Student Model Essay: Comparing a Novel and Film Adaptation

The Constant Gardener, novel by John LeCarre, compared to the movie adaptation by Francois Meireilles, Simon Channing-Williams, and Jeffrey Caine


by Sheraz Khalid
English 302BN2 Dr Moody
July 28, 2007

Africa is a continent still unknown to many non-African people. I am sure those who don't live in Africa know where it is, they don't at all know what is happening in Africa. Africa is a continent plagued by war, disease, death and corruption in the form of greedy businessmen and brutal military juntas. We see in the film these businessmen include those who work for drug companies and corrupt doctors and researchers. The few people who are actually trying to help the Africans often get caught up and stymied by the political behavior of these businessmen, pharmacists, physicians and companies (not to forget their hired bands of heavily armed murderers). A huge industry, the pharmaceutical companies, have started to use Africa as their testing grounds. Kenya, a country in Africa, is depicted in the novel, The Constant Gardener by John LeCarre. The novel was adapted into a film with the same name. There were many characters in the film, but I think the one that was not an single actor and was central to the experience is Africa. Africa is the central character of the novel and the film, The Constant Gardener.

The story in the film and in the book begins with the news of Tessa Quayle's death. Tessa is white and British, an idealist politically active wife of Justin Quayle, also white, British, an upper class diplomat in Nairobi, Kenya. The blame is immediately placed by complicit police and other diplomats on Arnold Bluhm, a handsome black doctor friend with whom Tessa worked and travelled. Justin was devastated by his loss, all the more because he suspects that his wfe was having an affair with Arnold. It is later found out that Tessa was not Bluhm's lover, and that Arnold was murdered and tortured to death. Justin learns that Tessa uncovered corporate wrongdoing on a large scale. KVH (renamed KDH in the film), a large pharmaceutical company working in Africa under cover of TB and AIDs test and treatments, is testing a drug for TB that has severe negative side effects. Rather than aiming to help people, KVH's aim is to make a large profit, so it covered up the side effects reported in the test, and is improving the drug, Dypraxa, with a view to make money on a massive TB outbreak. They will charge high sums for their patented drug. Justin travels around the world in order to find out more about Tessa's death and all that Tessa had discovered. He often travels under false identities because KVH is not the only guilty party making money: the corrupt politicans in the British foreign affairs department are aiding KVH and lining their pockets and living in luxury because of this too, and they and these companies hire killers to remove anyone who gets in their way.

John LeCarre begins the novel, The Constant Gardener with a concise strong evocation of the surroundings in Africa, its climate, its landscape -- and the poverty of the people. LeCarre writes: "In short, just another bloody Monday in late January, the hottest time in the Nairobi year, a time of dust and water shortages and brown grass and sore eyes and heat rippling off the city pavements; and the jacaranda, like everybody else, waiting for the long rains." LeCarre sums up th weather, the landscape and given gives an image of what people might be goiing through. One cannot even imagine the conditions of people three. The words do enough suggestively. Le Carre does a fine job setting up Africa in readers' minds this way repeatedly.

Although there are many such descriptions of Africa that stand out in LeCarre's novel, in my opinion, some carry more importance than others. One such is intertwined with Tessa's funeral and the great grief Justin, our narrator at that point, feels. LeCarre describes the Langat graveyard: "Langata graveyard stands on a lush plataeu of all grass and red mud and flowering ornamental trees, both sad and joyful. LeCarre continues to describe this graveyard. Le He writes: "the population of Kiberia is half a million and rising, and the valley is rich in deposits of sewage, plastic bags, colorful strands of old clothing, banana and orange peel, corncobs, and anything else the city cares to dump in it. This not only shows how poor and depressed Kiberia is, it also shows that its state goverment does not care or do much about it either. If the government cared, they would spend money to clean it up and maintain a healthy space. Another key facto plays a role is that ruthless corruption exists at the highest places. LeCarre fills us in with information about these governments and companies and agencies in the novel.

The film, The Constant Gardener is splendid with its evocative portrayal of the beauty and devastation of Africa. There are so many scenes in the film that show the current conditions of Africa: Kiberia, the bush, the luxurious places the diplomats live and eat too. People in the slums are shown living next to railroad tracks. Children run around with bare feet and half haked, or at times, totally naked. The scenes that shows people living near the garbage dumps looks like a breeding for unimaginable diseases. There is trash all over the place, and n some places there is dirty standing water. Again, a way to spread disease that could be prevented. We see scenes of physicians and thugs threatening the people who need medicine and Justin Quayle (Ralph Fiennes) who seeks information about Wanza Kiluhu (Jacqueline Maribe) who his wife Tessa (Rachel Weisz) claimed had been killed by drugs and the tests he sees going on.

One scene deleted from the film (it should not have been deleted) was included in the "special features" of the DVD and gives the viewer a vivid experience of daily life in Africa. It's the scene where Jomo (Bernard Otieno Oduor) leaves his hut in the slums to go to work in the city. We see him riding a bicycle and an African song plays as he moves along different typical scenes of African life. I have no idea what the words of the song meant, but the scenery shows how hard life is in Africa. We see that much economic activity takes the form of begging and exchanging junk; that people do hard physical labor and seem to produce little by it.

We get a such strong sense of Africa in the film that it functions like a character. This story could not have occurred in the way it did in another place. In Canada when Lara Emrich is murdered in the film (another deleted scene and the actress is not listed in the cast), it is a one-off death in an isolated place.

I usually enjoy films more than novels, but in this case it is hard for me to say that. LeCarre's book was also remarkable and I would recommend both the novel and film to get a full experience of the story and characters. Books and films like The Constant Gardener could raise awareness about Africa. I might have known by reading about Africa what is happening there, and in class we did read two articles by Marcia Angell, where she proved what is shown in the book is not fictional, but after seeing the film and reading the book I feel more strongly about the place and these wrongdoings.

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Page Last Updated: 6 August 2007.