Monday, 13 July 2009

Mrs. Palfrey: The Film

As promised, thoughts on the film of Elizabeth Taylor's Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont. This didn't actually get general release in the UK, though I believe it did in the US - it's now available on DVD in both countries, though again we Brits had to wait a few years more. What would Elizabeth Taylor say. Or Dame Joan Plowright, for that matter. For it is The Other Dame J who takes the role of Mrs. Palfrey, and she is to the manner born. She perfectly demonstrates Mrs. P's friendliness yet desire for privacy; her surprise at the Claremont; her loneliness which refuses to become melancholy. All are spot on. Only one confusing thing - in the film she answers to the name of Sarah Palfrey, rather than Laura Palfrey. I never know why film makers do these silly sorts of things. I can understand why they change certain elements (more on't anon) but not little things which could be perfectly well left alone.

Grump over. The plot is more or less the same as the novel, for most of the film, so I shan't repeat myself - this post a couple of days ago has all that information. Though they do play around with the novel a bit, changing details and adding a character or two, the main difference between the two is the tone. Where Taylor's novel is quietly, bravely desolate, the film is more likely to make you cry, but in that feel-good way that films do. Equally sombre in terms of plot, the way in which the film treats the characters is more light-hearted, jolly and hopeful. Which is, I think, an acceptable distinction between a novel and its adaptation. Perhaps cheeriness is more expected from films than novels. Not, as I said before, that the novel is relentlessly cheerless - only that it leans more in that direction than the film does.

Plowright is not the only fine piece of casting - Rupert Friend (you may know him as Mr. Keira Knightley) is very good as Ludovic, and only a smidgen too un-bohemian. Anna Massey and Anna Carteret never disappoint, and made the most of their rather slim roles. My only problems with this charming (yes, that word) film are the few actors who appear to believe they're in a sitcom. The porter doesn't do much, but it will all have been much better in a Laurel and Hardy sketch. And don't mention the ra-ra dancing (Mrs. Palfrey, thankfully, not involved). But these small issues aside, the adaptation is a worthy one, and I recommend it. But do read the book first.


  1. I enjoyed the movie, but yes...always, always read the book first!

  2. OK Simon and "Pamela Terry and Edward" (are you really three people?) I'll bite like the foolish trout. Why "always, always read the book first!" ?

  3. Hello again Dark Puss!

    Well, I think it just makes chronological sense, apart from anything else. They've adapted from the book, so you should read the source text before you see what they've done to it - otherwise discrepancies between the two will make the book seem incorrect. With books written, adapted from films, I'd watch the film first. (Though my scant experience with films-into-books tend to be books which don't in any way alter the plot or characters of the film... why no changes in this direction, and so many when a book is turned into a film? Discuss.)

  4. Generally because the director/scriptwriter is responsible for writing the book-of-the-film! When it's the other way around, the author (if still alive) often doesn't get much of any control over changes to the book (which is why Kubrick fell out with every author whose book he adapted). The only times I have found a book-of-the-film being refreshingly different is the book of 'The Piano' and 'The Wicker Man' - in the former case, the novel dealt with the lead-up to the film (and explained more why the child didn't speak), and in the latter case, the director/author got chance to expand more on the mythology details which he had to edit from the film.



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