Follow by e-mail

Showing posts with label Great Expectations. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Great Expectations. Show all posts

Tuesday, 13 June 2017

Some Tweets and other text about My Cousin Rachel (2017) (work, once in progress)

Some Tweets and other text about My Cousin Rachel (2017)

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2017 (19 to 26 October)
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)

13 June

Some Tweets and other text about My Cousin Rachel (2017) (work, once in progress)


Unless stated otherwise, all films reviewed were screened at Festival Central (Arts Picturehouse, Cambridge)

Monday, 24 February 2014

Dickens in Love

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2013
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)

24 February

* Contains spoilers *

This is a follow-up piece to a review of The Invisible Woman (2013), and a question asked of actor / director Ralph Fiennes, partly about Dickens’ wife Catherine’s motives.

In Manchester, during the after-play party near the start of the film, Nelly Ternan (Felicity Jones) is sitting next to Catherine Dickens (Joanna Scanlan), and the former says how she had not expected anything to be so lasting in her memory as Bleak House, but is finding a rival in what she is now reading [David Copperfield ?]. One must judge with what motive, but the latter retorts ‘Tis a fiction, designed to entertain, with which opinion Nelly briefly, but strenuously, states her disagreement.

When the women meet again, Dickens (Ralph Fiennes) has sent his wife to Nelly’s mother’s house, and she asks Nelly if she is fond of Dickens. She scarcely allows Nelly to answer before she intervenes to say Silly question – he is Mr Charles Dickens !. The question arises (as it did in the Q&A with Fiennes) whether what she goes on to say to Nelly is out of any sort of envy or desire to put her off, or just from the simple motive of telling the truth, how it is with Dickens and her :

Essentially, she reports her own experience, that Dickens has an extra-marital devotion to his readership / audience that makes her uncertain to say which he cares more for, them or her. In saying what she does, she suggests that it is not easy to find his affections divided, and that may merely be a statement of fact.

But why express it to Nelly ? Out of sheer feminine feeling and a desire to be helpful ? The context is as follows :

* Some time before at the Dickens' home, Charles expresses his defiance in the garden at what his sister-in-law and Catherine are urging about the rumours, and declares that he will not stop seeing Nelly* – he then goes back to playing with the children

* At some other point that summer, it is Nelly's twentieth birthday, and we are at the Ternans' house – this is when Catherine calls, with the redirected present from Charles

* When, later that day, Charles and Wilkie (Tom Hollander) whisk Nelly away to Wilkie's home, and she leaves, she confronts Charles on the steps of her family home (just before a policeman intervenes), criticizing him for sending the mother of his children to her – he says that he wanted Catherine to see what he sees in Nelly, and says that Catherine has no understanding

* There is the ambiguous scene of proximity indoors, then the next thing is the boarding-up to partition the Dickens house, a very quick scene

* After the awkward meeting between Charles and Nelly and Charley, Charley reads the letter in The Times about the separation to Catherine

It indicates what Catherine thinks of Charles, he of her, in these clues : as early as sending Catherine around with the gift that he had intended to have delivered to Nelly, he wanted Catherine to see that it was over between her and him, and why (he tells Nelly so that day). Catherine is not stupid. She knows herself to have been humiliated by being told to call on Nelly, but she can use the call to her advantage :

Doubtless, there is truth in what she says about Charles being torn away from her by his public, and that one will never know which he cares for more, but, if one watches the scene closely, she has a subtle way of laying it on thick, and does hope to discourage Nelly, if she cannot discourage Charles, but with the subtext I've seen it all before, and let me tell you, as a friend, how it is....

What Catherine does not reckon on is that ambiguous scene of near-kisses, and that Nelly then seeks out advice from her mother (Kristin Scott Thomas) and from Wilkie, before making an entry, dressed and framed as a Pre-Raphaelite subject, in Charles' rooms. There, she gets close to him, in an energetic meeting of minds over the galley-proofs, through the closing chapters to Great Expectations – until then, taken to see Wilkie living unmarried with a woman, she thinks that Charles sees her as his whore.

Catherine had her own agenda, but was prudent enough to act the part of the woman on the way out looking after the new one.

At the end of the film, hurt and anxious Nelly uses the words shadow / parting / haunting to describe being separated from Charles in the life that she lives now, where she cannot admit how she knew him. As her husband says :

The memories of a child, Nelly

Or, then again, 180 years since Charles Dickens sneezed publicly in Cardiff - to great acclaim...

End-notes :

* Catherine says 'More gossip in The London Diary', as Dickens sits down with the newspaper. After comments around the table about not having kept it a secret, and denying it, she says 'You must stop this', to which Dickens replies, 'What if I do not wish to ?'. She retorts, 'Do not be foolish - you cannot keep her a secret', and a challenge to which - then and later - he rises.

Unless stated otherwise, all films reviewed were screened at Festival Central (Arts Picturehouse, Cambridge)

Sunday, 15 December 2013

This person, with chaos in her wake

This is a review of Mary Poppins (1964)

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2013
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)

15 December

This is a review of Mary Poppins (1964)

It's a truism about Mary Poppins (1964) that Dick Van Dyke is meant to be a Cockney as Bert (in the extended, animated country-scene sequence, he is shown with Pearly Kings and Queens after the horse-race ?), and that his accent is dire - even if that were true, he is a great asset to the film as a performer, purveyor of home-spun truths, and jack of all trades, and would the children (as some would say, 'the demographic') for whom it was intended have cared less ? Humanity and warmth (and giving a rendition of a patter-song) count for much more !

And that is what the main message of the film is all about, or, as the Hanks / Thompson film has it, Saving Mr. Banks (though there are other, less obvious themes, which will be explored below). It probably makes as little sense to ask, outside that new Disney film, who Mary Poppins (really) is, because, if one swallows a retired admiral considering his roof-top to be H. M. S. Boom, one should not baulk at an explanation of someone who says I never explain (she may actually have said, I never give explanations) : wherever P. L. Travers and / or the film got him from, one need not look further than Wemmick's Castle in Great Expectations (or, in Laurence Sterne, Tristram Shandy's uncle)...

There is no one in this film who fails to please, with David Tomlinson as the father to Jane and Michael, who has to be so restrained in holding back his feelings (as Bert shows the children) until the close of the film, a man who wants to run when he has a sherry and smokes his pipe by the clock, and will not heed the admiral's helpful enquiries and advice; Glynis Johns as his wife, Mrs. Banks, who has found a cause rather than relate to her children (and whose difficulty in being a mother Disney has Travers defend as something that happens), and who delightfully and cheerfully dashes off to sing songs to imprisoned suffragette sisters, leaving her son and daughter in the care of an unknown chimney-sweep; the children, played by Karen Dotrice and Matthew Garber with a suitable mixture of innocence and a desire to get into scrapes; and, of course, the delightful Julie Andrews in the title-role, her diction perfect, her voice sweet and pure, and her own sense of fun (saying to wide-mouthed Michael We are not a cod-fish ! - a little different from Van Dyke's more-broad comedic one.

And, as Van Dyke can, she can dance, of course, and always moves with such grace - just a shame that, in common with less well-lit scenes such as on the ceiling at Mary Poppins' uncle's and the bird woman with her food for tuppence (both of which also suffered from indistinctness), the roof-top activity was a little dark, although I assume some technical reason relation to filming and / or restoration. Otherwise, there is delight to be had from this film's look at nearly 50, and the animated sequence that Travers objected to was enchanting (I was with her with the penguin routine, but it may have not dragged for younger viewers), entering into life from life, which Mr. Banks seems to lack. Even in Bert, when his pavement-paintings get spoilt by rain, we see him take pleasure in literally spreading the colour around.

The main people to whom songs are given are Andrews, Van Dyke, and Tomlinson, and all bring out the quality of Richard M. and Robert B. Sherman's strong words and music, making for unforced and unabashed bursting into song. As a film about what life is and is about, Mary Poppins shares territory with It's a Wonderful Life in several ways, with a run on the bank, a man alienated from whatever disturbs his sense of order (Banks) / restoring financial propriety (George Bailey), even if it is actually the lives of his family, and the intervention of a force from without with magical powers (Poppins / Clarence) and the mixing of what we take for granted with how things might be.

The principal message is that living by consumerism* blinds one to what matters in life. There is no suggestion that Mr. Banks resorts significantly to alcohol (a theme in Saving Mr. Banks (2013)), but the admiral's calls from the roof, and the idea that he cannot see what is front of his nose (with the woman selling bird-food), suggest that he has found other ways to adjust to working for the bank (shown, at the end, to have a human face), and Mary Poppins briefly staying helps him see things anew. His liberation, his rediscovering his children's love and their interests, will no doubt say much even to modern youngsters.

As to the covert themes, there is this curious business of Mary Poppins' uncle on the ceiling, and what a crisis this is treated as - a tentative interpretation might relate this to the experience of bi-polar disorder, with, when they have tea in the air, literally being high, for what 'brings them down' is thinking of something sad, and Bert says that he will stay and look over Mary Poppins' uncle when she and the girls leave, and he tries to raise spirits with his 'down in the mouth' joke about eating a feather pillow. (Against that, when Van Dyke, as Mr. Dawes Senior, is told the joke about 'a man with a wooden leg called Smith', he, too, levitates, and his death is said to have been a happy one.)

Still with the bank, being summoned to return at 9.00 has a distinctly masonic air about it - The City is dark as Mr. Banks crosses to it, is let in, and is accompanied to the door by top-hatted men, who almost frog-march him there. The debunking, although comic, suggests a sort of serious ritual, deflated by Banks, when asked if he has anything to say (before he has retorted that he always knows what to say, a self-assurance with which he maybe only fools himself and Mrs. Banks), finds himself saying Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious and even, to his surprise, feeling better for it.

Finally, the care for spending (as Michael wishes to do) tuppence on feeding the birds could translate to not hoarding, but using, the wealth given to us (The Parable of The Talents ?), or even to the invocation to Peter, Feed my sheep...


* Often enough wrongly thought of as 'materialism', or 'capitalism', although making money and owning the means of production are best not confused.

Unless stated otherwise, all films reviewed were screened at Festival Central (Arts Picturehouse, Cambridge)

Saturday, 8 December 2012

What the dickens !

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2012
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)

8 December

* Contains spoilers *

This remains my view of Great Expectations (2012), and I thought that Jason Flemyng was equally strong as Joe Gargery, but without the effect of stealing the scene. As for Robbie Coltrane as Jaggers, I was more impressed by him than I would have expected, whereas I had heard criticism that Helena Bonham Carter was too young as Miss Havisham, which - without having consulted the text - I am inclined to think right.

With the exception of little moments such as Pip’s sister, which Sally Hawkins was required to play as a grotesque, as a caricature amongst others at her Christmas meal (principally, Mr Pumblechook (David Walliams)), much was really rather naturalistic (though that is more true of this novel than others), which then set off well touches such as Wemmick and his castle, the Finch dining-club (foppish to the extent of resembling an amalgam of Mods and Teddy Boys), and Fiennes’ explosion onto the screen at the outset, with his Hannibal Lecterish tale.

As for the overall impact of the film, I Tweeted this

The book remains the book, and this is an approach at telling its story, where what has been changed is essentially in the realm of detail and emphasis : it gives me the feeling that I should like to make room to reacquaint myself with what Dickens wrote, partly because much of the dialogue had been invented, but not in a way that an Andrew Davies does it with his adaptations.

However Dickens did describe the marshes, the combination of wide horizons and skilled cinematography gave a beautiful sense of space and of tranquility, only interrupted by the man-hunt (and by Joe’s wife calling out two miles away !). That said, the contrast with London, which seemed unnecessarily full of mud and offal (as if better arrangements would not – they may not have been in the book – have been made for Pip’s reception and conveyance to his lodgings), seemed a little contrived, as if the local market town would have been any different, except in scale. (We only see the inside of Pumblechook’s premises, not how Pip got there, nor, for that matter, have we much notion of where Miss H. and Estella are, in relation to anywhere else, at Satis House.)

As to the ending, well, it is suitably uncertain to pass, but that, and Estella’s story, is what I could most easily check. Whatever feels changed does not leave me unhappy, but there is that feeling, with ‘a classic’, that some of what one could happily have imagined were better not presented for examination and consideration, and that the more quiet ebb and flow of the story became more tidal. That said, it would still be with the invention of dialogue that I felt most out of sorts.

Thursday, 29 December 2011

180 years since Charles Dickens sneezed publicly in Cardiff - to great acclaim

More views of - or after - Cambridge Film Festival 2011
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)

30 December

No, it's the 200th anniversary of birth or death*, as usual, and, since we never know which, we don't know what we are celebrating
(and, to me, it seems inapt to celebrate the years since someone's death).

That said, if claims are to be made for Dickens, let them establish something that he would have thought worthwhile. And yet, on The Verb a few weeks back, Kevin Jackson told us that Dickens had innovated with the names of his characters, and with the supposed advantage over the big Russian novel (where, of course, we are willingly familiar with the tripartite system of naming, and cannot confess not even to trying!) that one could easily keep track of someone in, say, Bleak House because of the choice of name:

Well, as much as a name that I recognize in Dostoyevsky may recur and I recognize it by its shape, so names in that Dickens novel will be more easily identifiable and probably memorable, but it is a far cry from asserting that, on that account, I know what function that person performs in the novel. No, as with the less major characters in any novel, one sometimes has to look back to see who they are, and there the Russian novel anticipates the need with a Dramatis personæ.

Memorable names (and whether they are memorable just because quirky remains a separate, and unexamined issue - who can forget Tom Jones?) in a longer work do not, I believe, necessarily guide me as to who that person is in relation to everyone else, not least when (again in Bleak House) Dickens deliberately rattles on about the presumed oil-wells of the Reverend Chadband's countenance, or the perpetual need for a cushion to be readjusted, in such a way as to sabotage the progress of his own novel and distract our concentration.

Although, in Wemmick, for example, Dickens chose a very fitting name for its bearer, it is because I see him linked to his castle that I remember him for who he is, not because of the name per se.

At any rate, in a fanciful desire to laud Dickens for this above all else, the contributor to the programme dismissed, as their
novels not containing comparably witty or descriptive names, both Tobias Smollett (1721-1771) and Henry Fielding (1707-1754). This, without giving a single example, whereas the eponymous heroes alone of the former's Ferdinand Count Fathom and Roderick Random make demands on our attention. As for Fielding, Mrs Tow-wouse in Joseph Andrews is foremost in my memory, but the novel's pages are peppered with Tom Suckbribe, Jenny Bouncer, Sir Thomas Booby, Mrs Slipslop, Peter Pounce, etc.

If Dickens excels, without the endeavours of other writers at least a century before Dickens even being considered, such as Laurence Sterne (1713-1768), but only Shakespeare (who was only credited with Aguecheek and Belch, because he allegedly took all of his names from his sources), then so be it, but why give Dickens a crown that he doesn't exclusively deserve, and which does not even typify the best things about him?

(In fact, anyone who has heard of William's contemporary Ben Jonson, or who ever took a look at The Alchemist, would find it hard to understand what the fuss about names in Dickens is...)

Since posting the above, and in looking vainly for somewhere on Radio 3's web-site to leave a comment, I've now found the following work, a slim volume published in 1917 by Elizabeth Hope Gordon:

The Naming of Characters in the Works of Charles Dickens