A Lit Major At The Movies: Cold Comfort Farm (1995)

ColdComfortFarm1995The Nineties seem to have been a bit of a golden decade for book-to-film adaptations. Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, and Shakespeare all got the star treatment in this decade. Perhaps a little less known, but nonetheless well-loved, is the 1995 adaptation of Stella Gibbons’ Cold Comfort Farm, which I read a little while ago. It stars Kate Beckinsdale as Flora Poste, the nosy, recently orphaned young woman who goes to live with her strange family at Cold Comfort Farm, and turn their lives upside down.

Interestingly enough, Beckinsdale went on to play Austen’s Emma in the 1996 adaptation, one year after Cold Comfort Farm was released. Whether she got this role based on her role as Flora Poste, the twentieth century’s Emma Woodhouse, or whether she was filming both films simultaneously (or one after the other?), it’s an interesting crossover. And her character in this movie is indeed similar to Emma Woodhouse, although Beckinsdale plays Emma with a bit more of a twinkle, a lightness which is not present in her portrayal of Flora, which is a little more understated. Continue reading

‘Tidy’ Lives: Cold Comfort Farm (1932), by Stella Gibbons

Cold Comfort Farm'Frankly, I wasn’t sure whether to write a review of Cold Comfort Farm. It piqued my interest because I’d read about it in Samantha Ellis’ How To Be A Heroine, and thought it sounded fantastic. Considering it has been dubbed “Probably the funniest book ever written”, and emerged in the period of inestimable comic talents like P.G. Wodehouse, I decided I’d give it a go.

The reason I didn’t know whether to write a review or not was probably because I didn’t know what to make of the book itself. Lest I show my ignorance (or my poor sense of humour, often inclined to the banana-peel school of comedy, if I’m honest, despite my best efforts to cultivate it), I put off writing anything about it.

But Cold Comfort Farm is a strange book, and I hope that writing a little bit about it will allow me to puzzle it through. If not – well, hopefully one of my lovely readers will help me out. Continue reading

A Lit Major at the Movies: Rebecca (1940)

Rebecca 1940Spoilers ahead!

Who doesn’t love a bit of Hitchcock now and again? Although the director is probably best-known for iconic films such as Psycho and The Birds, Hitchcock actually made his debut in Hollywood with what has been patronisingly dubbed a ‘woman’s film’. Having read Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca a few months ago, I decided to return to the film version that I’d absolutely loved when I’d first seen it (pre-reading the book, much to my shame).

Rebecca is a controversial book in many ways, and it’s perhaps inevitable that the film should be so too. As with du Maurier’s novel, the heroine of the story is a young, nameless woman working as a companion to a vulgar older lady, who meets and marries a mysterious widower and goes to live on his estate in the south of England. The film captures the book’s wonderful opening lines in an iconic way: as the film begins, we hear the heroine (played by Joan Fontaine) say: “Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again”. She takes us on a dream-tour of Manderley’s front drive. Continue reading

All Our Old Heroines: How To Be A Heroine (2014), by Samantha Ellis

How To Be A HeroineEvery avid childhood reader remembers the heroes and the heroines that defined their young lives. They’re almost like close friends, those Lizzie Bennets and Lucy Pevensies and Harry Potters. They taught us how to laugh, to love, but perhaps most of all, how to be. How to be children and – to a great extent – how to be adults. How to be individuals, to be principled, to be strong.

But our heroes and heroines don’t just change us. To a large extent, we control them. We get out what we put in, and it’s hardly surprising that the best-loved books stay with readers throughout their lives, each time offering the reader something slightly different.

Heroes and heroines offer us a template for how to be – funny, brave, clever, whatever the author thinks is most important – but whether we, as readers, chose to accept these templates is a different matter altogether. This is perhaps particularly true of heroines, because the social roles imposed on women (mother, wife, daughter) are echoed in fiction, and reading anything published more than a few decades ago (and, regrettably, sometimes even just a few days ago) seems to offer women a pretty narrow scope of templates to accept. So there’s often a debate about whether we should give girls books like A Little Princess or Little Women, while offering boys Treasure Island is scarcely ever thought quite so problematic (presumably there’s no issue with giving girls Treasure Island, and no possibility of giving boys Little Women). Continue reading

A Lit Major At The Movies: Frankenstein (1931)

Frankenstein1931Creature1“It’s alive! It’s aliiiiive!”

Literary critics from all walks of life blanch whenever someone is careless enough to dub Frankenstein’s monster a ‘Frankenstein’. Honestly, it pains our little hearts whenever Mary Shelley’s complicated character is mistakenly called by its creator’s name. “What are you going as for Halloween, Timmy?” “I’m going to be a scary Frankenstein!”

NO. NO. NO. No, you are not, Timmy. Follow me, on a little journey to the early days of Hollywood, and I will show you why you ought to be ashamed of yourself.

Okay, so perhaps I was a little hard on little Timmy and his oh-so-adorable green face paint and thick-soled boots. So while he’s off crying in a corner and his mother’s throwing me dirty looks, I’ll carry on with my story. Continue reading

Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten Books I’d Like To See As Movies

NarniaFilmI’m a big fan of a decent book-to-film adaptation, so this week’s Top Ten Tuesday, run by The Broke and the Bookish, seems like the perfect topic. I know it’s technically Wednesday, but I loved this prompt so much that I just couldn’t resist….

Top Ten Books I’d Like To See As Movies

1. The Silver Chair by C.S. Lewis: The first few Narnia films did a pretty good job of translating the novels to the big screen. I know there’s been talk about The Silver Chair, and supposedly it comes out next year, but so far there doesn’t seem to be much information out there about it. I’d love to see this book on film, though. It’s a great story and actually one of my favourites in the Narnia series. Continue reading

Challenging the City Slicker: Tracks (1980), by Robyn Davidson

tracks davidsonRobyn Davidson’s book is one of those things that challenges you because it describes something that is so utterly alien. And there’s more than a few reasons why, on the surface, I thought there would be little to relate to when I began reading her account of a trek across nearly two thousand miles of Australian desert. For instance:

  1. Despite the fact that I have lived my entire life in Australia, I have never seen more than a few patches of desert through a car window.
  2. My tolerance for hot weather peaks at about twenty degrees Celsius.
  3. I have a deathly fear of anything that clicks or slithers.
  4. I have never, nor do I ever intend to, sleep in a ‘tent’.
  5. Cleanliness is an issue with me; so much so that I am prone to anxiety attacks if I don’t shower at least once a day.
  6. Since the fourth grade, when we learnt about the dangers of melanoma, I react to sunlight in the same way that your average teenage vampire does: by slapping on three layers of skin-concealing shirts and scurrying into the welcoming shade of the nearest building/tree/bus shelter, arms held above my head like it’s raining locusts.

Continue reading

A Lit Major At The Movies: Saving Mr Banks (2013)

Saving Mr BanksReal-life stories are rarely as satisfying as made-up ones. This is, of course, a well-known fact. Life has a pesky habit of rejecting the basic tenets of any successful narrative, from plot and pacing to character.

Hardly surprising, then, that Disney’s 2013 film, Saving Mr. Banks, leans heavily to the side of fiction, rejecting the realities of life in an effort to turn the real story of the author P.L. Travers’ work with the folks at Disney to produce a movie version of her beloved book, Mary Poppins, into something lucrative.

As has been pointed out, inaccuracies (or, rather, blatant fictions) are rife in Saving Mr. Banks. Because it’s Disney, and because it’s the sort of film that parents need to be able to watch with their kids, there’s very little complexity to this movie. Continue reading

On Turning Your ‘Lit-Crit’ Brain Off

SculptureHeadIf you’re a lit major like me – or, indeed, if you’ve ever studied just about any subject in the humanities and/or the sciences – you’ll probably remember a moment some years back when you realised that you had two brains.

And no, I don’t mean literally, in a kind of futuristic space-agey way (let’s face it, one brain is often hard enough to keep track of, and you probably don’t know the meaning of the phrase ‘bad hair day’ until you’ve got two craniums to deal with). But if you’ve ever been involved in an area of prolonged study that requires you to think critically, to analyse, to dig for deeper meaning, then you’ve probably found that this kind of thinking begins to leak into your everyday life.

Suddenly every image, word, and sound is hiding something under its surface. A movie, a television advertisement, a newspaper article – it’s never just that. It’s a text just waiting to be deciphered, and you begin to approach every such text with the question, ‘what is this film / advert / cloying but frustratingly catchy pop song trying to make me think?’. And, perhaps more importantly, ‘am I going to let them make me think that?’. Continue reading

A Lit Major At The Movies: Mary Poppins (1964)

MaryPoppinsDisneyA few months ago I was supposed to read P.L. Travers’ Mary Poppins, and then watch the film version. Well, I did one but not the other, so I’m here today to rectify that in a new segment that I like to call A Lit Major At The Movies, because I’m really not very creative when it comes right down to it.

Dancing penguins, nonsense words, and long song-and-dance numbers; it’s just typical mid-century fare from Disney. As a child I frequently saw advertisements for Mary Poppins. I knew how to say ‘Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious’ as well as the next kiddie, and knew all I could ever care to know about A Spoon Full of Sugar, thank you very much.

So it’s hardly surprising that when I finally came to watch this film, so much of it felt familiar to me. From the sparkle in Julie Andrews’ eye to the weird cartoon landscapes and animated characters – there was a part of me that felt like I had seen it all before. And while there were parts of the film that were enjoyable (the chimneysweeps’ dance on the rooftops was a particular highlight), as an adaptation the film was more or less a complete failure. Continue reading