As has already been discussed on this blog here and here, P.D. James is the best. What has previously been commented upon succinctly by my colleagues, will now be expanded upon heartily.
In my house, we have fallen in love with the television adaptation of James’ excellent mystery novels. The show is simply titled Dalgliesh, after the central Detective Chief Inspector figure. Each novel is covered by two episodes; therefore, each mystery is given an hour and a half of introduction, development, and resolution. The stories have that shimmer of reality because of the complex detail James devotes to them. More than that, our detective Dalgliesh feels real as well. Slowly, the audience is told that he is a somewhat famous poet, a widower, and a fully-fledged person with emotions and friendships.
I suppose it’s somewhat backwards to have started with the TV show and now gone back to the novels it’s based on, but that’s just how it goes sometimes. There are 14 Adam Dalgliesh murder mysteries to gorge yourself on. Woefully, there are only four print books and two audiobooks in our collection. But if you are intrigued, fill out a Suggest a Title form, and we will try to borrow a copy for you from another library system!
What was it that Shakespeare said? “My kingdom for a decent adaptation of Persuasion?” Some versions have gotten close, but we’ve yet to land on a definitive take (unlike, say, Pride and Prejudice, which is done, now please leave it alone forever). The latest brave soul to take a crack at Jane Austen’s final novel is Netflix, who takes misinterpretation of the source material to soaring new heights in an adaptation that is not only just plain bad, but bafflingly off-base. And it seems that many of us have taken that personally. By now, plenty of hilariously dramatic thinkpieces have been written on the ways in which this version fails. But all the hubbub got me thinking: there have been plenty of terrible movie adaptations of beloved books before. Why is this one so offensive?
First and most obviously, it takes Austen’s most mature, melancholic, pensive work about lost love and regret and tries to jam it into the shape of a romantic comedy. Then there’s the questionable dialogue, which switches wildly between the 19th and 21st centuries without any rhyme or reason (there’s a scene where protagonist Anne Elliot’s sister asks her how she would dance to Beethoven. Anne: “Alone in my room, with a bottle of red.” Where is the Beethoven playing from, in this scenario? Her Spotify account?), and also has the subtlety of a sledgehammer (I particularly enjoyed the scene where the mustache-twirling villain Mr. Elliot fully lays out his dastardly plans to sabotage Anne’s father’s relationship in the style of a Bond villain—and Anne has no problem going shopping with him later). The romantic lead Captain Wentworth—who carries himself with a dignified, wounded pride in the novel—has the air of a boxer who has taken one too many hits, always seeming a bit dazed; I have a hard time believing this version of him could craft the iconic “I am half-agony, half-hope” letter.
Summer may have just started, but is anyone else’s brain already in vacation mode? Are we all ready to be sitting on patios in the sunshine, sipping margaritas? If you need a little inspiration, or if you’re unable to head out into the sunshine just yet, now is a good time to dip your toes into summertime vibes with some hot weather movies. Below, I’ve pulled a list together of some of my all-time films for the summer season that you can find in the VPL catalogue (sorry, no Palm Springs or Fire Island just yet). But this list is by no means exhaustive (keeping it to five was a struggle, as you’ll see), so feel free to share your own favourites in the comments!
Before Sunrise (1995)
Really, any movie in Richard Linklater’s Before trilogy would be a good choice (take your pick of locale: Vienna, Paris, or Greece), but since Before Sunrise is the first in the series, it’s best to start there. The 1995 film takes place on a single summer day. Jesse (American) and Celine (French) are on separate paths, but those paths cross for a moment on a train. Deciding to make the best of fate, they disembark and spend the rest of the day (and night) wandering the streets of Vienna, deep in conversation. That’s literally the whole plot, so your enjoyment of this kind of movie hinges on how much you love listening to people talk. The acting is so naturalistic that it’s easy to mistake Ethan Hawke’s and Julie Delpy’s performances as improvisations. The Before trilogy holds a special place in cinema history for its sequel rollouts: Before Sunset catches up with Jesse and Celine nine years later, this time in Paris. It’s a treat to see how they’ve matured, and we’re gifted another glimpse into their lives with Before Midnight, which takes place another nine years later, this time in Greece. But Before Sunrise holds a special charm owing to Jesse and Celine’s youth, with all their naïve philosophizing, and the will-they-or-won’t-they pull between them. These are two actors who play beautifully off each other, Delpy with a keenly European romanticism (and prettily messy French girl hair) and Hawke with the depth to match it (he has recently come out with what is, in my opinion, the correct take on the “are superhero movies art” debate—something very in line with Jesse!).