My 2016 – Films

Never before have I watched so many movies in a year than in 2016. It came to be a personal resolution that I made up for lost time and took in many of the quality motion pictures that I had missed over the years, and on the whole it has been a fruitful journey.

Visits to the cinema have been infrequent. Seeing The Revenant was almost a new sensory experience, given the freedom to appreciate and acknowledge the incredible filmmaking feats that it pulls off, from the constantly stunning visuals to the directorial mastery of Alejandro G. Inarritu to the remarkable realism of the CGI.

That film earned Leonardo DiCaprio his long awaited first Academy Award for Best Actor, but the overall execution of the project is where it succeeds the most. I was also lucky enough to see the Best Picture winner itself, Spotlight. This one falls under an entirely different genre, but its equally compelling and thought-provoking and provides a sensitive account of real-life events.

My most recent rendezvous with the big screen was for Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them, a movie which I had been looking forward to for so long with a mixture of childlike excitement and apprehension. Any fears that it wouldn’t live up to its billing were soon extinguished, as it considerably surpassed my expectations; my face when the credits began to roll was an absolute picture of mesmeric delight.

The special effects on display on that film were beyond anything that I had previously seen, a huge treasure trove of eye-catching imagery. The story was also not to be found wanting, and the anticipation for sequels has already begun.

As with any piece of new technology or any craze that seems to capture the attention of most of my peers or indeed the global population, I was slow on the uptake when it came to using online streaming websites such as Netflix and Amazon Prime. I put this right by accident, getting Amazon Prime unexpectedly after forgetting that I had signed up to the 30-day free trial which then leads to you making an automatic £79 payment to get the application on a permanent basis.

Through Amazon Prime I have managed to discover films which I hadn’t previously come across, such as the truly incredible adaptation of The Book Thief, a movie I would recommend to everyone. I have also had the opportunity to sample films which I didn’t watch at the time of their release.

Among those are the stunningly picturesque Gravity, the engrossing and very English drama  An Education, a brilliant dual acting performance from Matthew McConnaughy and Jared Leto in Dallas Buyer’s Club, and an interesting take on an oft-adapted character where Ian McKellan portrays Mr Holmes.

Over the course of this year I have also gained a much greater understanding of the many processes that go into filmmaking and how each scene is constructed and shot in order to create the finished product. It all amounts to an intriguing array of complexities which are not necessarily appreciated by us viewers.

So for that reason among others this year has been something of a learning experience and has helped me develop a new perspective on film. But all that said, I still remain very selective about the films I watch – they must be intelligent, multi-layered, suspenseful or capable of telling a good story with a clear underlying message.

Here’s to more in 2017!

Analysis: The Book Thief

In the world of literature and drama, it would appear that there is a never-ending stream of stories relating to the Second World War. It has become a genre in its own right, because it opens up a whole world of opportunity. Even now, over 70 years on, there is a generation of storytellers who believe that they can offer a new take on this most infamous of conflicts.

From novel to documentary; from movie to sitcom, The Book Thief is one of my personal favourites. Written by Markus Zusak in 2006 and adapted into a film in 2013, the story is both heartwarming and heartbreaking, and touches on several issues associated with the war as well as exploring themes such as mortality and loyalty.

The novel is narrated by death itself, a personification of the unforgiving nature of warfare and the sudden loss of loved ones for whom you have taken extreme risks and made great endeavour to keep safe. Death appears to be lurking in the shadows, but is shown to be tragically ruthless as the story plays out in the eyes of the innocent Liesel, the orphan who finds solace in literature.

After the death of her brother, Liesel begins to live with foster parents Hans and Rosa. She shows a willingness to learn and is nurtured by Hans, who teaches her literacy, which helps her to develop a sense of adventure. But at the same time, she has to live with the harsh reality of the Nazi regime, attending an event where books that didn’t conform to Nazi ideology were publicly burned.

It is here where Liesel ‘steals’ her first book, and it is through this that her fascination with stories comes about. Along with her friend Rudy, she proves her strength of bravery by secretly reading books from the library of the town mayor, whose wife inspires her to write own novel.

During her stay with her foster parents, Liesel forms a close relationship with Max, a fugitive Jew who the family take in and hide from patrolling officers in their basement. He eventually has to leave, devastating Liesel, and things are made worse by Hans being forced to conscript to the German armed forces.

Hans soon returns, but the area is then devastated by a bombing raid which only Liesel survives, having slept in the basement. Observing the bodies of her foster parents lying peacefully in the snow, she then watches Rudy pass away too during a highly emotional sequence. After being rescued, she embarks on a journey to become a writer.

The reason why I feel such an attachment to this story is that Zusak creates such lovable and endearing characters. Liesel is charismatic and curious; Hans is paternal and understanding; Rosa is firm but fair; Rudy is an innocent boy, yet acts as a fierce, fierce friend.

And the film adaptation handles these characterisations superbly, helped by a clean sweep of quality acting performances. The close bond that forms between Liesel and Rudy, such as their feelings of the injustices of the world they live in, can’t help but bring a tear to the eye.

Liesel arrives as an outsider, but she ends up having a profound effect on everyone around her, in one case telling a story to ease the tension within an air raid shelter. It is a powerful image that Zusak creates, and it’s recreated beautifully on screen. This particular take on the Second World War is so touching, and would have even the most cold-hearted of individuals experiencing a rollercoaster of emotions. The Book Thief is a modern classic.

Fantastic Beasts

For all fans of the Harry Potter series, both fanatical and casual, the announcement from J.K. Rowling that the upcoming Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them movie franchise is likely to span the course of five films has had us rejoicing. In a year which has also seen a groundbreaking West End play, the thought of another treasure trove of insight to the Harry Potter universe leaves us feeling rather spoilt.

Starring among others, Academy Award winning actor Eddie Redmayne as the titular book’s magizoologist author Newt Scamander, the first film in the series is to be released on November 17. As is the case for many other people, I am eagerly anticipating seeing it on the big screen; J.K. Rowling’s first foray into screenwriting, but it may turn out slightly differently to what we are expecting.

While it may be set in the Harry Potter universe, this movie is set some 70 years before the events of the books, in New York. So we can brace ourselves for a sampling of the Roaring Twenties at its heart, where Scamander encounters many of the creatures he would later describe in such vivid detail in a textbook that would come in useful to Hogwarts students across several different disciplines, including Care of Magical Creatures; Defence Against the Dark Arts; Herbology, and Potions.

Unless a young Dumbledore makes a surprise appearance, that means there will no familiar faces within this series of films. There’s a whole host of new characters to get used to, identify with and be inspired by. Can Redmayne’s Scamander emerge as a heroic or cult figure like Harry? Or will he be forever in Harry’s looming shadow? If we know Rowling, his personality and indeed loyalties may have us gripped as the franchise proceeds.

Despite the unfamiliar aspects of the plot, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is in the best possible hands. Supervised by Warner Bros. and produced by the enduring David Heyman, it is directed by the man in charge of the final four Harry Potter films, David Yates. Harry, Ron and Hermione may not be around, but this quintet of motion pictures is a massive cause for excitement.

 

 

An Audience with David Nicholls

There are few more prominent authors and screenwriters in Britain today than Dr David Nicholls, so I couldn’t miss the opportunity of seeing him discuss his work and inspirations at an event at the University of Bristol, where he graduated in 1988.

In a bright and atmospheric lecture theatre, Dr Nicholls provided an extremely fascinating insight into what it’s like to collaborate with film directors and actors, and how to adapt a novel for television or the big screen. Most recently the screenwriter for the 2014 film adaptation of Far From The Madding Crowd, he told of how lead actress Carey Mulligan had a say in Bathsheba’s dialogue and manner of speaking.

Dr Nicholls guided us through his favourite film sequences and his directorial influences, continually emphasising that the art of converting material from script to screen is a complex one where so many different things have to be taken into consideration, including cost, location filming, timing, and whether a particular scene adds value to the motion picture.

Among the directors whose films we were treated to excerpts from were Preston Sturges (who Dr Nicholls felt was unheralded given his impressive body of work), Billy Wilder (we were shown a scene from The Apartment) and Wes Anderson, who was noted for his comedic and unconventional elements during the opening sequence of Rushmore.

Elsewhere, Dr Nicholls gave frequent indications that he was at something of a crossroads in his screenwriting career. He stated his desire not to do another adaptation for the foreseeable future, instead setting his sights on creating an original screenplay, although a new novel appears to be the first item on the horizon.

His existing literary works have been an unqualified success, having become an author fairly late after ending his career as an actor. Starter for Ten told the story of a University of Bristol student’s life changing after appearing on University Challenge, a tale that was made into a film in 2006.

Even more successful was One Day, which was told in the dual points of view of two young adults over a 20-year period, a unique and heartwarming romantic comedy. Nicholls adapted the book into a film which was released in 2010, starring Anne Hathaway and Jim Sturgess.

There is also The Understudy and Us, the second of which is very much one of favourites of many library goers in the UK. It is soon to be adapted into a television series; further recognition of Nicholls’ current popularity and status.

Dr Nicholls was especially informative when it came to explaining the difference in his approach when writing a novel and creating a screenplay. Freely admitting that dialogue was his strong suit rather than descriptive language, he said that writing and developing a film was more rewarding due to the many different processes involved in bringing his words to the screen, and then seeing the finished product.

Just watching and hearing him speak from a few rows back in the theatre, you could sense that his mind was always working, always ticking. Endlessly creative and observant, he displayed all the mannerisms you would associate with a noted author, and it was a pleasure to hear him speak so insightfuly and relay his knowledge to a group of onlooking admirers.

Lincoln: A top quality script and top quality acting

At the end of February Leonardo DiCaprio won the Academy Award for Best Actor at long last. That was for his role in The Revenant, where he played the hardy frontiersman Hugh Glass, and it was an award that I questioned not because of an absence of quality in his performance, but for his relative lack of dialogue. It was all a matter of whether he had been given material of the quantity that such an honour demands.

It was an Academy Award winning role that contrasted hugely with that of the recipient in 2013, Daniel Day-Lewis. He won the accolade for a record third time for playing US president Abraham Lincoln, where there was no shortage of dialogue for him to sift through. The movie contains a multitude of monologues, many of which see Lincoln reciting worn anecdotes, something which Day-Lewis performs with a unique world-weary charisma.

The story centres around the final months of the American civil war, where recently re-elected Lincoln is trying to push through the Thirteenth Amendment to the US constitution, culminating in a vote in the House of Representatives. The amendment involves the proposed abolition of slavery in the southern states, the implementation of which would effectively put an end to the conflict, and Lincoln uses his craft and that of his trusted associates to secure the votes of several soon-to-be unseated democrats.

Lincoln has a tough time convincing several members of his cabinet that seeing the amendment passed has to be done successfully by the beginning of February 1865. Day-Lewis conveys his stressed yet saintly demeanour perfectly, speaking with assertive authority when called upon and acting as an occasionally easy-going champion of the people. Throughout every scene containing the title character – and there are many – he carries an aura of shrewdness and political stealth.

It is a movie based around dialogue, whether it be Lincoln’s constant outpouring of wisdom or the powerful rhetoric of Republican congressman Thaddeus Stevens (Tommy Lee Jones), or the understated remarks of Secretary of State William H Seward (David Strathairn). The power of the spoken word is the driving force, resonating with its viewers and implying that the utterance of just a select few words can help shape opinions on a national scale, and in this case make the vital contribution that puts an end to the fighting.

A massive amount of the credit for this has to go to screenwriter David Kushner, who put a lot of painstaking work into discovering the essence of what Lincoln stood for and what kind of man he was, as well as the attitudes and behaviours of the House of Representatives during the civil war.

So much has been written about Lincoln, but he must have been such a difficult man to capture with a high degree of accuracy, which makes the achievements of Kushner even more considerable. It is a script that a lot of hours would have gone into producing, with the use of as much source material he could find. The movie contains so many characters of varying philosophies and complex personalities, so Kushner us very much the man primarily responsible for creating a movie that was released to universal critical acclaim.

What impresses me most about the script as that it does not try to make the source material appear overly dramatic or exaggerated. It is far from a thriller, but it is not meant to be a thriller. I would describe it more as a theatrical documentary that uses a historical sequence of events to tell a story with eloquence and great intelligence.

As for Day-Lewis, he shows exactly why many regard him to be the greatest living actor. The manner of which he uses his material to create a lasting impression was masterful, and each of his many lines was spoken with total clarity and authenticity. For anybody who wishes to understand the benchmark that any actor should aspire to, they should watch Lincoln. The committee that decided on the 2013 Academy Award for Best Actor must have looked at Day-Lewis’ performance and thought something along the lines of, ‘This is a total non-contest’.

Trump in line for a Love Actually moment?

Anybody who pays the slightest amount of attention towards world politics will be a little concerned by the possibility of seeing Donald Trump elected as president of the United States. At present he is the clear frontrunner in the race to be the Republican candidate to stand in November’s vote, which means that he is clearly doing enough to convince the American people that he’s the right person to lead the country despite holding many divisive views.

His speeches are intended to be controversial. They are intended to be hard-hitting. They are intended to make some people look up and ask, ‘My goodness, did he really just say that?’. Just as is the case for UKIP leader Nigel Farage in the United Kingdom, he is saying the things that some – mainly working class – people truly believe, to the extent that they will be compelled to vote for him.

Now, as I am not from the United States I am not privy to all the policies that Trump has proposed during his arduous campaign, but some of the more widely reported pronouncements he’s come up with are nothing short of alarming, leaving myself and many others to question whether he is a fit and proper person to lead a nation such as the United States, and even whether he is mentally unstable.

He caused a lot of consternation with comments about abortion, but the most unbelievable of his remarks were made in late 2015 when he gave a speech insisting that as president he would build a ‘great, great wall’ along the border with Mexico, and also stated that he would implement a blanket ban on all Muslims entering the United States.

Speeches normally have to be carefully prepared and to some extent diplomatic and persuasive. Instead, he used powerful and coarse language to insult a huge percentage of not just the American population, but the world population.

Some of his sympathisers would say that he was speaking in the best interests of the country in the aid of national security, given the current prominence of the so-called Islamic State group. But to totally denigrate all members of what is a fine faith which should not be treated any differently to others just because of the actions of a terrible minority.

Such comments put plenty of world issues in jeopardy, not to mention diplomacy in the future. A man who came out with such proclamations, whether in the interests of gaining power or not, would always be taken up on what he said by other world leaders, a source of prejudice for any potential negotiations and peace talks. It may even harm the health of the infamous ‘special relationship’ between the United States and the United Kingdom.

It had me speculating whether Trump’s election as president may lead to a ‘Love Actually moment’, in other words an inspiring and rousing monologue in the manner of Hugh Grant, whose fictional Prime Minister made his position clear in no uncertain terms towards president Billy Bob Thornton in the 2003 film.

The speech, written by Richard Curtis, is one of its most memorable moments, and although done for comedic effect, has had an impact on British culture. Maybe Trump could come in for similar treatment from David Cameron, albeit with the use of much different phraseology.

Here is the Love Actually speech in full:

“I fear that this has become a bad relationship. A relationship based on the President taking exactly what he wants and casually ignoring all those things that really matter to, err… Britain.

We may be a small country but we’re a great one, too. The country of Shakespeare, Churchill, the Beatles, Sean Connery, Harry Potter. David Beckham’s right foot. David Beckham’s left foot, come to that.

And a friend who bullies us is no longer a friend. And since bullies only respond to strength, from now onward, I will be prepared to be much stronger. And the President should be prepared for that.”

Cameron has already said something similar, responding to comments reportedly made by a member of the Russian government in September 2013 that Britain was ‘a small island that nobody listens to’. The Prime Minister made an impassioned defence of his nation, also using jovial and patriotic language.

It all just goes to show that speeches, and how they are conducted, do carry an incredible amount of weight and have done so for many, many years. Love Actually took the whole concept and turned it into a cultural phenomenon, while Trump and many of his political peers use it to appeal to the most radical, cynical thinkers in society. Persuasive arguments happen every day from the mouths of eloquent and poetic courtroom barristers, but it’s the use of language that will always continue to fascinate, regardless of a speaker’s agenda.

Influence, Censorship, and George Orwell

In this day and age, every so often we see a book or a movie; perhaps even a television series that has a profound effect on language and popular culture. It is usually a measure of its level of success and influence, but in years gone by and especially during the 20th century there were many works of fiction that found their way into the vernacular of the general public and gained varying receptions within the uppermost political circles.

I have already written about the German socialist reaction to Erich Remarque’s All Quiet on the Western Front, while in another previous post I covered censorship of a completely different kind with regards to the explicit Allen Ginsberg poem Howl. Meanwhile, movies carried a lot of weight among Europe’s higher echelons, a fact illustrated most aptly by the treatment towards a certain 1939 American film starring the legendary James Stewart, Mr Smith Goes to Washington.

It is a political comedy that hints at potential corruption within the US Senate, but also carries an underlying message that was at odds with the ideologies of a number of the leading European nations of the time, some of which actually went as far as to dub certain parts of the film in order for it to conform with their social beliefs. It was banned in Hitler’s Germany, Mussolini’s Italy, Stalin’s USSR, and General Franco’s Spain.

Indeed, Franco seized power in the same year as Mr Smith Goes to Washington was released to the mainstream audience, following the Spanish Civil War. One man caught up in some of the proceedings over that three-year period was one of the 20th century’s most influential and outspoken authors, George Orwell, who documented his experiences in the autobiographical novel Homage to Catalonia.

Renowned for his bitter hatred of communism, Orwell was a forward thinker who never hid his opinions within the pages of his books for experts to decipher with the use of forensic examination. That is made perfectly clear in his short though powerful novel Animal Farm, where he uses domesticated livestock to personify the political landscape of the 1940s, with the evil pig Hamilton representing Stalin.

This work ruffled a few feathers, but his final novel would be the one which would confirm his legacy and leave the name George Orwell indelibly listed among the leading visionary authors of the age. Nineteen Eighty Four was set in a dystopian future where the United Kingdom was now made up of an uneven society that was subject to permanent censorship and surveillance, led by a dictatorship known as Big Brother.

Having read Nineteen Eighty Four, it is clear that Orwell is imagining a world how the world could have ended up in the not-too-distant future should the Western forces lost the war against communism and given in to its policies. While it is clearly an exaggeration that contains whimsical concepts borne out of a desire to warn democratic society of the potential harm that might have lay ahead of it, sometimes I treated it as political satire when elements of the story actually detailed events that Orwell thought plausible.

Big Brother is the first and most obvious term which has found its way into the modern language. The name of a reality television programme broadcast in many different countries, it connotes total surveillance through eyes, cameras and other sensory equipment. The wide eyes of Orwell’s moustachioed Inner Party mascot reinforce that none of the characters in Nineteen Eighty Four have any privacy or freedom of speech whatsoever.

This is where my citation of Mr Smith Goes to Washington becomes relevant. As the central character in Nineteen Eighty Four, Winston Smith, and his lover Julia wage a secret war against Big Brother and the Inner Party, their views are ruthlessly exposed by a sophisticated surveillance mechanism and it leads to them being tortured by the Inner Party hierarchy and forcibly made to change their views towards Big Brother through twisted and manipulative techniques.

The total eradication of an alternative political view is what those four world leaders did to Mr Smith Goes to Washington. A differing ideology was not allowed to exist, meaning that the message from the top was the only message that could either be believed or followed. This is the leading theme in Nineteen Eighty Four, only that presence of any opposing views – whether aired or not – would lead to a visit to the torture chamber, otherwise known as Room 101.

This is another idea from the novel to have given its name to a television programme, which makes light of the concept of there being a room containing all the horrors imaginable. The fate that awaits any of Big Brother’s silent detractors (Thought criminals) is hinted at throughout the novel, as many of Winston’s ‘comrades’ in the Outer Party disappear mysteriously over time.

There are many other words and phrases from Nineteen Eighty Four to have succumbed to common use. For example, Newspeak is now a language in its own right, the same way that Klingon is for fans of Star Trek. It is a fascinating language at that, given that it gradually removes words in order to find a more simplistic alternative, while abbreviations and acronyms are commonplace.

While the awful and unforgiving world that Orwell created did not come to fruition, some of the concepts he portrayed do resonate with many who feel that he hit the right notes in a few areas, particularly with the whole idea of censorship and universal surveillance. In the UK, security services such as GCHQ have alienated some members of the public by monitoring telephone conversations and social media accounts, and this is regularly cited as a manifestation of what Orwell described.

There is so much that can be written about Nineteen Eighty Four that fits within the purpose of this blog, but its level of influence and the way it continues even now to shape opinions is the most remarkable of all its talking points. Orwell used imagination and the political environment of the time to create a version of reality which has since been named after him, a rare accolade shared by only the best of British literary figures such as Charles Dickens and William Shakespeare.

The Woman In Black – Book vs Movie Part Two

Despite a somewhat underdeveloped plot, the movie adaptation of The Woman in Black was perceived to be such a success by its producers that they wanted to make a sequel. However, there hadn’t been a second novel. Determined not for this potentially lucrative opportunity to be wasted, they enlisted original author Susan Hill to come up with a brand new storyline.

This was over three decades after the book was published, and on the whole it was a very interesting concept – that of creating a second movie to act as a sequel to an original movie that was based as a standalone novel. Hope this all makes sense.

For those who haven’t seen the film – subtitled Angel of Death, it is set around 40 years after the events of the original, so right in the middle of the Second World War. A group of evacuees including a silent orphan called Edward are sent to Eel Marsh House in the village of Crythin Gifford, along with their carers, one of whom is an inwardly troubled lady called Miss Parkins.

On the train to Crythin Gifford – just as Arthur Kipps meets Samuel Daily in the first film, Miss Parkins has her first encounter with a young pilot called Harry, and they take an instant shine to each other. Soon after arriving at Eel Marsh House and being shown around by a former doctor of medicine, Edward – who is being bullied by one of his peers – soon clasps his eyes on the Woman in Black and is subsequently possessed.

This goes on to result in the deaths of two of his fellow evacuees and Miss Parkins becomes increasingly distressed, making the Woman in Black her obsession. Along with Harry, she goes on to find some gramophone recordings in the basement which emit the voice of former homeowner Alice Drablow, revealing her torment at being haunted by the ghost of Jennet Humfrye.

After being forced to escape to Harry’s fake airfield, Edward is lured back to Eel Marsh House and is in the act of drowning when Miss Parkins hurries back and discovers him. They are being pulled down into the water by the Woman in Black until Harry appears as if by magic and saves them (I say this because Miss Parkins stole his jeep).

Just like the end of the first movie, the characters think that the Woman In Black is gone forever, but in the closing shot a photograph of the sacrificed Harry is mysteriously smashed…A good end to what is a reasonably good movie, if badly thought through on the odd occasion.

The characters are completely original having not appeared in a published work, so although there is not a great time for development the personalities of Miss Parkins and Harry are well established by the end, while the use of Edward as almost a host for the Woman in Black makes for quite a creepy spectacle.

The most impressive yet questionable additional feature is the recordings of Alice Drablow. These help to place more emphasis and shed more light on how the Woman in Black came into being, and will have been looked upon with fondness by fans of the original book who may have felt that the first film was a little lacking in backstory. On the other hand – how did Arthur Kipps not discover such a key piece of evidence while he was trawling through Eel Marsh House???

All in all it was a very brave step from the filmmakers when they pitched the idea of a movie sequel. They had to be innovative and find a way of manipulating the original story into creating a new one with very little to go on – even with Susan Hill’s help. While not an unqualified success, they could have done a much worse job and so deserve credit for making the most of the opportunity they created for themselves. The Woman in Black is a fascinating creation and the producers were right in thinking that we wanted to see more of her.

The Woman In Black – Book vs Movie Part One

Back in January I went to the library to borrow a new book. I had a couple in mind, but then I noticed The Woman in Black by Susan Hill. I could not resist the temptation. Having already seen the film, and seeing that at less than 200 pages it was a relatively short book, I felt it would be a very enlightening read.

The book’s narrator is a retired solicitor called Arthur Kipps, who at the beginning refuses to join his wife Esme and extended family in telling ghost stories to his grandchildren. It reminds him of the tragic events that took place earlier in his life, of which the book is essentially a recount.

You can imagine the old man hurting as he attacks his typewriter, describing the time when he was sent by his law firm to the eerie village of Crythin Gifford to attend the funeral of Ms Alice Drablow, who lived in the dilapidated wreck that was Eel Marsh House.

He sees a ghostly woman dressed all in black at the funeral, of whom all the villagers are wary to speak (makes her sound like Lord Voldemort doesn’t it?). The woman goes on to haunt Arthur throughout his stay at Eel Marsh house as he hears terrifying apparitions as well as the sound of a boy on a pony and trap having a fatal accident on the nearby marshes.

With the help of landowner Samuel Daily and his dog Spider, Arthur inwardly summons the mental toughness and resilience to stay at Eel Marsh House and complete his business of sifting through all of Ms Drablow’s documents, but he is soon forced to save Spider from death on the marshes, and once he gains access to the nursery the tension increases further.

Arthur later uncovers that the boy who died on the marshes was Nathaniel Drablow, who was under the care of Alice, but was really the illegitimate son of Jennet Humfrye, who looked on from the nursery window when the pony and trap sank. Jennet never forgave Alice, and continued to haunt her in Eel Marsh House right until she died.

After all of this Arthur is rather overcome by his experiences, so has his fiancée Stella arrive to accompany him back to London. Some time later Arthur is married to Stella and has a son, and watches on as the two of them are admitted on to a fairground ride. He then sees the Woman in Black, who gains her revenge, fulfilling the prophecy that whenever she is seen, it results in the death of a child.

Arthur then wraps up the story, explaining that this is the reason why he didn’t want to entertain his grandchildren. The book actually comes to quite an abrupt end, as Arthur solemnly summarises the day he lost everything and then closes the book in such a way that he seems to want to be put out of his misery.

The movie version – starring Daniel Radcliffe – came out amid some publicity in 2012, but after reading the novella on which it’s based, the difference between the two is startling. The old Arthur Kipps is not included. The story begins with Arthur leaving his young son with his nanny as he heads to Crythin Gifford, with his wife having already died during childbirth.

Samuel Dailly has much more of a role, and his wife suffers from panic attacks which are linked to the Woman in Black, who causes the deaths of two children in the village in equally shocking circumstances. As Arthur is present at both of their deaths and is known to be searching Eel Marsh House, many of the people blame him and ask him to leave.

When he uncovers the truth about Nathaniel, Arthur enlists the help of Daily to find the boy’s dead body from the depths of the marshes, feeling that reuniting the Woman in Black with her child would make her go away. However, when back at Crythin Gifford railway station as his son, the nanny as Samuel Daily look on, his son sees the Woman in Black on is lured on to the track.

Arthur notices too late as he dashes on to the track and the two of them are hit by an oncoming train. In death, they are then spiritually reunited with Stella.

When I first saw the movie I felt that this was a bad ending, but having read the book and seen its context I can understand where it comes from. It is the most gothic book I have read to date, and is much more focused on narrative than the kind of drama which you see in a movie.

I am the kind of person who believes that films should be faithful to the books on which they are based – this one certainly isn’t, but it still occasionally makes very good use of the source material. In the film there is more of an emphasis on the effects of the Woman in Black across the whole town of Crythin Gifford, and the apparent closure surrounding Nathaniel’s death, and the role of Daily are impressive additions.

All in all, this is a book that must have been difficult to adapt, so the filmmakers did require some creative license to really illustrate the consequences of seeing the Woman in Black. There could have been more scares, and there should be a greater amount of the book’s narrative included on the whole, but generally speaking it is a movie that takes enough from the book to be just about credible.

A Defeat for Dialogue

When I began this blog I insisted that I would never go more than five days without writing new material. Unfortunately it has not taken long for me to break that promise, which in fairness is due to an extremely busy week where a mounting pile of other writing commitments and social events has tied me up to the extent that I feel almost brain dead.

In the time since my last post, the Academy Awards have been handed out in Hollywood in a ceremony full of the usual glitz and glamour, but with the spectre of controversy hanging over it due to the appalling lack of diversity among this year’s nominees. The presence of Chris Rock as host was ironic in the circumstances, but he did a fine job of handling the furore, and making light of it in his own comedic manner.

Away from this murky subject, the other main topic of conversation was on whether Leonardo DiCaprio would finally win the award for Best Actor, having been overlooked on countless occasions in years gone by. Hotly tipped to succeed, he wasn’t disappointed as his role as the spirited, vengeful survivor Hugh Glass in The Revenant brought him the ultimate reward.

Set in the 19th century and partly based on a book by Michael Punke, The Revenant tells the story of the frontiersman Glass, who is mauled almost to death by a bear and is left fighting to survive, forced to feed on scattered pieces of animal flesh as he looks to avenge the death of his son, who is mercilessly killed by disagreeable colleague Fitzgerald.

When his comrades eventually discover that he is still alive – contrary to what they were told by Fitzgerald – they bring Glass back to base, before he eventually goes out to hunt Fitzgerald down, winning their subsequently gory fight to the death.

It was a movie that received widespread attention, as well as the most nominations at the awards ceremony. Of the three that it won, two of them were massively deserved. Cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezski delivered the most beautiful picture that I have ever had the pleasure of watching, while director Alejandro G. Inarritu performed a minor miracle by succeeding in bringing us what was a hugely ambitious project while delivering some excellent shots.

But did DiCaprio deserve his award? I have mixed feelings on this. He is a very good actor and certainly does nothing wrong in the film, but does he do enough to have earned the Academy Award for best actor? Not if you make your decision based on dialogue and how much gravitas it provides.

This is because Hugh Glass does not have many lines in the film whatsoever. His role is primarily a physical one, carrying it along, the person who the audience latches on to and follows his determined journey to survival. DiCaprio conveys the anguish of Glass at the loss of his son and the injuries he suffers at the claws of the bear, going through his own battle with the natural world as he went along. After all, filming this epic was an ordeal for every member of the cast and crew.

I am really pleased for DiCaprio and have enormous respect for him, but for me dialogue is essential to any film role and more emphasis should have been placed on it when voting for a winner. He made Hugh Glass an iconic character just by being him, maybe that’s what won it for him.

And as a closing remark, this award very much reflects the words uttered by the late, great Alan Rickman, whose passing earlier this year is still a real source of personal sadness. He once said the following: ‘Parts win prizes, not actors’.