Showing posts with label BBC. Show all posts
Showing posts with label BBC. Show all posts

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Neverwhere on BBC4

I have just finished listening to the BBC Radio production of Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere.  It is exciting to hear one of my favorite novels transformed into such drama; nothing unlocks inspiration quite like hearing a story unfold, and letting the visuals come to life inside the imagination.  Neverwhere, though it has its short-comings, is one of the richest worlds ever created... from the streets of London Above to the sewers Below, to conversations with rat lords and the bustle and chatter and chaos of the floating market.  It has its own rules, legends, and dangers.  The first episode made for an excellent, transporting hour that I was sad to see (or rather, hear) end. 
Episodes will be broadcast in 30 minute episodes this week through Friday, and then they will be available until the end of March.  Neverwhere features the voice talents of James McAvoy, Benedict Cumberbatch, Christopher Lee, Bernard Cribbins, David Harewood, Sophie Okondeo and Natalie Dormer.  Visit Mr. Gaiman's blog for a fun cast photo.
About Neverwhere
Click on this cast photo for a link to the program website!

Trust me - you want to make yourself an artist date and lose yourself in London Below this week!

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Jane Eyre 2011 in brief (Jillian)

Jane Eyre 2011 (Mia Wasikowska)

POSSIBLE SPOILER ALERT! While on the subject of Charlotte Brontë, I did see the current-most theatrical version of Jane Eyre, last week.

Things I liked:

1. The film begins with Jane’s trek across the moors and finding refuge in the cottage of St. John Rivers (Jamie Bell) and his sisters.

2. Mia Wasikowska, despite her youth, is very good as the reserved but passionate Jane.

3. The character of the house keeper Mrs. Fairfax (Dame Judi Dench) is given more depth and more of a meaningful relationship with Jane.

4. The film is visually stunning with tricks of lights (i.e. fire light) and shadows. As Jane struggles across the wet, dark moor to the Rivers’ cottage, one light in a window draws her into safety.

Things I didn’t like:

1. Mr. Rochester (Michael Fassbender) is too handsome, and, quite frankly, too creepy. His is a complicated character – always in danger of being portrayed as either too mysterious and angry, or too masculine and cold – an uncomfortable contrast either way to Jane’s youth and lack of knowledge of the world. In the film, this contrast is made far more sexual than it needs to be.

2. It was hard to trust the nuances of their relationship. The film definitely shows Jane and Rochester falling in love but fails to truly answer those nagging depth-questions: Why does Jane love Mr. Rochester? Other than wanting to escape from his insane and mostly-inhuman wife, why does Mr. Rochester love Jane?

3. St. John Rivers does not lose his temper and threaten Jane with eternal damnation in the book.

4. There were moments where lines, lifted almost exactly from the book, were delivered awkwardly, as if the actors were reading them aloud in a literature class.

Over all, I am still very much devoted to the 2006 miniseries starring Tobey Stephens and Ruth Wilson. So much of the novel is better developed in that format – there is more space and time to deepen the story (the friendship into romance, the secrets, the riddles from Rochester’s past, questions of the future) in ways a two-hour feature film cannot. On the whole, Jane Eyre (2011) is a good film, and as novels-into-films go, the 2011 is very faithful to Charlotte Brontë’s masterpiece, but it has more shadows than spirit.

Jane Eyre 2006 (Ruth Wilson)

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Why NOT combine jewel thieves, flying buses, wormholes, and man-eating aliens? (Michelle)

So, a few days ago I watched an interview with Russell T Davies in which he discussed the (then) upcoming (now past) Doctor Who Easter special, "Planet of the Dead." This is (more or less) how he summarized it:

So, the Doctor gets on a bus which, by coincidence, has also been boarded by an international jewel thief. They're actually in the middle of a police chase when the bus is transported through a wormhole to an alien planet, and they have to somehow get this bus moving when it's buried in sand, and the Swarm is on the way, so it's a race against time...really, a cautionary tale about the sort of thing that could happen to anyone.

Perhaps this sounds like drivel to you, but plots like this are the reason I doubt that I will ever get tired of Doctor Who --- it is composed of sheer narrative exuberance. This is how Doctor Who "saved my writing": at a time when I was very, very tired, and very, very sad, it helped me remember that story-telling is, above all, tremendous fun.

Russell T Davies' creations constantly remind me to enjoy my writing and my imagination, because the stories seem to start from this place of, "Hmm, what would I like to write about? Oh! I know! Jewel thieves! That's fun...and...wormholes! That's fun too! And desert planets! We could even film in Dubai, maybe..." And yet, from this place of ludicrous, larger-than-life, over-the-top, incredibly hyphenated narrative exuberance, comes what Julie Gardner calls "full-blooded emotion." It's possible to enjoy a rip-roaring good yarn and at the same time think about really important things like, say, the transience of the created universe.

Er...I'm trying to think of some clever way to end this post, but all my ideas are sort of trite. Another "All hail the BBC?" Another apology for posting on Doctor Who again? Mostly, I'm just wondering why I feel the need to start so many posts with "So." I think it's some leftover Anglo-Saxon impulse. Perhaps I should switch to "Hwaet" whenever I want to say "So."

Monday, February 9, 2009

In Our Time (Michelle)

In Our Time is a BBC Radio 4 program hosted by Melvyn Bragg. Each week, they assemble three or four experts on a given topic and let them talk about it for an hour. Topics range from "The Physics of Time" to "The Library at Nineveh," "The Sassanian Empire," and "The Fisher King." Yep, yet again, all hail the BBC.

I have a low-grade addiction to the program, meaning that I subscribe to the podcasts and they collect in my iTunes folder until I get sick and decide to listen to them, at which point I learn many, many cool things and wonder why I don't listen to them more often.

This week's program is about the Brothers Grimm, so I thought it might be of interest to the mythopoetic among us. I might even listen to it soon, even though I'm completely healthy!! You can download the program for free from iTunes, or you can go to the program website and click on "Listen to the latest edition." You can also browse around the archives, which is good fun.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

ShakespeaRetold (Michelle)

From dire illness, I return (gradually) to the land of the living and, hence, the blogosphere. And I return with a film recommendation that made me want to write like mad!

I've been exploring the BBC's 2005 miniseries, Shakespeare Retold. There are four 90 minute adaptations: Much Ado About Nothing (set in a provincial newsroom), The Taming of the Shrew (with Kate as a stroppy politician), A Midsummer Night's Dream (in a faux-rustic resort), and Macbeth (in a gourmet restaraunt).

Usually I avoid modern retellings of Shakespeare that excise the language, not from snobbish impulse but because they're usually just not very good. I do enjoy 10 Things I Hate About You as much as the next teenybopper, but it has to be said that just a tad of the original play's richness is lost, and I'm usually acutely aware the entire time that whatever is being said, Shakespeare said it better.

Not so with these adaptations. Occasionally I do miss the language (when Beatrice says, "I love you so much I can hardly breathe," I do wonder what was wrong with Billy Shakes' "I love you with so much of my heart that none is left to protest!"), but most of the time I'm just slavishly admiring the creativity of the scriptwriters and the skill of the actors.

In A Midsummer Night's Dream, for example, Peter Bowker captures the spirit of the conflict between nature and artifice in the original play with its touristy setting in DreamPark. Sally Wainwright, the scriptwriter of The Taming of the Shrew, makes some brilliant strokes as well, including some clever adaptations of the totally over-the-top, utterly un-PC farce of the original.

And there are so many good performances, too, but some of my favorites are Rufus Sewell's Petruchio, Shirley Henderson's Kate, Imelda Staunton's [Hip]Polly[ta], Dean Lennox Kelly's Puck, and Sarah Parish's Beatrice. If you like British TV, it's a good actor-watch. A good half of the cast have been on Doctor Who at some point or other.

The scripts are frequently eloquent, moving, and hilarious. For example:

"My advice to Titania and Oberon? Leave the forest. It's this place. It gets into your head. I mean, all this's not natural, is it?" (Puck)

"He just didn't want you to mistake him for one of the grown-ups. In reality, he's probably not more than about...six." (Petruchio's friend whose name escapes me.)

"Love is probably one of those things that a man grows into, like...jazz! And olives." (Benedick)

"If Beatrice doesn't watch it, she's going to grow into one of those women whose idea of a big night is a really big bowl of hommus." (Margaret)

"If you don't get it right, I'm going to turn you into a novelty key chain." (Oberon to Puck, of course)

A Misummer Night's Dream, written by Peter Bowker; starring Bill Paterson, Imelda Staunton, and Johnny Vegas

Much Ado About Nothing, written by David Nicholls; starring Sara Parish, Damian Lewis, and Billie Piper

Macbeth, written by Peter Moffat; starring James McAvoy and Keeley Hawes

The Taming of the Shrew, written by Sally Wainwright; starring Rufus Sewell, Shirley Henderson, and Stephen Tompkinson.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

James Moran and Writing for the Screen (Michelle)

I have been very sick this past week and have resembled nothing so much as a particularly large couch cushion (but only in my more energetic moments). Until I am feeling well enough to generate actual thoughts, this will have to serve to sustain the blog:

From the treasure trove at Den of Geek, Here's an interview with James Moran, another screenwriter, on the joys and perils of screen-writing. Moran has written for such sci-fi gems as Torchwood and Primeval, but to be honest, what makes him cooler than most of us is that he wrote the Pompeii episode in Series 4 of Doctor Who.

Be warned: he does occasionally talk about things like how hard it was to get to the screen, which is not what this blog is for. So, if you feel that may depress you, no one will judge you if you do not read the interview.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

David Nicholls, Tess of the d'Urbervilles, and Writing for the Screen (Michelle)

This Sunday, a BBC adapation of Tess of the d'Urbervilles was aired on American public television. I missed it, and in any case, I haven't read Tess --- it's one of those glaring gaps in my literary knowledge, not likely to be rectified any time soon. (Episode 1 is currently available to watch instantly on the website, if you are curious.)

However, if you visit the PBS website here, you'll find a link to an online conversation with the screenwriter, David Nicholls, at He is answering questions about the issues involved in screenwriting (particularly, adapting classics) until January 12. This is something that does interest me intensely, and I'd highly recommend checking it out.

Nicholls (IMDB profile here) also penned an extremely deft modern retelling of Much Ado About Nothing for the Beeb in 2005, as well as the quirky Starter for 10 starring James McAvoy.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Lorna Doone --- BEWARE SPOILERS!!! (by Michelle)

Last night I watched the 2000 BBC adaptation of Lorna Doone, and it has fired my soul with a single desire: namely, never to read Lorna Doone. I realize it's a beloved book of many, and the film had many good qualities. These include:

  1. The presence of the fanstastically named Honeysuckle Weeks (of Foyle's War fame) as John Ridd's sister;
  2. Barbara Flynn turning in a performance way too good for the whole project;
  3. Michael Kitchen in a Restoration-era wig;
  4. Jesse Spencer (Chase from House) with powdered face; and
  5. A valiant attempt by the villain to escape the whole ridiculous film via a pit of quicksand.
  6. Oh, and swashbuckling. Gotta love swashbuckling.

I'm posting about it, though, because it actually got me thinking about character. Specifically, how to write decent ones.

My main quarrel with the film is that the characters were inconsistent, and I couldn't figure out their motivations. This is fatal in a story that purports to be about deep-seated jealousies and hatred. Nothing was deep-seated for these people. I don't blame the screenwriter, Adrian Hodges, for this, as it seems to be more or less the structure of R.D. Blackmore's book that these people have very short attention spans.

At the beginning of the movie, the whole problem with a relationship between John and Lorna is that he's a Ridd and she's a Doone (i.e., Oh noes! Montagues and Capulets!). However, John shows almost no struggle in getting over this obstacle, and he's not like Romeo, detached from his family feud. Instead, he's filled with hate and at the heart of it...until he realizes that apparently, Doones can be pretty, and all the visceral hatred goes out the window.

Then, halfway through, we find out that ***SPOILER ALERT*** she's not a Doone after all! However, I can't help feeling that really, this would cause very little change in her familial feelings. They would get more complicated, but she would still feel like a Doone. Well, you would think so, but it is not so, my friends. In a moment that reminded me strongly of the end of Arsenic and Old Lace ("Elaine! Elaine! I'm the son of a sea cook!") she pretty much just said "SWEET!" and got on with her life.

Unfortunately, we still had a lot of story to get through, so the tensions then had to come from elsewhere, and they came from similar about-faces from characters who formerly had held onto certain principles for dear life. For example, the maid who was all smiles about Lorna and John earlier suddenly decides that her precious mistress can't marry a farmer.

The villain similarly had very obscure motivations. I'm sure the actor, Aiden Gillen, had a clear idea of his character, but the story sure didn't. Was he just a punk? Was he power-mad? Was he obsessed with Lorna? Did he love the Doone Valley? The movie offered all of these explanations, but none of them were particularly convincing. He just seemed to be a Bad Man. And I'm afraid his final demise had me in stitches...sorry...but he looked just like Tony Shalhoub at the end of The Imposters.

OK, I'm cheap-shotting a lot at easy targets, but this kind of inconsistency in character is much more common than you might think. I was ultimately highly unimpressed with what I saw of Season 1 of Heroes, because I felt that the scripts had many of the same problems. Take Milo Ventimiglia's character and his love interest: her father is dying, and she's making eyes at his nurse?? Her father's death was just a script vehicle to get the pretty faces together. Likewise, Ali Larter's character wakes up in a room spattered with blood and corpses, and in the very next scene, she's calling her son, saying tranquilly, "I'll be home soon, sweetheart." Where was the residual horror about her situation?

I'm just noticing a lot lately how often characters are just cardboard cutouts for the writers to walk through their outlandish situations. They're collections of quirks and qualities (this one has a really deep voice and a lot of anger; this one is addicted to painkillers; this one works in an art museum and is kind of funky), but they don't respond consistently to the events in their "lives."

This is why I have nothing but the deepest respect for Russell T Davies and Doctor Who, because the characters are, by and large, consistent (please enjoy the photo of Donna's character standing up to deep scrutiny). Even when the story's getting weird, he always remembers what his characters hold most dear, what they would think of first and foremost. Hence, we get the continual family theme in Rose's stories, and almost all the episodes in Series 2 comment in some veiled way on the sacrifices Rose and the Doctor will make for each other.

This is also why my favorite character in Lorna Doone was Anthony Calf's: Tom, the Reformed Highwayman. He actually responded to things consistently, didn't undergo any total metamorphoses. He was a criminal; decided to change his life; fell off the wagon; came back. He had much more consistency than anyone else in the whole thing.

Still, on general principle: ALL HAIL THE BBC! Even when they're not so great, they give me something to think about. And I don't mean to suggest that creating characters is easy: the fact that some of the most lauded shows in the business have trouble with it should tell you that it's hard. But absolutely worth doing!


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