Part Three

May 14, 2002

Note: these postings on the film were written 11 years ago and I've changed my mind about the film a lot. I've studied films and Davies's work carefully; also written professionally and blogged a great deal on film. I leave these there as a record of how I did once understand the mini-series and how the others who contributed to the threads understood the mini-series.

Re: David Yates & Andrew Davies's TWWLN: Part Three

First I'll respond to Patricia about Mrs Hurtle in the film adaptation: in Part Three. While we get a scene where she fiercely threatens Paul, she simply fades away personally. Hetta (Paloma Baeza) grows into a rigidly indignant maiden and her mother and brother become human barriers between her and Paul (Cillian Murphy) in a scene which is blocked in ways parallel to those in which Mrs Pipkins (Michele Dotrice) and Mrs Hurtle (Mirando Otto) become human barriers between Ruby Ruggles (Maxine Peake) and Felix Carbury (Matthew MacFayden), but the actress and presence of the character is suddenly marginalized. Mrs Hurtle appears but once in Part Three: in another of these dinner scenes she begins to talk of whipping or shooting Paul: a bit absurdly as Mirando Otto doesn't look in the least brutal and strong enough to pulverize the wiry-muscular Cillian Murphy (even if he does have a curiously feline smooth face, somehow effeminate).

I liked Part Three and surmize it probably engages more viewers more readily than Parts One and Two and was myself alertly watching. It shifts us away from the grotesque comedy and wit and distancing techniques of Parts One and Two, and takes us into dramatic melodrama. Hence the marginalizing of Mrs Hurtle whose acting was directed so that it was partly tongue-in- cheek. In this episode several of the characters move into desperately dramatic moments, and we get pairs of people interacting intensely with one another in a kind of parallel succession: first Paul and Hamilton Fiske; then Breghert and Melmotte, then Hetta and Marie, then Georgiana against her father and brother, then Paul and Mrs Hurtle, a strong scene between Paul and Roger (Douglas Hodges again comes into his own), Hetta and Paul, and so it goes. Pair after pair, with Melmotte turning up more and more frequently inbetween them, getting more and more intensely involved in his office. This way of presenting Trollope in this episode coheres with Judy W's comment last week. The clown tie for Suchet as well as filming him in outlandish posturings was much less in evidence: he was photographed up close sweating, upset, now in his office with Croll (Alan Corduner), now at home with his daughter, and towards the end the scenes in Parliament where he is shouted down, silenced, embarrassed. We see his vanity has been his downfall. As in Trollope's book, the film emphasizes that the unscrupulous of campaigning ironically brought out the truth that this man lives on the edge of bankruptcy.

The trouble here is it went too fast. Now I felt what a couple of other people suggested: there was not enough time given over to slow development. Four episodes, even if two are two hours, are just not enough. Suddenly out of nowhere the Barbie doll-Marie (Shirley Henderson) erupts into a bitter woman. There's just not enough development here. The Felix-and-Ruby subplot goes too fast; it's as if the scenes refer to a cliched plot about seduction we are supposed to pick up without the cast having to act it out. I did notice another change from Trollope's text, this time in the direction of upbeat conventionality: Ruby looks grateful to John Crump (Nicholas McGaughey) when he rescues her; she looks on admiringly as he beats up Felix. Trollope's Ruby is a lot less the complacent woman-doll: in general this film adaptation is less sympathetic to women than Trollope himself, much less.

This third episode also is locked into Trollope's story and character is a function of plot so suddenly the characters are moving towards the literal resolutions of Trollope's novel. The film becomes much less interesting as following such a story line precludes the kinds of suggestions of life and emotion that take us outside these conflicted courtship plots (which are so limiting). I don't see that Lady Carbury (Cheryl Campbell) is as interesting this time as in the opening four hours: again she too is dwindling into simply the conventional idea of a over-protective mother. There is a taboo against older women being sexy so Jill's sense of this character as lean, aggressive, sexy is just not allowed. She must be turned into the anxious mother, and her lover a thin man we all see is too old to do much :).

Only Suchet and Henderson don't belong to such a plot: Melmotte as played harshly by Suchet would laugh this stuff to scorn as nonsence and the Marie of the film (this is different from the Marie of the book) has now resolutely turned away from pretenses which lead to resignation into marriage. (The Nidderdale like all the males at the Beargarten are wooden figures, emasculated and impotent in this film.) So these two characters and the people who play them emerge as interesting. The one character in the film whom Melmotte- Suchet has a relationship with for real is Croll-Corduner. I note the director and screenplay writer dropped Cohenloupe: again such a character in a modern film would be seen (probably rightly) as piece of anti- semitism. There has been such a build-up for Paul- Murphy and Felix-MacFayden that they compete with Suchet and Henderson for our attention and like them remain in our memory as theatrical and colourful still,

So I found Parts One and Two much more entertaining, intriguing and thought-provocation than Part Three although Part Three is perhaps more emotionally engaging.

In the US version we had Russell Baker again commenting at the close of the film on the book. Again he made very good comments, this time on Trollope's attitude towards Jews as far as we can discern it from his novels. He did use the word "lout" in the American sense. I noticed that because of a debate we had on this list: for Baker (as for me) the word "lout" carries a strongly negative connotation; he called Felix a lout in gentleman's clothes. I am enjoying Baker's little talks about the novel after each episode almost as much as I am enjoying the film. He understands the book; I wish he had the daring to comment more openly on the film.

Cheers to all,

Date: Thu, 9 May 2002

Hello all

I enjoyed Ellen's comments on the TV version of 'The Way We Live Now'. It's a few months since this was shown in Britain, but memories come back vividly when I read the views of people watching it now in the US.

Ellen wrote

I noticed Yates and Davies' Georgiana is not given the harsh ugly lines Trollope's Georgiana has (which would make her unacceptable today); they chose an actor to play Breghert (Jim Carter) who far from fat, ugly, and "greasy" was a tall, strapping man with a Roman kind of nose -- very handsome, dignified, and strong (in the US an actor who really looked like Trollope's imagined man would elicit protests of feeding into anti-semitism).

As I remember, Georgiana does become extremely unacceptable later in the series, betraying very ugly anti-semitism. When I watched the series, I remember feeling that she was too outspoken and spelt out her prejudiced views too starkly instead of cloaking them in a polite form, as she does in the letters in the novel. Here, she demands money in the form of an expensive house etc, but keeps it all icily formal.

I did like Jim Carter in the role of Breghert, although I was slightly distracted by memories of him in other roles - he has starred in a couple of modern soap-type dramas in Britain. I never really pictured Breghert as ugly or "greasy" while reading the novel. assuming that this was Georgiana's prejudice speaking, and that Trollope was writing with irony. In her book 'Trollope and Women', Margaret Markwick suggests that the portrayal of Breghert is affected by anti-semitism, but I must say I took it to be just the opposite - that Trollope is questioning prejudiced attitudes by making it very clear that Georgiana is the cynical, money-grabbing one, while Breghert has an idealistic view of love and wants to find a wife who can share every aspect of his life. I know there are anti-semitic attitudes in some of the other novels, such as The Eustace Diamonds, but this didn't really strike me in The Way We Live Now.

Suchet's portrayal of Melmotte in the series has also been accused of encouraging anti-semitism - Rory earlier posted a link to a ranting review by TV critic AA Gill, who got very angry about this. I didn't feel this was really borne out either, because Suchet's portrayal is surely not as unsympathetic as Gill assumes - in many ways he makes Melmotte an attractive figure, who shows up the hypocrisy of others.

John Sutherland has included an article in one of his literary puzzle books, 'Is Heathcliff a Murderer', which asks 'Is Melmotte Jewish?' The answer is maybe, maybe not - he points to conflicting evidence in the text and also in Trollope's notes and number-plans. Sutherland also has another piece about TWWLN in 'Who Betrays Elizabeth Bennet?', entitled "How criminal is Melmotte and when is he criminalized?', and he has included a more in-depth study of the novel, looking at Trollope's working methods, in his book Victorian Fiction: Writers, Publishers, Readers

Bye for now
Judy Geater

Date: Fri, 10 May 2002

I can't think of anyone in Trollope who is presented as simply very evil or monstrous. He has a line about two very petty sordid types in Castle Richmond which suggests he was very conscious of his avoidance of this easy-out for readers. Trollope has some remarkably nasty cold selfish and harmful people -- Undy is one of these. But there is always a humanizing or softer needy side to them all; if nothing else, we are made to sympathize with them when they suffer.

The Three Clerks does make an interesting comparison with TWWLN: taken together they show that Trollope's interest in swindling, the financial-industrial part of capitalism, daily real work on the world is nothing new in TWWLN or his short stories.

Let me switch the talk to the film adaptations: Judy's comment made me think of how differently Dickens's novels are adapted than Trollope's. There is every effort to make Dickens's stories into visual fantasies, extravagant, highly theatrical; the street life of London turns into a Dantean nightmare jungle. Trollope's novels are rarely turned into women-centered love stories in the manner say of Wives and Daughters: his use of landscape and place is not exploited. The scenes are heavily encounters between individuals in social drawing-rooms -- and nowadays bedrooms too :). I find this interesting and wonder which film types, motifs, cliches adaptations from Dickens allude to as opposed to the choices for Trollope.

To my American eye Suchet did not seem very Jewish. Jim Clark did and I liked that they chose someone tall, strongly built, and conventionally dignified- upright-handsome. I admit it would have distressed me had a fat "greasy" actor been chosen -- I suggest many Americans would have seen such a choice as anti-semitic in and of itself. They wouldn't care about Trollope's text; I differ from Judy in reading the descriptions of Breghert as meant to be objective enough to be somewhat accurate, not simply subjective ugly talk or views by the Longestaffes. It is Trollope being grating; he is deliberately making the man very unromantic so that Georgiana will reject him with ease. I can see people saying that this kind of portrait would have fed into anti-semitism among some or even many Victorian readers.

Cheers to all,

Date: Sat, 11 May 2002

I haven't studied this at all, but I think Dicken's prose style is so much more "cinematic" than Trollope's--the more rapid shifts in scenes, the exaggerated characters who are often characterized by their speech and appearance, the amount of description of atmosphere, landscape, weather. There's more motion in the novels themselves somehow. Trollope's characters would have to reveal themselves through conversation, I think.

Judy Warner

When the BBC film first aired in Britain:

From: Michel Faber
Subject: film adaptations of Victorian novels (was: Brief Review of the film adaptation of Trollope's TWWLN in TLS)

Ellen Moody quoted and discussed a TLS review of the television adaptation of Trollope's The Way We Live Now.

In response to my summary and quotation from the TLS review of the TV film adaptation of Trollope's The Way We Live Now I had the following reply which speaks to objections some people have voiced to David Suchet's ating and other individual casting choices in the film

I wrote

The bit parts -- Croll the clerk, the Marquis of Auld Reekie and Dolly Longestaffe -- are strongly supportive. It is the 'good' characters, those with a complex inner life, who have a hard time of it. Paul Montague, Roger Carbury nd Hetta Carbury have a struggle to express their vacillating feelings from beneath their wigs and heavy make-up. Trollope creates his characters from a mass of atmospheric description and analysis of motive. On screen, this is often reduced to the baldest dialogue ....

Then Michel Faber replied:

"These 'good' characters are, of course, no more hampered by wigs and make-up than the supporting players, nor are they any differently created by Trollope. The real problem with screen adaptations, and the real reason why supporting characters are often so much more convincing and nuanced than the leads, lies in movie economics and artistic compromise. The modus operandi of historical adaptations has long been that excellent, interesting character actors are employed to pay the 'bit' parts -- the grotesques and eccentrics and shadowy relatives in the novels -- and that their dialogue will be permitted to remain quite faithful to the author's text. The names of these (often elderly and/or physically unhandsome) actors are felt to add a 'touch of distinction' to the cast list.

However, when it comes to casting the lead characters, the accountants and producers come out in force. The accepted wisdom is that you simply MUST use actors who are "guaranteed" to be "attractive" to the viewing public -- either physically beautiful, or famous/popular, or winningly likeable, or a combination of all these. The theory is that viewers will not bother watching otherwise.

When it comes to the principals, the script/dialogue also comes under an enormous amount of pre-production scrutiny, to make sure that it fits in with current notions of how an attractive person "ought" to behave, by modern standards. The subtext is that the grotesques and the minor characters can be free to offend modern sensibilities because they "deserve" to be stuck in history, but the leads ought to have "universal" (ie, modern) appeal. Whenever you watch an adaptation of Dickens, Austen or whoever, and you're struck by how clunky or inappropriate the dialogue of the principal characters is, what you are hearing is very likely some compromise thrashed out by script doctors, editors and the actors themselves, to iron out what's imagined to be the author's deficiencies in political correctness, etc.

I am not suggesting that books can or ought to be filmed with no changes; this would make them unfeasibly long and would fail to exploit the unique potentials of film (I would cite The French Lieutenant's Woman as a good example of a movie that made radical changes to a book with admirable results), but I do suggest that until producers and scriptwriters credit their audiences with sufficient intelligence to understand that people in the past were not our clones dressed in funny clothes, we're likely to keep getting not- terribly-satisfactory lead characters. "

Best wishes,
Michel Faber

Date: Mon, 10 Dec 2001

Although no one here has picked up on Tim Phillips's interesting query on the difference between what we find in Trollope's implicit text and Andrew Davies's explicit dialogue in the screenplay for the film adaptation of the novel, someone on Victoria did, and he has given me permission to cross-post it.

From Robert Ward:

"Tim Phillips asked

On the televisation of The Way We Live Now, during the last part (Sunday, 2nd December) Mrs. Hurtle, during a visit to her by Hetta, employs innuendo about seaside resorts in inferring that she slept with Paul at Lowestove - if my memory serves me she says something along the lines of "Well, we all know why men take women to the seaside, do we not Miss Carbury?". This is interesting to me since I am writing a cultural history of nineteenth-century Russian resorts. However, when I searched Trollope's long text, and the scene in question in particular, I could not find any such direct reference to the general behaviour of people at the seaside. Could someone who is rather better acquainted with the text tell me if such any such references do exist, or if the BBC created them for the series. In either case it is interesting."

It looks like the BBC created it to suit modern tastes. The relationship between Paul Montahue and Mrs Hurtle is left vague - partly because Trollope had an eye on just what he could sell to his audience, and partly because as a competent writer he expected that his readers would automatically Assume the Worst.

In the novel, the most important exposition comes in chapter LXVII, where Trollope indulges in a masterly display of innuendo designed to make his middle-class readers draw their breaths and let everyone infer what they please.

Mrs Hurtle is always presented as a lady with a somewhat colourful past - and an American to boot! (Was he giving a sly dig in revenge for his mother?) There are several references to an engagement between them, but the precise nature of it is unclear. We are led to understand that Paul met Mrs Hurtle somewhere in the US (various locations are hinted out), certainly became friends, and that the friendship was of a nature that an engagement of marriage was to be inferred. Mrs Hurtle is alleged to be a widow (we discover near the end that she has a Kansas divorce which may not be valid outside that State, and that her husband is in fact alive). She has followed Paul to London, lives there in lodgings without any relatives or any obvious means of income. She claims an engagement, Paul seems to think that if there was one it has now expired, but nevertheless that does not deter him from visiting her at her lodgings - and when he does so, Trollope places it clearly in the context of the Sir Felix-Ruby sub-plot. Trollope clearly wished his Victorian readers to understand that this was a Shady Lady. And then Paul takes her to Lowestoft - in Victorian terms this was a definitely risque thing for a gentleman to do if he was not related to a lady, even if he was engaged to be married.

Robert Ward

Date: Sat, 09 Feb 2002

Concerning the BBC TV series on TWWLN, I read recently that it was David Suchet's own view to play Melmotte like Maxwell. He looked at film footage and listened to tapes of his voice in order to model himself on him. So it was not a director or producer's initial view it would seem, but something the main actor wanted to pursue.


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