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Sunday, June 8, 2008

Sometimes I really hate Andrew Davies. . .

This is one of those times. I know the man wrote the wonderful Colin Firth/Jennifer Ehle 1995 Pride & Prejudice so could be forgiven for almost everything, but he wrote a new version of my beloved A Room With a View and it's utter shit so now I have to rave against the old coot.

Yes, yes I know what you're thinking, how could I possibly watch it unbiasedly when the Merchant Ivory A Room With a View is one of my favorite movies of all time? Honestly it was damn difficult!

In order to illuminate my problem with the film, I will dissect two of the mystifying choices made by Mr. Davies in his script.

1. He was compelled to set the film after a WWI tragedy and then have the story revealed as flashbacks to "happier" or "more innocent" times. I found this device completely unnecessary and quite a bit distracting. The novel was published in 1908 so this choice just completely baffled me and I assume that Mr. Davies did it in an attempt to put his own little stamp on the story. It didn't do anything for the Lucy Honeychurch character in my opinion. It did not give her or the story more depth, it just created tragic drama where it wasn't needed and was never intended by E.M. Forster.

2. This is the long one, so bear with me please. In the novel the Emersons are not of a lower class than Lucy or Cecil Vyse, they are merely eccentric "free thinkers" which made them frowned upon by Lucy's regular society. In this new version however Mr. Davies chose to write the Emersons as being of a lower class. This class distinction was partly exhibited by Mr. Davies robbing the character of George Emerson of his more gloriously romantic speeches and then partly by the actor playing George Emerson using a lower class sounding "accent" which made him sound ridiculous and slightly stupid. To really understand what I mean, indulge me please, and compare the scenes where George tries to convince Lucy not to marry Cecil:

First read the scene from the novel here:

"You don't mean," he said, absolutely ignoring Miss Bartlett—"you don't mean that you are going to marry that man?"

The line was unexpected.

She shrugged her shoulders, as if his vulgarity wearied her. "You are merely ridiculous, " she said quietly.

Then his words rose gravely over hers: "You cannot live with Vyse. He's only for an acquaintance. He is for society and cultivated talk. He should know no one intimately, least of all a woman."

It was a new light on Cecil's character.

"Have you ever talked to Vyse without feeling tired?"

"I can scarcely discuss—"

"No, but have you ever? He is the sort who are all right so long as they keep to things—books, pictures—but kill when they come to people. That's why I'll speak out through all this muddle even now. It's shocking enough to lose you in any case, but generally a man must deny himself joy, and I would have held back if your Cecil had been a different person. I would never have let myself go. But I saw him first in the National Gallery, when he winced because my father mispronounced the names of great painters. Then he brings us here, and we find it is to play some silly trick on a kind neighbour. That is the man all over—playing tricks on people, on the most sacred form of life that he can find. Next, I meet you together, and find him protecting and teaching you and your mother to be shocked, when it was for YOU to settle whether you were shocked or no. Cecil all over again. He daren't let a woman decide. He's the type who's kept Europe back for a thousand years. Every moment of his life he's forming you, telling you what's charming or amusing or ladylike, telling you what a man thinks womanly; and you, you of all women, listen to his voice instead of to your own. So it was at the Rectory, when I met you both again; so it has been the whole of this afternoon. Therefore—not 'therefore I kissed you,' because the book made me do that, and I wish to goodness I had more self-control. I'm not ashamed. I don't apologize. But it has frightened you, and you may not have noticed that I love you. Or would you have told me to go, and dealt with a tremendous thing so lightly? But therefore—therefore I settled to fight him."

Lucy thought of a very good remark.

"You say Mr. Vyse wants me to listen to him, Mr. Emerson. Pardon me for suggesting that you have caught the habit."

And he took the shoddy reproof and touched it into immortality. He said:

"Yes, I have," and sank down as if suddenly weary. "I'm the same kind of brute at bottom. This desire to govern a woman—it lies very deep, and men and women must fight it together before they shall enter the garden. But I do love you surely in a better way than he does." He thought. "Yes—really in a better way. I want you to have your own thoughts even when I hold you in my arms," He stretched them towards her. "Lucy, be quick—there's no time for us to talk now—come to me as you came in the spring, and afterwards I will be gentle and explain. I have cared for you since that man died. I cannot live without you, 'No good,' I thought; 'she is marrying some one else'; but I meet you again when all the world is glorious water and sun. As you came through the wood I saw that nothing else mattered. I called. I wanted to live and have my chance of joy."

"And Mr. Vyse?" said Lucy, who kept commendably calm. "Does he not matter? That I love Cecil and shall be his wife shortly? A detail of no importance, I suppose?"

But he stretched his arms over the table towards her.

"May I ask what you intend to gain by this exhibition?"

He said: "It is our last chance. I shall do all that I can." And as if he had done all else, he turned to Miss Bartlett, who sat like some portent against the skies of the evening. "You wouldn't stop us this second time if you understood, " he said. "I have been into the dark, and I am going back into it, unless you will try to understand."

Her long, narrow head drove backwards and forwards, as though demolishing some invisible obstacle. She did not answer.

Ok, still with me? Here is that scene with the free thinking, romantic, eloquent George from the Merchant Ivory version:

And here is that same scene with the new "lower class" George (the scene I want you to watch starts at about 6:20 in):

Do you see what I mean? Do you see how the way Mr. Davies chose to write his script completely changed the character and robbed George of his eloquence? It was maddening to me as I watched it. Worse, it made me not like George and part of the fun and tension of the story is that you are rooting for Lucy to open her eyes and heart to George!

The only thing I liked about the new version was Mark Williams (Arthur Weasley - tee hee) as Mr. Beebe. He was quite delightful, but then Mr. Beebe is such a delightful character that it's kind of hard to get him wrong.

Ok, that's my rant. If any of you actually read this to the end and watched the videos, thank you, thank you, thank you very much.

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