

The book 

Don’t Look Now started as a short story by Daphne Du Maurier. The story is much less atmospheric than the film, partly due to the fact that the twist is explained to the reader rather than being revealed at the end. The writing style is quite dated with the Italian characters’ dialogue written with an Italian accent. As it is only a short story, there is less time in Venice and less time with the characters and it’s difficult to give a completely objective opinion as I watched the film first, but overall it includes all the key elements that go on to make a fantastic film and is an interesting read once you have seen the film.

The film

Now a classic, the film, directed by Nicholas Roeg has been called one of the greatest horror films of all time. Its reputation as a classic has grown over time and is renowned for its film cutting techniques and the love scene between the two main characters. Roeg has made a few key changes to the book.

Firstly, the film is set in Autumn at the end of the tourist season in Venice, rather than in the middle of summer. This adds a lot of atmosphere to the story as the weather is damp and dreary and the hotels and restaurants are starting to close for the winter. Secondly, the couple are not on holiday in the film, instead, John is working on restoring a church which allows the symbolism of art and religion to be woven throughout the story, along with the colour red, in particular the red hooded coat of the couple’s daughter.

Scenes are cut together so that the past, present and future, at times, seem to be happening at once but without the film being confusing. Most brilliantly, the climactic end is not the true twist. The twist comes from a piece of the puzzle falling into place right at the end and he does it in such a way to make it a truly chilling film. He takes the best of the short story and makes it into an exceptional film.

Next time, I will be reviewing The Birds…

Fiona, Brompton Library

Books to films: Lady Macbeth

Shakespeare’s plays aren’t just read and studied at school, college or university. Reading groups, extension courses, lifelong learning, theatre workshops, before going to see a play at the theatre – and more.

Shakespeare has inspired the work of so many creative people: from Mendelsohn, Britten, Shostakovich to Lou Reed, Dire Straits and Arctic Monkeys. From Herman Melville, John Keats, Charles Dickens to Aldous Huxley, Iris Murdoch and Ian McEwan. From Kurosawa to Polanski. From the Pre-Raphaelites to Gillian Wearing. Every age, indeed every generation seek to make Shakespeare their own.

Walk into any library and if you are prepared to explore, you can find his influence everywhere. This can be seen in the countless films based on his work.

Lady Macbeth 2017 

This is a film based on Nikolai Leskov’s 1865 novel, Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District , itself inspired by Shakespeare’s play, Macbeth. The film is set in the north of England during the nineteenth century, whereby the Lady Macbeth character is brought centre-stage in this alternative narrative to the Shakespearean text. Gone is the witchcraft from Shakespeare’s Macbeth – the only ‘spirits that tend on mortal thoughts’ – here in William Oldroyd’s film, arise from the emptiness of a bourgeois life, in which Lady Macbeth finds herself trapped and powerless in a male dominated environment. There are also parallels here to Flaubert’s, Madame Bovary.

As the subject of an arranged marriage deal, acquired by the father for his son, along with a small piece of land, that he describes as ‘not fit for a cow to graze upon’, Lady Macbeth is installed into a stifling and austere household, where she is abandoned for long periods of time by a callous husband. She is left to maintain the house and servants following the demands of the father, who expects a submissive and obedient daughter in-law. There are no books to be seen and many of the early film shots see her peering out of the window onto a barren landscape, or asleep for long periods on the sofa. She appears completely isolated in this new situation.

Within this repressive and patriarchal environment, we are left to speculate as to the kind of character she is and how she will respond. Her responses at first are reluctant obedience and boredom, but the performance of Florence Pugh as Lady Macbeth is captivating in that as time goes on, we witness signs of insolence: mocking facial expressions and a contemptuous intonation in her voice, when addressing her husband and father in-law. The husband then departs for an extended period, in order to sort out problems at the family colliery and Lady Macbeth is left alone with the servants. At this point, her authority is challenged by an incident among the servants, and then we see her take control.

She begins a passionate love affair with the groomsman. As time goes on, like Shakespeare’s Lady Macbeth, her ‘vaulting ambition’ leads to a murder – in this case, the husband. Again, there is excitement in Pugh’s performance, never being quite sure if she is a victim of circumstance, responding perhaps naively as the repressed bourgeois housewife to events spiralling out of control, or whether there is a more psychopathic vein running through her actions. This loss of control is something we witness in Shakespeare’s Macbethwas he (Macbeth) ever really, ‘full of the milk of human kindness’? or have circumstances conspired around him to bring about a tragedy? – a key concern in Shakespeare’s play. Here too, innocence and guilt seem to play out, side by side. Casting a black maid who, rarely speaks and a mixed-race actor as the groomsman, adds a racial tension to the power dynamics of repression and rebellion that are described by the shifting loyalties among the principal characters of the film.

The visual look of the film focuses on textures: the tactile feel of starched fabrics on soft skin, rain on slate and stone and naked wooden floorboards sounding to the pressure of impatient male footsteps. There is also a clearly defined soundscape to the film, that captures the rustle of fabrics, the chink of chinaware and the howling winds on the heath outside the house – all these effects build a formal language that serves to emphasize common themes of vulnerability and violence, power and submission.

In addition to this film, you can find other adaptations on Shakespeare’s work in our libraries and of course most of his plays and poetry including some of the literary criticism that goes with them – Shakespeare is, of course, a huge industry. The children’s library also has some of his plays translated into short stories, Manga comics etc.

Richard, Brompton Library

Books to films: V for Vendetta

This month we have another book to film review.  David from Brompton Library gives us his views on the dystopian, political thriller V for Vendetta

The book 

This is a classic fantasy-political thriller in graphic novel form, written by the titan of comic writing, Alan Moore, with drawings by David Lloyd. Written in 1983, the book is set in the then near-future of 1997. A dystopian Britain emerges after a nuclear war, but where Britain is spared (the hypothetical Labour Government of 1983, got rid of American Nuclear missiles).

As the world around them is collapsing, society begins to fall apart, and out of the power vacuum fascism takes over with the promise of security and order- but as you can imagine, the new authoritarian society isn’t for everyone. Hence, the book’s anarchist protagonist, ‘V’- a unique and nuanced (anti) ‘hero’ character, comes into the classic narrative of the underdog fighting for justice and truth, and isn’t afraid to use violent means to obtain it. V symbolically wears a Guy Fawkes mask (“the only person to enter parliament with honest intentions”) and wig while on operations- and there he rescues Eve, the other main character, a naïve young girl who suddenly finds herself on the wrong side of the law.

The book really captures the feeling of foreboding political despair of nineteen eighties politics, of the Cold War, and of authoritarian conservatism tightening its grip on society. Another character- a police detective, is hired by the government to stop V and his misdemeanours, but while doing so starts to question the morality of the government he has sworn to serve. What makes the book so captivating, is that it has an entertaining narrative but within a thought-provoking context. The drawing is great of course, although I didn’t like all of it and some of the colour choices were awkward. Nevertheless, this is a great introduction to more sophisticated graphic novel fiction.

The film

It’s not often that films match up to the books they are based on, but the movie does a pretty good job in my opinion. It’s unfair to say which is better as they are quite different in style- the film is set in the near future from when it was made; in 2006. Of course, then as it is now, the major threats to the world had changed, and the film absorbs them. In this changed narrative, the United States has fallen apart into chaos and civil war after stretching its empire too thin (of course, 2006 was when the Iraq War was still ongoing), and in Britain and Europe, jihadist militants are alleged to have committed a mass atrocity by poisoning the water supply, leading to the landslide election of a fascist party in Britain and the end of parliamentary democracy.

Other than the context, the main story doesn’t differ too wildly to the book, although there is more play on V’s fighting skills and swashbuckling action, which is done well and obviously adds to the entertainment value and mainstream appeal. There are also a few characters and side stories that have been cut out, probably for practical reasons- but the film doesn’t suffer too much as a result. In a political sense, V’s character has been a little watered-down for Hollywood, with liberalism replacing anarchism as V’s portrayed ideology.

Author Alan Moore, who rejects all film adaptations of his books, said of the script: “there wasn’t a mention of anarchy as far as I could see. The fascism had been completely defanged. I mean, I think that any references to racial purity had been excised, whereas actually, fascists are quite big on racial purity.” The only actual blatant reference to ‘anarchy’ in the film is when V manipulates chaos into the general population in order to overthrow the regime- a man robs a shop wearing the (now ubiquitous) Guy Fawkes mask, shooting his gun into the air, and referencing the Sex Pistols, shouts: “Anarchy, in the UK!”. So it seems the wider political themes were indeed a little ‘dumbed down’.

I enjoyed the film but that bit did make me cringe, because as explained by a politically informative line in the book, V states: “Anarchy means ‘without rulers’; not ‘without order’- with anarchy comes an age of ordung, of true order, which is to say voluntary order… this is not anarchy eve… this is chaos”.

Books to films: The Little Stranger

This month, Fiona from Brompton Library is reviewing Sarah Waters, The Little Stranger which has just been released as a film and will be read and discussed by the library’s reading group in November.

The book

Set in post-war rural Warwickshire, Dr Faraday is called to attend a sickly maid at Hundreds Hall who believes that the house is haunted. Faraday has a sentimental attachment to the house as his mother had been in service their as a maid and once took him there when he was a child to a garden party where he was presented with a medal by the lady of the house, Mrs Ayers. As Faraday gets closer to the Ayers family, events start to unravel. Strange and inexplicable happenings that suggest a ghost from the past is haunting the family and as their financial situation worsens and the house starts to fall apart around them, the “haunting” intensifies.

Behind the story of the house is also a love story between Caroline Ayers and Dr Faraday and behind all of it is the story of post-war Britain, the introduction of the NHS and how that changed the lives of ordinary people. There is a strong contrast between the lives of the Ayers family at Hundreds Hall where, in the decaying house, guests dress formally for dinners served to them by a maid while local people, still wary of modern medicine, are dying young from curable ailments and too poor to be able to pay the doctor.

The book is a gripping read. I read half of its 500 pages on a flight and was completely engaged by the writing, the atmosphere and the story. The relationship between Caroline Ayers and Dr Faraday is beautifully written and touchingly awkward and I liked the way the book dealt with several themes at once while remaining a really good story well told, and very creepy in parts. At one point, Dr Faraday says “All this house needs is a dose of happiness”. You get a sense that they are both so lonely in their different ways and that everything could change for them if they could make it work. I felt that the more a I read the book the more I also wanted the house to be rescued and saved from ruin as the Dr does. It works really well that Waters does not use tricks to build up the adrenalin of the story and the overall pace is one of gradual decline, so if you are wanting to read a ghost story this may not be for you, and the end has a twist that creeps up on you so quietly that you almost can’t quite believe it.

The film

The film brings the book to life visually. It really captures how I imagined the house to look – its interiors are perfectly done and the view of the house from the road leading up to it were very evocative of the book. The house is very grey and you get a sense that the seasons change outside while the house is stuck in time. Although billed as a horror, the film leaves out much of the references to ghosts that are made in the book, but is more like a ghost story. As the film is much shorter than the book, the suspense builds much more quickly and there were some chilling moments, but on the downside it meant that we didn’t spend much time with the characters or see their relationships develop.

Charlotte Rampling is perfect as Mrs Ayers while saying very little, she appears icy and fleeting throughout the house. Ruth Wilson is great as Caroline Ayers, bringing to life the earthy and practical daughter of the house who holds the story together. The casting of Domhnall Gleeson let the film down a bit for me. Dr Faraday is in his 40s in the novel which lends a fatherly aspect to the middle-aged, unmarried doctor that would not be possible between Gleeson and Wilson as they are of a similar age (he may even be younger than her). He came across as cold and remote at the same time but lacked the warmth and drive of the Dr Faraday of the book and I wasn’t rooting for him like. Overall it’s not a bad adaptation with some great acting, a few chills and shocks and is visually very true to the book.

Brompton Library’s reading group will be discussing the book on Tuesday 6 November so why not join us? You can borrow a copy at any of our libraries.

Fiona, Brompton Library

 

Books to films: Ready Player One

Colette from Chelsea Library compares Ernest Cline’s science fiction novel, Ready Player One, to the recent Spielberg film adaption.

 The book 

A very cool science fiction novel which depicts a dystopian world, marred by socio-economic and environmental calamities that could all be escaped when you plug into the virtual world “The Oasis” for your day to day drudgery and social interactions, where you can be anyone or anything (sounding incredibly familiar to today or is it just me?!)

The plot of the book follows teenage outcast, Wade Watts embark on a virtual reality challenge in a race to find a hidden Easter Egg in The Oasis. He ends up befriending his fellow competitors in order to defeat the corporate enemies whose wishes to rule The Oasis is pure corporate greed (money), versus the original intention of that platform being a better place, accessible for all.

Full of 80s game references, this book will surely bring out the sense of nostalgia, whilst also painting a truly possible reality through Cline’s clever writing prowess making the world he has created not seem so far-fetched.

The film 

Brilliant book teamed with a superb director Spielberg, for sure the film would be incredible right?! How disappointed I was! For me, there were so many alterations especially with the games featured that all the nostalgia that was with those retro games and references were completely lost.

The character development was so rushed that I just did not care what happened as I barely came to know them onscreen, but the special effects are good. When there were “cameos” of characters from games I recognised, they looked like they were straight from the original game.

In short, this film could have been so much more. If it is any consolation, those who have not read the book gave it a thumbs up, reason being the 80s soundtrack that did hit those nostalgic notes.