On Chesil Beach : A Film Review

 

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On Chesil Beach

Directed by Dominic Cooke, Produced by Elizabeth Karlsen, Stephen Woolley. Screenplay by Ian McEwan Based on On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan.
Cast Saoirse Ronan … Florence Ponting, Emily Watson … Violet Ponting, Samuel West … Geoffrey Ponting, Billy Howle … Edward Mayhew, Anne-Marie Duff … Marjorie Mayhew, Rasmus Hardiker … Waiter 2, Bebe Cave … Ruth Ponting, Adrian Scarborough … Lionel Mayhew, Jonjo O’Neill … Phil, David Olawale Ayinde …, Wigmore Audience Concert Attendee, Bronte Carmichael … Young Chloe Morrell, Bernardo Santos … Cinema Couple, Philip Labey … Bob, Ty Hurley … Wigmore Concert Attendee, Oliver Johnstone … Ted
Saoirse Ronan, Billy Howle, Emily Watson, Anne-Marie Duff, Samuel West, Adrian Scarborough.  Music by Dan Jones, Cinematography Sean Bobbitt, Edited by Nick Fenton, Production company Number 9 Films, BBC Films. Distributed by Lionsgate, Bleecker Street.
Duration 1hr 50mins. Cert. 15. Country United Kingdom. Language English.

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Short Navigations

This is a story told in three time periods and it begins and mostly occupies the earliest period and its immediate rub up to wedlock. Over 60% hovers around the earlier period. The later times are visited in reflection and as indications of how things have turned out for Florence Ponting (Saoirse Ronan) and Edward Mayhew (Billy Howle).  The times change them irrevocably and the outcome of this story is far from the imagined prospect when we first enter the story as it reaches the honeymoon reservation of a posh hotel in Dorset overlooking the shingle headland or bar of pebbles that create an other worldliness of escapism and is harbinger of hope and romance.

Setting

Where is Chesil Beach and is it sunny and hot? ; not always a pair.  Well it is the jurassic coast of Dorset, Southern England and more notable for its shingle and Portland Bill and Portland stone, no sand is to be seen along it.  Apparently the crew where filming this in late autumn 2017 and it was obviously a chilling time but colour grading works wonders.

People in 1962

Both these young people are acutely sensitive to the sensibilities of the times and in their being born during the war are acutely aware of the dynamics of peace and a new frontier of a Cold War developing in the struggle for supremacy in Russia and Germany alongside its reconstructed allies and temporary reparations in European idealised modernity.  Both have first class honours degrees and Edward is a product of a teacher and headmaster father Lionel ( Adrian Scarborough). He has two siblings, twin girls born after an accident befalling their mother Marjorie (Anne-Marie Duff) now housebound, if not naked and watching the squirrels as people inhabiting her comfortable and mature garden.  A recent short film at the Belfast Film Festival concerned itself with dementia and was called Monkeys in the Garden. Not to make light of it, it too was a vision of how lives are affected by a moments occurrence or breakdown of the bodies defences.

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Portraits

We see the view of Edward through this revision in his life, in respect of his mother’s injury and his anger, which is a feature not currently present, is recalled in anecdotes.  Florence (named after the City? hardly the type given the austere ma and pop!) knows little about him other than his reformed side and CND encounters.  An academic he is nevertheless keeping tabs on the grosser forces within him, his aggression is a tool and servant but he feels inadequate as it is his intellect and inability to deduce his own belief system.  He is shifted of course by events and this is borne out over the going back and reveal of certain aspects of his childhood.  OK I said there were three time periods, perhaps there were others crept into for pathos.

For Florence’s story it is also interlaced with similar anecdotes with a delightful toff in the form of mother Violet, (Emily Watson), a constantly austere wannabe Jackie Kennedy alongside her status hungry and sometimes mysterious husband Geoffrey  (Samuel West) and easily rattled egotist electronics factory owner played in intentionally hammy fashion. Florence  is a music student with a leadership quality and is wholly wrapped up in the pathways music opens. Florence has attained a post of behind the scenes general dogsbody at The Wigmore Hall, Wigmore Street which lasts three years. Her own aspirations in performance are fulfilled in lower recitals but cleverly she puts across a form of music which lasts.

Musics healing

I remember on the way home from work often passing the along the Wigmore Hall rear alleyway at a time uncertainty hung over the arts funding of that long established place and lunchtime performances by the and for the BBC Radio audience proved to be a cultural asset heavily embedded in good music played to the highest possible standard open for public consumption and egalitarian defiantly hoping against hope and Thatcher the continuance of the philosophy behind excellence as common property to be cherished.

The alleyway features here intact and unspoiled as before, its indentures prosaic and tangible despite the troubled periods seen through its existence.  It is a remarkable presence and feature of West London a little distance from Oxford Street and Harley Street.  Florence had the opportunity of assisting in performance as page turner to Benjamin Brittain and the evening performances had an international element equal in such a conservatoire atmosphere a smaller bolt hole away from the grander Albert Hall and Royal Opera House.  The atmosphere inside was a musical paradise and retreat.

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Notes as words

Throughout the film the choice of music is a stirring counterpoint othe emotional twists and turns and it is obvious this is a very important strategic tactic as it fills the cinema with a richness of audio pinnacles and troughs accompanying scenes of despair and unalloyed joy. Mozart, Bach, Haydn, Rachmaninov, Brittain, Beethoven all feature in the deliberate layering on us of a timeless appreciation of the emotions evolving. Were the music is at its height often the emotion is mixed and nervously exchanging between us and what we see a sense of elevation while it in reality is a one, visually which had none of the material a book can convey.  These are the awkward extremities of the young lovers own deeply felt disoriented disordered conflict of expectations.

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Mis-steps

Here I have to place my failure to accept, in large parts, the premise inherent in the novella.  I found the absence of enquiry or even a consultation of a Doctor by Florence off kilter.  There is a deficit and no dimension of mental disturbance in the mind of Florence whose horrible construct of the sexual act is a peculiarly obstinate block her life has not prepared her for. There was at the time a new emphasis on the workings of the brain and R D Lang etc. Freud preceding brought it forward into the public realm along with TV and middle class enquiry.  The book is able to push boundaries where a script will not allow and this film depends too much on the concepts of the viewer filling in the spaces and stiltedness of some of the imponderables.  The fluency of prose Ian McEwan is stretched to replicate in this screenplay.  On Chesil Beach she discloses in a speech, her anxiety in a long soul searching yet still unformed or fully expressed contempt of the actual response she articulated in circuitous explanation leaving Edward in a pale of despair.
There is a feeling the film does not convey the real problems on the side of Edward either. While we are left to assume certain things about Florence and then are unable to gauge the extent of hurt and damage they cause and with things also causing her uneasiness and tense suffocating anxiety. There is in Edwards situation a sense of male entitlement of sorts given his deliberations in the led up to the troublesome (more than) bedroom scenes. It would have been, either a sense of duty to perform or be heroic and actually create a magnificent, unforgettable night of continual passion and lovemaking (!) as if it’s something as a male he is programmed to do, he is also contemplating the strangeness of these feelings and unable to equate eroticism with the needs of his partner and new very virginal wife. Then it creates an emasculated reaction and even more harm. There is a chasm between their thoughts and the film does not deal with them sufficiently well to overcome the visual awkwardness. There is still in these times a fearfulness that the awkwardness and newness of the experience may not fit ideals. Those ideals are themselves at the root of the problem and the present day information and education. It depends where it is found and Edward is also a person whose intensity does not help which itself is not adequately explored. Florence has to ask about his character and that is supposed to be a formation of a judgement for a clearly clever woman?!

London, we have a problem.

The way the conversations are developed are very attentive to the authors intent and premise.  The question lurking is has he found a very unusual compelling story and is it to be seen as a wider component of the times and traditions, behaviours of the times.  With both having long spells in London and away from their parental conformity I thought it too much of a stretch to see them as hesitant, micro living reclusive people without own warnings and experiences overlap, usually and relying on their own lives experience which has dramatic absence.  Dorset becomes the past.  No place for Corset jokes.  A flaw is the inclusion of a later phase where shared living, in the 1975 period a collective and therefore contagion of sorts, fleshing out a sixties vibe in the seventies where – while sharing a bohemian household was frequent – the set up appeared forced.  In the sixties it would hardly have been less of a communal existence yet it was not explored or the arrangements for living not examined in detail.

Psychology undeveloped

Audacious as some of the story may appear; the exploration of the psychology at work having an unrealised importance, I felt a lot of the developing story had empty aspects, mostly concerning the limitations imposed on both of the experiences either had of life.  For present day young people this compressed uninformed pathway is unreal.  They are conscious as well as familiar with, such instinctive sexual stirring emotional decisions and are are empowered by numerous, almost too present, events of sexual diversity, behaviour and relationship guidance. Parental intrusion is not a problem and often is a shared appreciation of discovered evaluation. The advice is also overwhelming currently as the meaning of the bodies acceptance of itself is accumulated in a set of terms and outcomes, comparisons are often fluctuating between less obvious mental pictures.

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A lot of time is spent navigating the origins and the precipice we are on which is concealed within the story, in keeping with the dilemma of her heightened displeasure of the sexual act once it sets its seed inside her head in the inevitable pitch of consummating their marriage on their wedding night. This is a narrow filter unsuited to cinema as it is left hanging.  Even cinema itself is not approached although a nod to the times seen in the film which is in their orbit, A Taste of Honey shows a conflict of familiarity with sexual education.  The prospect is imagined and unreal and in her preparation she is compelled to refer to books which he4 younger sister who follows her every move, is equally excited about though not to the extent of imagining the meaning of the words outside her sisters own thoughts. Everything centres around the thoughts and wildest capture of ideas by Florence which she finds necessary and driven too by another set of conflicts which are not forgotten but suppressed. By taking the story through the motions of arrangement and outside diversions she is able to distract herself sufficiently to eradicate some of the worst until it becomes unavoidable once she is in Room 8 at the hotel and eager to please and share herself with Edward and embrace the moment. It heralds great stress and it is a staccato immersion into the ritual of love making which she and he have no notion of how it ought to serve them. Now they serve it and become overburdened lustfully not lovingly entwined.

Neither are practiced at the physical act of union and become transfixed by the prospect of it on their wedding night. Alone they discover that lives can become transformed by a gesture not made or a word not spoken.

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Storytelling

In the bibliography of Ian McEwan there first comes, First Love, Last Rites as if it became a precedence of his novella On Chesil Beach. The straining loss of words is compellingly tale of tense human love and bonding past feeling.

THEY WERE young, educated, and both virgins on this, their wedding night, and they lived in a time when a conversation about sexual difficulties was plainly impossible. So the opening lines of the book draw us towards Florence and Edward in July 1962. Their day had joined their families in St Mary’s Oxford in a ceremony which went well including the reception and here having travelled in Florence’s mothers borrowed car arrived under a cloudy sky and with insufficient warmth to dine as planned outdoors. Instead they are together in the wedding suite dining and savouring the experience unique to both in many ways. In emphasis it is perhaps intentional to begin with the first two words in capitals in the book as they in the readers mind due some sympathy and empathy given their lack of worldliness. In fact it is not as it is a motif used in each chapter though none the less meaningful.

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When those times were presaged by moral virtue and humility it is only proper, as the Vicar might say, that they were chaste lovers on the brink of a loving long relationship not without reward for their sacrifice of self control. For Florence her talk with her Minister is an ordeal and both find it difficult to identify with each other and the preposterous notion of not getting married is one option Elizabeth takes as an absurdity. The pleasure quotient is not spoken of. Duty is the key instrument here and she is as first violin a leader in all she accomplishes. The prologue is not a good one.

Indulgences are meaningful only if they are satiated and lent great impact in the fact they are prove positive of unrequited love.

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Burden of the past

Belief is something neither have a great deal of time for. The realities of home life are its representation and compliant structure is the invocation. Some mores have it as a societal burden on pain of loss of a godly blessing.  The morality first coming from a Church and sanctified by a class of ancient ritual.

Ian McEwan compresses into a short novel the disturbance of tranquil exquisite expectation by moving into the bonding of a young couple empty illusion. The physical prospect of penetration was for Florence no longer a misty concept formed out of friends explicit stories or happenstance and part knowledge obtained by the troubling loud engorged actress screaming in high pitched orgasmic ecstasy engagement. Of Edwards pleasure and own needs she would have no knowledge only in his expression would she see his physical endurance while both would be marrying each other’s thoughts in their new union and one neither had felt before. Before the Vicar and hiring of the hall for the reception Florence seems to have mislaid her concerns until the moment of the actual aloneness.  If in the journey to the Hotel she was anxious it was suffused with the pleasure of filing away all the memories and even the road ahead was newly seen.  Observation does not seem one of Edwards strong points either as the anticipation is always countered by the more effervescent reality. Twenty two years have passed and new things happen all the time. These are however formative moments and ones to signal and lay down markers for the future they would share.

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Hidden Histories

Edward knew from University about the collapse of empires and his sojourn into conquering his love would have been shaped beforehand by a strategy to be a most humble and obedient servant to his new wife in satisfying her desires he would have comfort, not of a strange woman (The Comfort of Strangers another notable McEwan!) or innocent (The Innocent) passing encounter but a long to be lasting companion for life with all others forsaken. It is an occupied territory long held by Ian McEwan, this folly of loves testimony. Regardless of motive or morals he has attested to the problems enduring through many creative characters all having a degree of familiarity in our recollections but some are born out of sheer fantasy and the innocents here are in a realm which would have been common enough if borrowed thoughts and language are required to see it manifest in the pages.

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How accurate?

There must have been couples off to the seaside hotel with anxieties and pleasure equally mixed in a heady cocktail of expectation in earlier times, say the fifties and even earlier. Would protection be worn would they have enough passion or energy after the matrimonial ceremony and ritual acceptance of good wishes that heralded their journey into this future? They would not sometimes have had a rehearsal of lovemaking or been conscious of the powers within to see them comfortably through and in isolated limbo until they lay sleeping newly married and partly fulfilled in their dreams of finding a partner who became in that moment a formula for life. Improbable as it may sound or seem, the casting of Saiorsce Ronan whose previous collaboration with the authors vibe was her breakthrough movie, Atonement, and then as a fourteen year old, is once again fixed in the lines of the book.

Ian McEwan has described (at his lucid best) his twenty two year old bride ‘as bringing to mind an American Indian woman, a high born squaw. She had a strong jaw and her smile was broad and artless, right into the creases at the corners of her eyes.’ the remarkable aesthetic of the beautiful candescence that Siarsce Ronan can occupy the screen with.  In one publicity picture she is (freezing) on the Chesil Beach sitting with a forlorn gaze looking to embrace a situation that is exciting alarming and new while pouting over thoughts of days ahead. She fits the part remarkable as most illustrious actors do. having the facial balance and restrained openness and beauty which beguiled and captured truth of a kind rarely seen in cinema.  While sexuality was always present they each have, had an allure beyond that which is where this character is required to be in her worldly thoughts of beyond sexual pleasure and its meaning and wanting to know what that building block is in essence why they need to stick together.

Both are on the front of this dilemma as they are at twenty years old inadequately prepared in the era and societal cultural doctrines open to new consciousness. As adults together learning.

While watching, it is ones own knowledge and experience which fill in the gaps of language used by Ian McEwan in the book, a novella which is searching in this film to pass on the eloquent and carefully composited words and juxtapositions employed in the book.  Without self knowledge this film will not work and it is obviously crafted and made for a mature audience. With it als obeying seen in our media profuse times there is a connection to be made by the younger viewer and empathy is even more raw and intensely gripping. A sliding doors routine of what ifs.

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Weather the storm?

My favourite beach is at Blakeney in Norfolk where the seas-edge is forever moving, appearing to me as the edge of the temporal and physical world. That horizontal bent line which formers the outermost point is out further than the moving edge. The curve of the earth visible in the melding of the sky and seas infinity ingathered but going untouched out beyond us. Chesil Beach possibly has the same frontiers. There is the headland of Portland Bill to be found close by.  Behind it is the masons yards where hewn stone is cut and honed to facilitate a memory or vision to be put into a building.  Land is present there.  In Norfolk the elements see to it there is continual erosion.  No land is safe as the coast is claimed incrementally in tiny invisible motions of waves relentless cycle.  That turning of land into minerals swept away is almost the tangibility of the lovers quest to become another human being by having cause and effect.  There is no going back.  Immortality is attained while life is still present. Such are the promises and such are the illusions.

Conclusion ###3

It is difficult, particularly after ladybird to critique a film Saoirse Ronan is in and which she is on her game and filling her obligations and more.  Alongside an equally  strong performance by Billy Howle who goes through a more exposed later life, and with a very well cast supporting group there is a painful conclusion this film is not reaching the high bar it sets given the prose and narrative strength and form the original book achieves in spades.  No spades on this beach but a lot of digging and hiding of sensitivities none more alluded to than the core of the psychology Florence has become accustomed to.  There are few of any joyess parts and sadness is always present in particular what might have been.  The couple are ideally matched and are able to dispose of their similar but separate forms of middle classery.  They are intellectually matched but both are without the stronger need of emotional intelligence and it is obtained through hard learning.

Ian McEwan has created a new version of the story and my recommendation after seeing the film would be to visit the book if you have t altedy done so all that time ago.  There is a good display of the boundaries of film and story which is requires masters of the genre to overcome.  In the book those mis-steps seen here are not in the least visited and the beauty of language – the spoken words are few in the book and the reliance is on your constructing and building your own characters even visually and the casting has lent as much support as possible.

An enclosed compressed tale which it is hard to unravel.  Complexity exists though there are narrow confines expressed here denying access to what you have come to understand.

 

John Graham

25 May 2018

Belfast

On at Queens Film Theatre from Friday 25 May to Thursday 7 June 2018 and on general relaease.

 

 

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Howard’s End : A Film Review

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Howard’s End

Directed by James Ivory, Produced by Ismail Merchant, Screenplay by Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, Based on Howards End by E. M. Forster

Cast, Anthony Hopkins, Vanessa Redgrave, Helena Bonham Carter, Emma Thompson, James Wilby, Samuel West, Jemma Redgrave, Prunella Scales, Music by Richard Robbins, Percy Grainger (opening and end title), Cinematography Tony Pierce-Roberts, Edited by Andrew Marcus, Production company, Merchant Ivory Productions

 

 

 

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Edwardian period piece.

This remastered release of the classic Merchant and Ivory Howard’s End depiction of the E.M. Forster’ 1910 novel is a favourite and is seen as one worthy of revived rerelease.  It has not worn that well and is a reminder that when it was made in 1991 it gave of a wiff of sentimentality which Tory Britain resided under and still does.  It reflects on handed down residue of imperial warfare when things are not entirely explained.  The question of how we arrived at this state.  Forster is essentially playful and creates characters with complexities of a backstory and the Anglo-German was to be a prescient but fateful insert with how alike the nations of wealth were like.  It was an age of industrial growth and come hell or high water money was to be made and flights to be taken ships to despatch people to far ends of the earth and Henry Wilcox a true British capitalist is one to take interest in all things colonial.  The import export world of trade and stealing wealth in the form of their minerals of helplessly under developed nations such as in Africa and the Middle East where oil wealth was a bottomless pit.  The wars stay outside the nation.

There is a conceit or play on names with the Schlegel family of an Anglo German bourgeoisie class, with whom the Wilcox’s become entangled and unexpectedly so.  The conceit being maybe a realisation of the already modern Europeans.  The brittleness of the comedic almost farcical leanings of both families, across each other’s lives in a time when place and position were unable to recovery from slight and mishap is something Forster and the duo of that pairing of Ismail Merchant and director James Ivory, who were not just creative partners but life partners, savour.

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At least the upper crust were not ridiculing themselves but a colonial pairing who got the absurdity of the characters extremely observantly.  It set out a past which Britain could reflect on.  The suffragette period and optimism of nations trading withoutvwarring but the warring and colonialism of French, Spanish, English were kept of their respective shores.  The wealth of Henry Wilcox is burgeoning throughout and property after property, become acquired – Mayfair, Shropshire, Somerset – so as to present the period as one where the acquisition of money was enabled by compliance to the golden rule of buy cheap sell high.  In whatever commodity regardless of its origin could facilitate it.

This makes Howard’s End, the family home where the Wilcox family all grew up all the more portent yet a simple piece off rural England.  Possibly Hildenborough in Kent which is renamed Hilton.  

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Literal Strength

Random House provide an excellent readers guide.  The following is taken from it.

It was as a university student at King’s College that Forster was first inspired by the liberal humanism of philosopher George Moore, who advocated the contemplation of beauty and the cultivation of personal relations as a spiritual antidote to the rootless, mechanistic ethos of his age. Forster, together with the young men who would later form the Bloomsbury group of writers (Lytton Strachey, John Maynard Keynes, and Leonard Woolf, among others), embraced this challenge to traditional religious morality and to the growing commercial spirit of the time. Forster spent some of his happiest days in this company, a lifestyle mirrored in the Schlegels’ passion for art, friendship, and the life of the mind.

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Society

Comparisons are then clearly explored between the two families.  One rooted in intellectual (Cambridge is never evoked) the artistic, cultural explorers, pioneering, liberal family the Schlegel’s and the industrial rampant Wilcox family immersed in ideas of commerciality and gain.

Implicit is Forsters unease with the limitations of the Schlegel families oeuvre so he nails each character into a dilemma and we see we’re their true values reside.  Margaret played immaculately by a extremely well observed, nuanced performance of Emma Thompson, is the most apparently pragmatically incisive one of the Schlegel family, whose about turn is all too conceited and carried of with superb, carefully careworn empathetic playing.  I always have an affinity with a fellow left-hander.  Albeit a the fictional one is not within our more worthy characters and I believe it’s realised by Emma Thompson.  That about turn is huge.

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Away with nature

Frailty is not a trait of Henry Wilcox but we are given insight after insight as to his loose arrangements with human nature.  They betray his weaknesses and all come around again.  Margaret has visions of uniting town and country, man and woman, commerce and culture while she hold also to the wisdom of ancient voices.

The ancient voices she hear through herself and the troubled vexed and impoverished Leonard who has the misfortune to recieve a bit of advice which turns his life upside down.  Their meeting is another happenstance which is a necessity of the story.  The advice given completely breaks him and his loving wife Jackie, who was left as an orphan at 16 in Cyprus through the death of her trader father. On  returning to England found Leonard.  Leonard is the ancient voice of another time.

His scholarly endeavors at home confuse and make for strange relations with his fiancé,  she is a homemaker but they are in poor housing next to a railway.  The sky and the country are a dreamland which he is unable to share with Jackie, intellectually or spiritually and this side of him finds him behaving erratically, very out of normality for what it is.  Nature v Human nature as Margaret Schlegel would have it.  Her rationalit’s scopes out acceptance of peculiar actions while being unable to fully accept them.  On the other hand Helen is a wild rover on the landscape of the new world arriving.

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Forster challenges through his juxtaposition of the symbolic Howard’s End as an idyll and enchanted garden, the comparison of  modernities progress in London where insurers prosper, gather the risk, where Leonard works diligently and effectively as a clerk (the Porphyrion Fire and Life Insurance Company) against his own anxiety of knowing there is something other than this to life. His character development pitches the redoubtable Mrs Ruth Wilcox into the fray.

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As the eldest and Henry’s wife she is totally in love with Howard’s End which is hers and it came to her through an old yeomanry stock route. When he casts Howard’s End as a fulcrum of the story he does so having regretted leaving his own ideal childhood home just north of London, Rooksnest, and through the industrialisation moving at a quick pace found himself living in Tonbridge, or Tunbridge Wells, where the business class congregated. This was very significant to Forster. He seen it, in his own childhood, as a loss of connection to place, a respect for individuality, and a commitment to the contemplative life which he regarded as in essence England.   It shows how strong place means to the young.  Imbedded in the psyche as a function of survival perhaps as essential knowledge of belonging.

As a King’s College student at Cambridge Forster would be influenced by the Liberal humanism of George Moore, who sought beauty as spiritual solace setting his philosophy out of religious and capitalistic values. In later years he would be stimulated by fellow students later to belong to the Bloomsbury Group, Lytton Strachey, John Maynard Keynes, and Leonard Woolf, among others. It previous times it would have been Wollstonecraft, Godwin, Stewart, Blake, Paine radicalising the form of governance with ideals of liberal enlightenment. One separated from religion.

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Samuel West as Leonard Bast

When Forster sets the two families across the street from one another; the Wilcox family move into Wickham Place, the inevitable meeting of the two ladies Mrs Wilcox, Ruth, and Meg, Margaret of the Schlegel family whose aunt is the busy body of their family, Aunt Juley (Prunella Scales) is imminent.   Once formalities are over and they meet regularly Ruth forms a bond with Margaret who is she sees, a younger version of herself. Though Sufferage is not the thing for Ruth who is content for men to be the ones to vote, Margaret is a habitué of the former quietly or thunderously disappearing Howard’s End life epoch. Recognising this Ruth introduces unknown to Margaret another plot device which has the rest of the Wilcox family turn to treat her with distrust and distaste. This is a very re-siting of the Howard’s End ‘character’ as a metaphor for the English throwing the baby out with the bath water and ruining the jewel in the crown, its garden of Eden.

The presence of Henry becomes more evident and the Schlegels seek his advice concerning a person of their acquaintance, the young clerk a Leonard whose tenuous introduction into the Schlegel fold has Helen at least a member of the cause celebre class.  She sees in him a worthiness chrysalis wanting to search for light.  Henry is also seen as a possible real estate advisor which he reluctantly becomes involved in.  Very quickly he is established as having enough wealth to himself plan his next move from Wickam Place and a small flat to a salubrious house in Mayfair.  So Howard’s End, Wickham Place, Mayfair.  To that list he later adds stately houses and farmholdings.  It is never clear how different he regards the lives of the classes but certainly Ruth despairs at this less than Human regard for servants and his lackies.

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The events conspire to create a problem Margaret and particularly Helen feel is partly of their making with their assistance for Leonard having not worked out at all as intended.  The two stories overlap and intrigue in the way they unfold.  There are family asides concerning Howard’s End with Henry’s Ruth obedient sons, Paul and particularly Charles played by the magical James Wilby.  Susie Lindeman as Dolly Wilcox his wife is a funny and doting, simpleton for want of a better word.  Charles is covetous of Howard’s End and is the dogsbody in his fathers commercial trading company.  He makes no decisions, is presumably not allowed to and calls father Sir.  He is a for want of a better word, gormless, earlobe tugging, narrow visioned, unambitious man who goes with the tide.  He creates a future for himself based on Howard’s End and maybe this is a simple everyman though limited scope Englishman Forster sees most men’s ambitions.  It’s hard to draw real hard and fixed forms around most of the characters and cast them in either an intentional negative or positive role.  The basic reasoning I make therefore of Forster’s intention is to have us, the reader, (viewer as Ruth/Ismail/James imagined) place our own vision of society on.

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Margaret and Tibby

The Schlegel set were limited towards recognition of social conventions, economic trend, efficiency, with no realisation of their own position afforded them. Forster presumably was more extensive and global in his view while seeing the English garden of Eden as a parody of the Liberty he felt absent.

The Wilcox’s are more ambitious as far as weddings are concerned and Margaret Schlegel oddly is an independent not seeing any need to marry or it appears any capacity for sexual desire.  When you see how luminous and intelligent she becomes in company it’s not confidence she lacks, she is ambitious for others and watchful of her siblings. Tibby played by Adrian Ross Magenty, is I think the youngest and he is academic without having a need to turn his knowledge into money.  He sets of to Magdalen College, Oxford with a certainty of obtaining greater wisdom having committed himself to being as clever as Margaret imagines him to be.  Just how Margaret advances you will have to go on recall dial or wait to see again or maybe for the first time have this complexity revealed to you by going to see the film.  It is worth it and Emma Thompson plays it so well and with a light hand.

Bluebells

In encountering Leonard the other side of life in London is brought from the shadows. With the use of the countryside Ruth/Ismail/James see the nature as constant and seasonal and the touches of colour and it’s abundance are from the opening shot which has Ruth in Evening dress stroll through woodland and grassland, lavender and pansies edging the lawns we are hopelessly drawn into a rhapsody on cultivated splendour.  Leonard is conspiratol in this as he takes in the outdoors at twilight going through Bluebell wood.  Bluebell wood is in Surrey a staple of natures wonder.

“The more people one knows, the easier it is to replace them. It is one of the curses of London. I quite expect to end my life caring most for a place.”

Surrey has these famous bluebell woods where people visit annually as spring moves into summer.  Winkworth Arboretum (near Godalming)
Abinger Roughs and Netley Park (between Dorking and Guildford off the A25)
Harewoods (Outwood, Redhill) but the most famous which is where we are disposed to call to mind (given the Kent connections)  of I think is Emmetts Garden, Sevenoaks, Ightham Mote, (Scathes Wood) Sevenoaks.  Others and well known through asccess being very simple are in grander places. Sissinghurst Castle Garden, Cranbrook, where there are a mere 126 million bluebell flowers in these woods virtue of the maintenance of those gardens, habitat by Vita Sackville-West and Harold Nicholson. Then there is Knole, Sevenoaks.  Knole is the perfect place from which to set off to One Tree Hill, where the heady scent of English Bluebells fills the woodland. One Tree Hill consists of a varied mosaic of habitats, with woodland and open glades, providing homes for some rare wildlife species too.  Most of which lies within an SSSI, and motorways, large Tesco apart is in an area of outstanding beauty.

The situation of nature is not a small one and it is very intentional in my view.  As in Forster’s awakening along the lines of George Moore there is much to be drawn here.  In Ruth’s walk for example.  It is a transition and a walk before twilight.  Just as the floor of bluebells, daffodils and lavender growing in woods open and show amazingly their vital existence; the plant is now a protected species in England, they carpet the close habitats to us with a wonderment.  They come to flower just before the crown of leaves fill the trees and darkness is present under the shade of the trees.  How metaphorical can you get. It is where Ruth is.  Another piece of glory is Leonard striding through, presumably treading down plants in flush of colour, in has ungainly walk.   He lacks the stand back and admire need that presents but ploughs on through.  It is also in the shadows of twilight as he heads into the unknown future with a lack of knowledge to accompany him.  Behind him he leaves anxieties and simpler practical domiciliary occupations of the mind.  Dickens is recollected as a storyteller of the juxtapositions and socitetal mores.  Forster is more ingenious and while utopian Shaw; he gets a mention, science is evident to E.M. as an importance discovering natures atomic secrets and stars astronomy come into Leonard’s field of vision. The Milky Way being a corridor we are in and can see while seeming apart from it.

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Set pieces and Interludes.  

The film is set in chapters of indeterminate length and within one or two of those the error of a fade to black then reintroduction to the same scene at a later point hangs heavy and when initially encountered this appears to be a film reel failure.  It is shown digitally though and is in upscale 4K projection.  So it jars but is only the choice made in the early nineties.

Places

In Tunbridge Wells this vision itself which the original book evokes things changed dramatically ten years after it was written.  I can’t help adding a reflection on the resurgence needed in this part of England and after again in the later War suffering  very badly, it is worth adding more comment.  In TW’s after the War one of the first problems to be faced was the shortage of dwellings. The old houses occupied as billets were gradually reinstated and sold or turned into flats: new houses of moderate size were being put up here and there: there was a desperate need for working class houses. The Corporation had many years before purchased land for the purpose of building small houses, but the opposition to the scheme was such that the land was sold. In 1920, 30 houses of the Hawkenbury Estate were built by the Corporation, but so very high was the price of materials (mostly Government controlled) at the time that the cost was enormous and nothing like an economic rent could be asked. In 1920 an estate was laid out at Rusthall, and in subsequent years additional groups of dwellings have been built to the number of over three hundred houses.

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The late Joseph Bennett who played Paul Wilcox R.I.P.

Conclusion ####4

This is a vision for those unaware that before Downton Abbey there were much better constructs of period drama with a vice like grip on change and changes inherent in people as circumstances alter.  Place is fundamentally symbolic and at the heart of the drama.  The aforementioned stole this too, and feveriously a clash of European idealism itself portending to a future Forster would have had known little or nothing of kept as contrast with the island a petrel blue carpeted idil framed in Forster’s mind, is challenged and is seen to be changing.  Pragmatism is laid out.  Misfortune is experienced.  Love knots are forged and inescapable truths revealed or misread.  Several interweaving strands are for the sake of the book and latterly film are advanced using pardonable device and carry on the story in a wide view.  The alternations are not great leaps and we leave the story for long periods and revisit it in different places and circumstances to see how events have played out.  The characterisations, the celebration of lace and sense of place are at times chocolate box but they are devices with an underplaying part which I describe above.

When I first saw this film I lived in Surrey, was able to take advantage of yearly visits to Bluebell woods and walks in, on Boxhill and visit Knole and Sissnghurst, the Georgian Tunbridge Wells with its beautiful now properly restored, Pantiles.  There is the headless horse rider in Hurst Wood to the 20 ghosts it is said to haunt The Pantiles.  The words and vision is haunting us from ancient times again.

 

John Graham

28 July 2017

Belfast

From 28 July to 3 August 2017 at Queens Film Theatre Belfast and general release.

cant believe its 25 years since it’s made.

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