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Reviews

One part romance, one part comedy and two parts a send up of the upper classes by one of their own – but no happy endings in this pursuit of love

Ever heard someone say, ‘love the book but hated the film?’ The main reasons being major changes to the plot and the actors more no relationship to how the reader had imagined them. It’s a reoccurring sentiment with few people feeling that almost any film or TV adaption fails to live up to the original. And so it seems to be with Nancy Mitford’s parallel novels of Love in a Cold Climate and The Pursuit of Love set in the 1930s and 1940s. Published in the 1940s after the war the books have been adapted for the screen several times.

Directed by Donald McWhinnie, Thames Television’s 1980 production featured the two novels in an eight part series. It starred Lucy Gutteridge as Linda and Rosalyn Landor as Fanny and the novel’s narrator while in 2001 The BBC featured Rosamund Pike as Fanny and Elisabeth Dermot Walsh as Linda in their TV series directed by Tom Hooper of both novels. Last year the BBC again screened an updated adaptation of The Pursuit of Love with Lily James as Linda and Emily Beecham as Fanny Logan – directed with considerably more joie de vivre by Emily Mortimer with a mash up of the original novel with witty graphics, still photos and music by T-Rex, Joan Armatrading and The Who. There’s a huge contrast in the way the 1980 version was filmed to the one in 2021 – which reflects the changing filming techniques and technical advances and the way directors and screenwriters take a more liberated view of the original novel.

One critic suggested the latest TV series was one that would either be hated or loved as Mitford devotees would only want to see a faithful representation of the books. But if you take the spirit of The Pursuit of Love and update it and take the liberties made by writer and director Emily Mortimer (who also played The Bolter – Fanny’s runaway mum) then like me you’ll love it.

The main theme of The Pursuit of Love is perhaps not so much love but the elusive nature of love with the main protagonist Linda Radlett desperate to fall in love – sadly with the wrong man Tony Kroesig who she leaves for Christian Talbot who prefers Lavender Davies before she is discovered by the doomed love of life Fabrice de Sauveterre before dying in childbirth back in England thus leaving a fruitless pursuit of love.

Despite the lack of a happy ending it’s funny, witty and has some wonderful lines in it. “It’s not as though she could be in love. She’s Forty.” And “He was the great love of her life you know.’ ‘Oh, dulling,’ said my mother, sadly, ‘One always thinks that. Every, every time.”

Harry Mottram

For details for the work of the journalist Harry Mottram visit www.harrymottram.co.uk

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The heavens opened but the show went on

Axbridge Review THEATRE: Wet, wet, wet, but it’s Shakespeare just as we like it – Ember theatre’s As You Like It in Badgworth was played with passion and commitment as the heavens opened

Rosalind is perhaps the most celebrated heroine, female protagonist and articulate of Shakespeare’s characters graced with that rare gift: the final epilogue in his pastoral comedy As You Like It.

Jemima Marshall was everything Rosalind must be. Witty, funny, intelligent and challenging the status quo but above all engaging with her sharp asides and speeches . In Jacobean England it was a revolutionary role as women weren’t even allowed on stage (Gwyneth Paltrow excepted) but here was a Rosalind who was animated, expressive and held the audience through to the finale. She was supported with perfect chemistry by Beck Steward as Celia who was her equal in this sisterly 17th play about exile, injustice and above all love.

Celia and Rosalind

Ember Theatre’s production of the romance set largely in the Forest of Arden and directed by Lee Housley and Sophia Wood was near to perfect as the drama can be. That is taking into account that this was an outdoor production (never mind the weather) with no scene changes, and in daylight. In fact just as most of the Bard’s plays were originally performed – albeit for the costumes.

A large cast fired on all cylinders with strong performances from actors intent on making an impression that the audience in their anoraks and brollies lapped up. Will Vero as the idealistic and resentful Orlando mixed an enjoyably over the top romantic with a raw resentment over the treatment by his brother Oliver (a be-suited Lee Housley) but was his most vulnerable when engaged in an unequal battle of wits with his true love Rosalind.

Rosalind was the female protagonist and eventual bride

Willem Dalby was outstanding as Touchstone combining all the attributes of a Shakespearean actor using his body, his facial expressions and above all an ability to relate to the audience – a class act. Phil Saunders as Adam and Corin with his wheel barrow and life boatman coat was perhaps the driest of the cast was good value as he tried to inject some common sense into the dotty behaviour of the characters.

The Duke exiled Rosalind due to her family connections to the forest where in disguise she outwits all including her true love Orlando. Whilst in the forest we are introduced the sub plots of the shepherds and their woolly ideas of courtship.

As You Like It

There were several set pieces that were well directed and choreographed. The final dance sequence was as it should be, and the fight between Orlando and Oliver was suitably testosterone filled but Orlando’s fight with the enjoyably lightweight Charles played by the elfin like Sophia Wood was a master stroke of theatre. Nigel Newton as Jacques made his famous seven ages of man speech with a thoughtfulness and an articulateness that deserved a less rain drenched afternoon. Nic Austen seemed to bounce off the rain as she produced a hormonally charged portrayal of Le Beau as she struggled with her emotions (and thirst for wine) in an audience pleasing performance.

With so many good actors it seems unfair to leave anyone out – but Shannon Messer was a cheeky messenger, hip swivelling Sophie Anne Bloodworth was exceptional as Phebe, Chrissie Wallenberg was an enjoyable Audrey, Lysah Hughesman was perfect as Silvia and Rob Trayhurn was outstanding as the Duke – a tough one to pull off as the grumpy aristocrat – but he did it in his business suit and grim demeanour – as the rain kept pouring down on Badgworth’s playing fields.

Wet, wet, wet – but a spirited production

After more than a year of no theatre it was a delight to see Shakespeare back on stage (or rather a patch of damp grass) even if the weather Gods were not inclined to grace the Ember Theatre production with sunshine. With such a short run it is a pity this production can’t entertain a wider audience.

Harry Mottram

The production is an outdoor show and moves onto Shepton Mallet and Wells. For details visit https://www.facebook.com/embertheatre

For details for the work of the journalist Harry Mottram visit www.harrymottram.co.uk

Follow him on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram and YouTube.

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Anna Friend in Shirley Valentine

Theatre Review: Anna Friend gives a tour-de-force performance as Shirley Valentine in Willy Russell’s life-affirming story of one woman’s fight to be herself

No internet, no social media and no mince for supper on a Thursday. The Schoolhouse production of Willy Russell’s 1986 play Shirley Valentine featured Anna Friend as the titular character frying up eggs in the confines of Bristol’s Alma Tavern Theatre for husband Joe in a world only half a lifetime away – when a phone call was made from a call box and Polaroids recorded your holidays.

Directed at pace by Adam Elms the story of how dowdy and down-trodden Shirley Bradshaw is transformed back to her old self as Shirley Valentine was told with an energy and commitment by Anna Friend in this one woman production. With Willy Russell’s sharp one-liners the play has become something of a modern classic beloved by all those who are trapped in a loveless relationship as we recognise Shirley’s courage to walk out.

As she opens up in her kitchen about her life we recognise the home truths of ungrateful children, surly husbands, judgemental teachers and snobby neighbours like Gillian who ‘if you’ve got a headache, she’s got a brain tumour.’ Shirley quips about shopping, the clitoris, Ford Escorts, marriage and sex: “I think sex is like Sainsbury’s, you know, overrated. Just a lot of pushing and shoving and you still come out with very little at the end,” and, “I think that marriage is like the Middle East – there’s no solution.”

Holding the audience’s attention throughout the two hour show in her C&A top at home and her M&S swimsuit in Greece, Anna Friend gives voice to a string of characters by using her face and body to great effect. Her husband’s sulks, her daughter’s outrage, her neighbour’s bragging and her lover Kostas’ compliments were all brought to life with accomplished observation and huge humour. And the humour of the bitter-sweet metamorphosis rings true with the audience as despite the decades since it was written the story of a failed relationship remains universal.

A ballsy performance by Anna Friend of Shirley’s transformation from put upon Liverpool housewife to liberated Hellenized grecophile. It reminds us all that life is for living and the only way to be free is to be ourselves. As Shirley puts it near the end: “I have allowed myself to lead this little life, when inside me there was so much more. And it’s all gone unused. And now it never will be. Why do we get all this life if we don’t ever use it? Why do we get all these feelings and dreams and hopes if we don’t ever use them?”

Harry Mottram

The play runs 1-9 July, 2021 at the Alma Tavern and Theatre in Clifton, Bristol.

Details at https://www.tickettailor.com/events/almatheatrecompany/

Schoolhouse Productions on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/SchoolhouseProductions/

The play was made into a film in 1989 with Pauline Collins as Shirley Valentine and directed by Lewis Gilbert.

For details for the work of the journalist Harry Mottram visit www.harrymottram.co.uk

Follow him on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram and YouTube.

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Book review: last night I dreamt I went to Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca again – and tried not to get it mixed up with the movie version

Book review: Rebecca, by Daphne du Maurier

Last night I dreamt I went to Daphne du Maurier’s novel Rebecca again. I called out in my dream to Mrs Manvers who I found lighting a fire in my bed in the East Wing of Manderley. And Max was firing his revolver again and again into Rebecca’s sailing boat before he turned and with an expression that was part anger and part sorrow asked if I would like to take tea in the library.

When I awoke, I couldn’t remember what part was the novel and what part was Alfred Hitchcock’s 1940 movie with Joan Fontaine as the narrator and the second Mrs de Winter and Laurence Olivier as Maxim. Did Mrs Manvers really set fire to Manderley or did she simply spend hours and hours folding and refolding Rebecca’s negligee as she mourned the loss of her secret (or not so secret) love? Such is the mistake of reading a novel and watching the film of the book at the same time.

A second reading of the novel 20 years apart convinced me Rebecca is one of the best novels I have ever read. A thrilling psychological mystery with layers of guilt, of manipulation, of gothic detail and of the inner thoughts that give the narrator’s convincing coming of age story such depth. The second Mrs de Winter, the unnamed narrator begins the story reflecting from her Mediterranean exile on all things English countryside. We then flashback to the ghastly Mrs Van Hopper in the south of France – her pompous and obnoxious employer who unwittingly introduces her to Maxim to whom she absconds with and the story begins.

The narrator begins as a young and naïve woman fresh out of school with a sense of right and wrong but ends the story protecting a murderer by failing to give evidence in a legal case concerning the death of Rebecca. Her love for the moody and short-tempered Maxim is all consuming, putting up with his guilty grumps and the psychological damage that his relationship with the first Mrs de Winter had done to him. Dismissed as nothing more than a romantic novel on publication in 1938 it was an immediate best seller and has never been out of print since. But for me it’s the way the narrator describes each character and her reactions to them which transcend this novel from the everyday to a modern classic.

It’s the narrator’s thought process which so grips in all its candid nature and her obsession with the ghostly presence of the ‘remarkable Rebecca’ whose glamour and personality so dominates all at Manderley. Eventually of course she exorcises the Rebecca’s phantom only to see her stately home above the Cornish cove destroyed, sending her into exile and back to the famous opening line in Chapter one.

Harry Mottram

The novel was remade as a 2020 movie directed by Ben Wheatley from a screenplay by Jane Goldman, Joe Shrapnel, and Anna Waterhouse.

For more features, reviews, news and views on a variety of subjects visit www.harrymottram.co.uk

Follow Harry on Facebook, Twitter as @harrythespiv, Instagram, Blogspot, YouTube and LinkedIn as well as Harry Speed and Harry Mottram Creative Services on Facebook.

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Book Review The Lamplighters, by Emma Stonex: a word of warning – don’t apply for a job on a lighthouse as you could disappear – the question is where did you go when you vanished?

Three lighthouse keepers disappear from the isolated rock off Land’s End. What happened to them? Murder? Suicide? Or an accident? Emma Stonex’s mystery about the trio of lamplighters from the isolated Maiden Rock and their respective domestic lives promises much but only delivers the reasons why nobody should apply to be a lighthouse keeper. Not that you can anymore.

Since the implementation by the UK’s Coast Guard of the Lighthouse Automation and Modernization Program all lighthouse keepers have been replaced by automatic lighting systems so nobody should feel the isolation and loneliness of life on in one or the irritation with sharing the tower with two other people. Set in 1972 the story is a warning about sharing a space not much larger than a prison with the windows closed and cigarette smoke and sea salt damp pervading all within.

The story was inspired by the disappearance of three lighthouse keepers from the lannan Isles Lighthouse, off the coast of the Outer Hebrides in 1900. It is the general opinion that all three were swept to their deaths in a storm as each tried to save each other after one of them fell or was blown into the churning seas.

Emma Lomax cloaks the slow burn story that jumps back and forth in time with a supernatural element as she layers on the background to each of the doomed trio’s lives. The strange Silver Man and a ghost like appearance of a gent walking across the road from the 1930s. And there’s some strange sounds in the lighthouse that can’t be explained, but for me the supernatural overtones took away the prosaic nature of the day to day lives of all those involved and all those 1970s references which lit up the narrative like toasting slices of white Mother’s Pride bread, Neil Young on the Sony and tinned Heinz ravioli. The conversations between the men with their clipped sentences and barely concealed irritation with each other along with the joshing and joking and good deal of swearing brought home the claustrophobia of life on the grimy tower and life back home.

There’s Helen married to Arthur, Jenny’s domestic life with Bill and Michelle who is Vince’s partner – and then there’s the writer Dan Sharp trying to dig up the true story 20 years later. Hints are dropped here and there, an anniversary of the disappearance described and the hostility of the women to the media left to wonder what really happened.

Harry Mottram

Member of the Axbridge Four Seasons Book Club

For more visit www.harrymottram.co.uk

Follow Harry on Twitter and Facebook for more stories and features

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Daisy Edgar-Jones to star in the Reese Witherspoon-produced movie of ‘Where the Crawdads Sing’

Book Review: Delia Owens’ whodunit, coming of age and environmental romance, Where The Crawdads Sing,l ticks all the boxes as a novel of our times – as mystery marsh girl Kya’s life spins out or control as a suspected murderer

We are familiar with Tarzan and Mowgli, Romulus and Remus and even Dicky and Emmeline Lestrange in The Blue Lagoon, but Delia Owen’ gives us a new feral child in Kya.

Where the Crawdad Sings is a mixture of a novel. Part romance, part environmental plea for understanding and protection of the threatened marshlands of North Carolina and part murder mystery – solved like all good whodunnits at the very end. At its core is the story of protagonist Kya the marsh girl as the villagers call her, who initially lives with her drunken abusive father after her mother and siblings abandon. Left alone with only a diet of fish and grits (a sort of porridge) for nourishment she eventually attracts the attention of the local boys. Firstly in her kindred spirit, educator and mentor Tate and later with ‘the sneaky fucker’ Chase.

The swampy marshlands of the novel

Is Kya too good to be true? What about those practicalities like dental health and childhood bugs? Can she really have only attended school once and so left reading and writing to her teenage years with Tate, before writing two books on the wildlife of the marshes? Perhaps. It certainly stretches the realms of the possible in 1950s and 1960s America. Since she is so well drawn as a character by Owens and the story so compelling we suspend our disbelief and go along with this engaging and evocative read – and learn a great deal about the wildlife of the marshes – and even what crawdads are.

The murder and subsequent trial which sweeps up Kya into a neo-Kafka-esque nightmare after the slow burn of the investigation into Chase’s death adds an extra layer which many a crime novelist would be proud of. And since this is Owens’ first novel you have to admit it’s a pretty successful debut.

Harry Mottram

Member of the Axbridge Four Seasons Book Club

For more visit www.harrymottram.co.uk

Follow Harry on Twitter and Facebook for more stories and features

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