Recently, I’ve watched a whole bunch of movies or miniseries that are based on literature. I haven’t had time to write real reviews of them, but I like talking about films almost as much as I like talking about books, so I thought I’d do a couple of quick mentions of some of the ones I have enjoyed or had something particular to say about.
A couple of months back, I saw Neil Gaiman’s BBC series Neverwhere. In this series, a young, ordinary London-dweller named Richard Mayhew comes into sudden and violent contact with London Below, an alternate version of the city populated by the fantastic, the terrible, and the mysterious. This contact leads to his disappearance — literally, he’s invisible — from his own ordinary sunlit world, and in order to get his life back, he must follow the Lady Door, the Marquis de Carabas, and a ruthless bodyguard named Hunter through an underworld whose existence he never suspected.
Neverwhere is kind of a reverse-bookish film, because the film version came first. Gaiman wrote the novel after the film came out (though the novel is a real novel, not a “novelization,” horrid thought.) The series is flawed. Richard Mayhew is too clueless. He never seems to catch on to the whole idea of London Below, and to be honest, you can’t blame him: it’s an unbelievably dense, complex, rich world with its own ancient customs, passwords, fiefdoms, and barter system, and Richard is dropped into it in media res, as it were. Still, I got tired of his flapping about in this-can’t-be-real fashion. It would have been more satisfying if he’d actually died in about episode two and we’d just followed Door and the Marquis on their adventures. Neil Gaiman is one of those authors who has more great ideas than any one man should ever be allowed to have, but sometimes the execution doesn’t match up. That’s how I felt about Neverwhere. Still, it was worth watching just for the ideas: the notion of London Below is so convincing that I’m surprised I haven’t seen Lonely Planet guidebooks for it.
Then I watched Masterpiece Theatre’s excellent recent production of Val McDermid’s A Place of Execution. In this two-part series, Juliet Stevenson plays a documentary filmmaker investigating a thirty-year-old mystery: the disappearance of a thirteen-year-old girl. As she sifts through the old evidence and interviews those witnesses who are still alive, she comes closer and closer to a shocking and dangerous conclusion that lies partly buried in her own memory and experience.
This production was hugely enjoyable. I was a little wary, because I have watched Wire in the Blood for years now (also based on Val McDermid’s books about Tony Hill, a psychologist and police profiler) and that show is without exception full of torture, sadism, and perversion. I finally had enough and not even the lovely Robson Green could tempt me back for more. A Place of Execution, however, while shocking enough, was a solid mystery. I’d watch Juliet Stevenson making macaroni and cheese in the microwave, and it also had Greg Wise in it, so this was outstanding. An absolute pleasure. See it if you can.
Finally, I recently indulged myself by watching my favorite version of Persuasion while I was grading papers. I don’t get as much done but I enjoy it a lot more! This is the version starring Amanda Root and Ciaran Hinds. Persuasion is my second-favorite Austen (after Pride and Prejudice) and so the quiet shaping of the plot always gives me pleasure: the family finances, the vanity of the baronet, the slow understanding of what, exactly happened (or didn’t) between Anne and Captain Wentworth. I love the humor of this book, and the maturity of it, and the true perspective on love. For my money, the most romantic of all her books.
So that’s been my literary film-watching over the past couple of months. Do you have a favorite book-based movie?