Monday, 21 May 2012

Video Saved The Literary Star - Part One

I'm not usually one for watching a lot of television (unless there's a major football or cricket event on), and that includes period drama adapted from classic literature.  However, over the past month or so, I've somehow got sucked into ploughing through several series, and some of it has been very good viewing.  So, today (for a change), I'll be reviewing some viewing rather than reading.  Don't worry - normal service will be resumed very soon ;

The catalyst for all this was the discovery that the ABC here in Australia was showing the recent BBC version of Great Expectations, spread over three Sundays.  I'd heard good thing about it from many British-based bloggers and tweeps, and (as my review of the book shows) I love the book.  While very different from the novel in places, the series was nevertheless very entertaining.  Gillian Anderson made a very believeably-unhinged Miss Havisham, and Ray Winstone did what Ray Winstone does in the role of Magwitch - made you very glad he wasn't really in your front room.

It wasn't all good though.  The first episode was probably the highlight of the mini-series, and in the later episodes Pip came across as extremely vain without the hindsight of the adult Pip's narration.  The fact that Pip was prettier than Estella (and, as I read on Twitter, should probably have been down for the London season instead...) was also a bit of a distraction - although curiously that didn't seem to bother my wife at all.  As for the ending... Well, let's just say that if a book has a decent ending, you really should just leave it alone...

While Great Expectations seemed unintentionally camp at times, Downton Abbey had its tongue firmly inserted in cheek (preferably someone else's).  ITV's version of a period drama, an adaptation in search of an original book, appears to have been created by someone who wanted the feel of a classic novel without the boring bits.  Which has actually turned out rather well, surprisingly enough.

We raced through a marathon session after the first series was repeated here in Oz, which probably means that Series Two will be shown at some point in the near future.  It was great fun, pantomime humour without having to leave your comfy living room, complete with a couple of nasty villains you feel compelled to boo and hiss at whenever they enter the stage screen.  The racist matriarch, the unfortunate Turkish gigolo, the beautiful setting, the eyebrows...  wonderful, all of it :)

Sadly though, not all of my viewing has been as enjoyable.  I had high hopes for He Knew He Was Right, having loved Anthony Trollope's novel when I read it last year, but sadly the four-part series was a bit of a disappointment.  It wasn't unwatchable, but compared to the sustained psychological excellence of the book, the television version came across as very lightweight and almost anodyne.

One problem was that the main character, Louis Trevelyan, came across as a weak, whinging milksop, rather than the confronting monomaniac depicted in the book.  In fact, I wasn't overly impressed with the casting for this series, with the honourable exception of Bill Nighy as Colonel Osborne, whose marvellous impression of a middle-aged gentleman channelling Robbie Williams was a delight to behold.

Of course, the major talking point was the breaking of the fourth wall (when the actors speak directly to the audience).  The first time it happened, I was simply stunned - what is he doing?  The more it happened, the more impatient I got (and I wasn't alone with this - my wife was also less than impressed).  In an attempt to get Trollope's style of avuncular discussion of the plot across to the viewer, the makers opted for an unusual method of getting information across.  Unfortunately, it made it even worse.

And no, even seeing Doctor Who pursued by two carnivorous Victorian ladies didn't make up for it ;)

That's all for today, but never fear.  I've been very busy with my period dramas recently, so I'll be bringing Part Two of my musings to you all very shortly ;)