Saturday, December 31, 2011

Great Expections Fulfilled

Highlight of a very poor (the worst-ever?) Xmas TV schedule was a brilliant three-part dramatisation of Great Expectations on BBC1.

Writer Sarah Phelps did a drastic prune which has filled newspaper letter columns and blogs everywhere with howls of anguish from those who deify Dickens.

The truth is Dickens is very rarely read word-for-word nowdays. It may very well be that he never was. Some of his meanings and references are simply lost in time; his mawkish sentimentality is simply unfashionable. But the main reason we all skip some passages is that Dickens wrote for weekly serialisation. He had no choice but to persist with characters and themes that seemed like good ideas up front but which didn't catch fire in writing.

I therefore loved what Phelps did with this version. She focused on the central characters - Pip and Estella, Magwitch and Miss Havisham - and allowed only those secondary characters essential to their stories.

The performances were excellent all round - I can't recall a bad one. This is largely because the sparse dialogue allowed the actors to act. The direction and photography were superb. But my top plaudit has to go to Sarah Phelps. Her dramatisation did what BBC dramatisations are supposed to do - it sent me back to the book, which I haven't read since I was an undergrad and which I am now enjoying almost as much as I enjoyed the dramatisation.

And you bet I'm skipping over the grotesques and non-starters.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Parrot and Olivier in America - book review

I have very much enjoyed reading Peter Carey's latest, but then I am a Carey fan, a great enthusiast of the picaresque and currently immersed in the art of printmaking which is a subsidiary theme here. I like the risks Carey takes with timeshifts and, overall, accept that two alternating voices adds to the form. The protagonists aren't equal, though. Parrot is the mystery, whose real name only occasionally appears, whose precise age we never know and who has a whole raft of adventures in Australia which are only peripherally referred to. The book may have achieved greatness if it had all been seen from Parrot's viewpoint but I suspect Carey began with his take on the real-life experiences of de Tocqueville, author of Democracy in America, and couldn't bring himself to leave it when Parrot came to dominant life. Not quite The History of the Kelly Gang but a fine novel nonetheless.

Saturday, December 03, 2011

Would you rather?

Would you rather the BBC didn't transfer its new Graham Norton vehicle for BBC America to the UK? It's yet another parlour game in which celebrities (and to be fair the guests on the first two shows included real celebrities, Stanley Tucci and Cyndi Lauper respectively) answer witty questions with wittily scripted answers and the odd ad lib. You can imagine the domestic equivalent with Micky Flanagan and Gloria Hunniford.
I just wish Norton would bring the edginess back. The guest list for the current series of his chatshow has been so slippers and cardigan I haven't been drawn to watch a single ep. And as for his appearance in that truly hideous Xmas ident---