Two Short Talks


by Michael Stakem

Last Orders: A Comparison of the Shifting Point of View in the Novel and use of an Ensemble Cast in the Film

October 11, 2003

By shifting the point of view in Last Orders between the different characters' voices, Swift is creating a puzzle that is slowly piece together. We get a slowly drawn history of the men and their network of friendships and relationships with one another and the women. In the book we have soliloquies or monologues alternating with chapters linked to places; inside these we move back and forth from present time to near-present to deep past; in the film, the memories of the book are replaced by (necessarily) present-time flashbacks that introduce us to each character, putting the puzzle together for us visually and chronologically, starting in deep past and bringing us up to near present.

RAY is the the main character, provides the central point of view
Book: He is heard in over 1/3 of the book.
He introduces us to all the characters.
Some of his chapters reveal his memories of the past
Some are about the trip and the present conversations.

Book & Film: open and close on him (pub and Margate).

Book: she has six chapters which are jumbled up memories of her past with Jack, Ray and June.
-- Remembering Margaret pier -- the past.
-- With June -- the present.
-- Remembering Wick's farm -- the past.
-- Margate where she wants to forget June -- the past.
-- Saying goodbye to June -- the present.
Her trip has no chronological order; we don't see her travel as we do in the film.

Film: Amy has a larger role. We see her much more. She opens the film; her goodbye to June is a climax. Her red coat is echoed in Jack's shop and elsewhere.
-- She and Ray spend much more time outside the hospital talking -- for flashbacks come this way.
-- More of a feminine point of view in the film.

Book: -- 2nd most important point of view.
-- We see him from a baby to childhood to adulthood.
-- His point of view in the book is more harsh, a womanizer, and a bully.
-- Even as a child on the trip to the beach, he got in the back of the meat van and thought: "I reckon she should've been impressed, that I did it for her sake." Even at a young age he had the idea that women owed him something. They were there for his pleasure.

Film: We seem to sympathize more. Winston plays him as deeply emotional; the meat van is a humiliation which leads to his wanting to be a monetary success and have swank cars.
-- By the end he seems to realize his faults.
-- We see him in terms of Lenny, Sally, and Jack and Amy.

Book: not many chapters.
-- Most chapters contain Vince but they are rivals.
-- Sad, a loser personality in the book.
-- He is ill, may die next.

Film: Archie Bunker personality.
-- He's in the back seat of the Mercedes.
-- He's in the back seat of life.
-- Vince much kinder and more patience in the fight at Wick Farm.

Book: few chapters
-- Yet many key revelations about characters come here.

Film: stays on track with the book.
-- Good father, husband, friend.
-- Tim Courtney gives sterling performance.

Book: -- Only one chapter and words from father, wastage.
-- Jack wasted his life, would not pick up wastage he caused.

Film: we see a lot more of Jack and it's Michael Caine.
-- But we still get a point of view on him; he's at a distance.
-- Only exception is when he is watching the race (pivotal moment).

Book: Book holds off key memories until the end.
Chronology provided by the journey to Margate.
Climaxes of book in past time through memories of Vic & Ray at Cathedrale, Amy next to June:

-- Movement forward, present time of four in car on journey
-- Events in present time are stop-off points that lead to memories.
-- Many stories at once like a carousel.

Film: Film does not hold off key memories until the end.
Flashbacks move forward chronologically.
Climaxes of film in present time with older characters:

-- Characters sitting on a bench have flashbacks.
-- Characters on the journey have flashbacks.
-- Wick's Farm and Margate come early in flashbacks in film.
-- But as in book, Amy and Ray's affair in camper saved until end.

Conclusion: I believe that by using the shifting point of view, Last Orders creates a puzzle that is revealed slowly and pieced together one memory at a time that made it easy to translate a moving book into a moving film.


by Mary Graham

Last Orders: A Comparison of the Shifting Point of View in the Novel and use of an Ensemble Cast in the Film

October 10, 2003


Friendship, decency, and loyalty are some of the themes in Last Orders. But as we all know, friendship means two sides to any story and when several people are involved there are several points of view. With that in mind, the shifting points of view used in the book provide a meaningful look into to the ins and outs of friendship. The gatherings at the pub, the Coach and Horses, repeated throughout the movie and novel give a first impression of camaraderie and friendly communication among long-time companions. But as the characters begin to tell us their perspectives on the events of their lives, we begin to see the disagreement and underlying discord that effects many of the story lines threaded throughout the book and film. In the book, Graham Swift achieves a rich dialogue by letting each character give his or her point of view on the critical moments of their lives, at least those moments that relate to Jack Dobbs. Their comments and observations build on each other and we start to get a deeper understanding of what they have lived through than if the story had been told from one point of view. This also allows us to see many story lines, both past and present, and parallel and serial, all relating to Jack Dobbs, the deceased.

Similarly, through a strong cast of actors and use of flash backs in the film, director Fred Schepisi pulls together the complex interrelationships of the characters. And of course it helped that the actors were all top-notch thespians and performers to begin with. They won an award for best ensemble cast in 2001. The actors do not try to outshine each other; which encourages viewers to recognize the importance of each character.

The movie does not have high drama or major suspense, but instead the actors give realistic and believable performances of ordinary happenings. Nothing is earth-shattering. Nothing leaves us stunned or amazed. On one hand, we begin to feel the melancholy brought on by poor decisions and the tension felt when people are not sure who to blame for those decisions, and on the other hand, we see the resilience of ordinary people living their lives in spite of those bad patches in the past. We also have the many flashbacks to deepen the story.

Body of the Talk

The subtleties of these tensions come out in the book through the varying points of view, while in the movie it suffices for us to see that each character has some flaw that either grates on the others or is accepted affably. For example, at one of the climax scenes -- the one at Wick's Farm -- Lenny is visibly angry at Vince in the movie. When it looks like Vince is going to scatter the ashes, Lenny says, "Toe-rag, He aint got no prior claim." We also read this in the book. We also know he is angry about Vince turning in Sally's husband over a stolen car. But the book shows us Lenny's doubt:

".. .You couldn't blame Vince for being the mixed-up tyke he was. So I suppose you couldn't blame me neither for being a soft-brained berk and wanting Sally to be part of their family too."

It is plain in both the book and the movie that Vince has moved on and does not have feelings for Sally. The whole situation with Sally isn't much on his mind. We see that he begins to be annoyed by Lenny's ribbing, but the movie only gives us an inkling about the real material connection between Lenny and Vince. Vince is facing difficult situations with his daughter Kath just like Lenny faced with Sally. They are not exactly the same problems but they both have to do with men and questionable behavior. The brief two lines of banter in the movie do not develop this parallel enough for us to hardly notice. But in the book, both men examine their relationships with their daughters in much more depth. We see that Lenny is still torn by his decision to persuade Sally to have an abortion many years ago and that decision put a rift between them that still exists. As we read Vince's words about Kath, we start to see that he is setting up the same kind of situation that very well will cause a similar rift in their lives..

Ray is the narrator of much of the story for several reasons: He is key to or involved in many of the story lines. In fact, over half of the book is from his point of view; the book is 295 pages and 161 of those pages are in his voice. He is directly involved in many of the story lines, past and present, including: carrying out Jack's last orders, raising money to pay off Jack's debt, his affair with Amy (Jack's wife), and his part in the overall theme of recalling memories and unresolved or unfulfilled dreams brought on by Jack's death. His voice is even and controlled, much like he describe himself:

"Everyone wants to believe in hunch bets, and it may look like luck but it's ninety- per-cent careful clerking, it's ninety-per-cent doing your sums. I aint worked in that insurance office for nothing."

He comes across as the most thoughtful of the group, both in the film and the novel. As Lenny says,

"But you have to watch Raysy. Just when you think he aint got no advantage he pops up and surprises you, he pops out and does something canny. It's like he hides behind being small."

In addition to Ray's point of view, in the book, we read the views of six other characters. Amy, Vince, Lenny, Vie, Mandy, and even Jack all give us insights into their view of the world. I've looked a little bit at Vince and Lenny's views. I found their voices the most similar concern for their daughters, contrasted with lusting after women in Lenny's case, Amy, and in Vince's case, any woman at all. The movie does not show Lenny's feelings for Amy, other than his belief that she should be traveling with them to Margate to scatter the ashes.

In one chapter about midway through the book, Mandy fills in the gaps of how she became part of the family. Amy's chapter are mostly at the end, although near the beginning of the book, she has a brief chapter that shows she is spending the day with June. The movie does a good job of bringing out her thoughts when she talks with Ray and June, and through lots of flashbacks. Her mood in both mediums is resolved. We don't know if she is leaving June behind because she feels overwhelmed to be on her own or if she has plans to move on. That is left kind of ambiguous.

Vic is the peacekeeper in the group. He is also the most discreet. We see that he values life and honors the dead. Expatiation (discussion of quotations from book and descriptions of scenes from film).

Jack's voice comes just 10 pages before the end of the book. He is talking about his dad's advise on business and says, "You got to keep a constant eye on wastage, constant. What you've got to understand is the nature of the goods. Which is perishable." Jack perishes. For Vince it is way back at Wick's Farm years ago, "He doesn't look like my dad Jack, he looks like he could be anyone... but he was already teetering, toppling, on top of that hill, and he couldn't stop himself." And later when Vince tries to get him to work for the supermarket, "Stay put if you want. It's your funeral."

For Amy, it was in Margate on their honeymoon; Jack did not choose her.

For Ray, it was at the very end, "But Jack don't want value for money, he wants a one-off winner to end all winners, to save his bacon... He's not in the business of averaging out." "We ain't here to do the honours and pay respects to Jack because he worked so hard on his own nature that he turned into something else. We're here because he was Jack." Lenny (176).

Mary then concluded with a general discussion of the uses of the point of view and ensemble cast.

Throughout this summation of all her points, she used the following chart:

Last Orders (New York: Vintage, 1996): : A comparison of the shifting point of view in the novel and the use of an ensemble cast in the film.

Ray: 161 total
1-18, intro Bemie/Coach p 1, intro Lenny,
Vic p.2, Jack p 3, Vince, Amy, Joan p 6,
Mandy p 7
21-22, Pam 21
46-60, Susie 51
144-152 (150-152)
256-266 (262 Margate)

Vince: 42 pages total
23-25, intro Kath 23

Vic: 29 pages

Lenny: 26 pages
40-45, intro Sally

Amy: 24 pages

Mandy: 10 pages

Jack: I page

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Page Last Updated: 13 October 2003.