Dvds and their books

Over the spring and summer we have watched a number of dvds that are either film or TV versions of books we have (or have not yet) read. The photos below of the dvd covers, pages from my kindle and some actual books, are pretty third rate. I snapped them on my phone, trying to avoid wobbling or problems with reflections etc – not a great success but better than text only.

Our viewing has stretched over many most enjoyable evenings especially the TV programmes with several episodes. We are not avid television viewers and can be choosy about what we watch. These dvds have given us a chance to laze in front of the television if there has not been anything ‘live’ that we have wanted to see. The usual situation is that one or other of us has read the book so the film has inevitably been accompanied by a verbal commentary comparing the ‘real’ story with the screen version… It has applied the other way round in the case of North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell. We watched the TV series first then I read the book. As I worked my way through the novel Patrick had to hear my views, whenever I thought of something to say, on how the two compared. Surprisingly, these comparisons, whichever way round, have been interesting rather than inconvenient. The jury is out as to whether it is always best to read the book first.

We started with Middlemarch by George Eliot. This was a 6 episode BBC TV series in 1994 that we had not seen.  

What prompted us to watch it was that Patrick had recently read the book in this very early edition.

It is always fun to see how screenplay and acting, in this case designed for viewers in 1994, compares with the way that we think 19th century characters would have spoken and behaved. One of our regular comments is ‘they wouldn’t have said that – surely no-one used that phrase?’.

It was lovely to see both Stamford as the fictional town, Middlemarch, and the filming in Rome, the ‘honeymoon’ destination.

Our second dvd was the 2005 film of Under the Greenwood Tree by Thomas Hardy. My sisters gave me a complete set of Hardy’s works as a 21st present. Once I had ordered the dvd from Amazon, a month or two ago, Patrick decided to read the book. We waited until he had finished to watch the film. I read the book decades ago and had forgotten a lot about it so the story felt pretty new to me.

Here is the book, from the 21st birthday present set.

The location of the film was mainly in Jersey and fairly convincingly suggested idyllic rural ‘Wessex’. The plot of course has all the usual communication and emotional complications typical of Hardy. After watching the film, we spent some time running through the extras including interviews with actors and the producer. Memorable moments included when James Murray, the actor playing Dick Dewy, likened being a carrier in those days to being a ‘white van man’ now, and another when Ashley Pharoah, the screenplay writer, explained why he had changed the plot by using (complicating) situations from Far from the Madding Crowd.

Several years ago one of my sisters recommended reading Elizabeth Jane Howard’s Cazalet Chronicles. They consist of 5 books starting before the Second World War and ending in the 1950s. The books are The Light Years, Marking Time, Confusion, Casting Off and All Change. I enjoyed reading them, discovering that they were heavily autobiographical so reading Elizabeth Jane Howard’s memoir and Artemis Cooper’s biography, which I did later, included a lot of familiar territory.

The BBC’s 2001 series ‘The Cazalets’ covers the time span of the first two books and part of the third, up to 1942.

I have included the next four photos, pages from the books on my kindle, to indicate the time period covered by the final two of the Cazalet Chronicles. For those who enjoyed reading about the fictional Cazalet family these books provide as much information as is available and the TV series that ‘left out the end of the family story’ had the potential to disappoint. However we felt it was not just entertaining but though-provoking too, despite being abridged.

These next two photos are the covers of Elizabeth Jane Howard’s memoir, Slipstream, and Artemis Cooper’s biography, A Dangerous Innocence, referred to above.

Our most recent dvd is the 2004 TV series based on Elizabeth Gaskell’s novel, North and South. There are a number of striking aspects to the film starting with the depiction of the three main and totally different locations, Harley Street in London, a vicarage in the village of Helstone in the New Forest and Milton, an industrial town in the north.

Elizabeth Gaskell had plenty of personal experience of ministers and industrial towns which is reflected in this and other books that she wrote.

Now I have read the novel I think that, in the TV series, the depiction of the main female character, Margaret, matched the book very well. In the case of Mr Thornton, had I read the book first I would have imagined a slightly different person from the actor in the film. The pages of discussions in the novel about 19th century issues such as religion and industrial relations were, not surprisingly, omitted in the screen play.  

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